Investigation By Abdullatif Haj Muhammad and Muhammad Faris
An Arabic media campaign has targeted Sweden since late last year. Organizers claim that Swedish authorities “kidnap Muslim children,” placing them in non-Muslim families, forcing them to eat pork, have sex and convert to Christianity.
Angry comments, pictures, videos, and publications denouncing Sweden have spread on social media and, according to the Swedish authorities, have been exploited by “extremist Islamic groups,” describing the Scandinavian state as “infidel, rogue, dictatorial, fascist, and a police state” in order to incite hatred, violence and distrust.
The videos, in which influencers and religious figures, including imams of mosques, comment on incidents of child removal, spread fake information regarding Muslim children in Sweden being removed or “withdrawn” from their parents.
Although social media groups were active months ago in covering the issue, they were not as well organized as the campaign we see today.
Founded in 2018, Doku, an independent platform researching jihadist Islamism from a Swedish perspective, was the first to report on the campaign on January 27. The report detailed how false information was spread among Islamic groups and websites.
The government reacted about a week later, as several demonstrations were planned in major Swedish cities, which were to be covered by Arab media supporting the campaign.
On February 6, Mikael Tofsson, Head of Global Monitoring and Analysis at the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), said that Sweden was “under a coordinated attack, by accounts linked to violent Islamist organizations.”
On February 7, Fredrik Hultgren Friberg, press spokesman for the Swedish Intelligence Service (SÄPO), said extremists were spreading polarizing messages and false information online. He added that information was spread through Arabic language channels, and that the comment section included calls for terrorist acts against the Swedish authorities.
On February 16, the Swedish government stated that a disinformation campaign was targeting the country, falsely claiming that Muslim children and families are systematically abused by Swedish authorities.
In this report, we will verify the most important sources used by activists, websites, imams and Arab satellite channels that have contributed to disseminating information about the work of the Social Services Department (Socialförvaltningen) – popularly just known as “Social,” which is the state agency responsible for ensuring children are raised in a safe environment.
How It All Started
The removal of children from their parents started with the introduction of the Swedish Act on the Care of Young People (LVU) in 1990. The law has been controversial ever since. In 2020, Parliament rejected a proposal to change the LVU. However, amendments to the current law are expected soon.
At the end of 2021, George Touma, a YouTuber and barber in the city of Göteborg, published a video showing Syrian refugees Diab Talal and Amal Sheikho crying because Social had “kidnapped” their four children in Norrbotten in the far north of Sweden.
In the video, which attracted over 70,000 views, Talal claimed he had not seen his children for four years. The wife said the “ruthless” Swedes took her baby from hospital five minutes after he was born without her or her husband even seeing him. She appealed to “the Arab nation and every human being with a conscience to help them retrieve their children”
According to the Administrative Court (förvaltningsrätten), however, the parents “were unable to benefit from the support provided by the Social Welfare Board (Socialnämnden), which was in constant contact with them.”
The court decision also stated that they were “unable to absorb information and convert it into actual practice” and that “despite receiving support for a long time, they did not show a significant improvement in their ability to parent” and show “any deeper insight into children’s need for safety and emotionally available parents.”
Social did not respond to Daraj’ inquiries about the accusations, including the “kidnapping” of children. Social generally does not comment on individual cases.
After the video went viral, George Touma on Swedish public television (SVT) appealed to his supporters to “stop using the video for hate speech against Sweden.” And: “I thought I did a good thing for one person,” he said. “But I refuse to say that I hate Sweden. This is not acceptable. It is our country.”
When asked whether he published both sides’ views, he replied: “I did something based on my feelings. I don’t have time to read everything that is going on. I don’t have a TV or a newspaper.”
Both social media and reputable Arab media went on to circulate the video and broadcast it multiple times. Among them are the Islamic Affairs channel on YouTube, Qatar’s Al-Jazeera, the Saudi Al-Arabiya and Turkish TRT Arabi channels, and the privately-owned Syrian opposition channel, Orient News, which is based in the United Arab Emirates.
The Islamic Affairs channel appears to be the most important platform that adopted the campaign. It is followed by some 634,000 subscribers on YouTube, 319,000 on Facebook, and more than 179,000 on Twitter.
The channel is run by an Egyptian national who calls himself Mustafa Al-Sharqawi. According to the Swedish newspaper Expressen he had applied for political asylum in Sweden in 2017, but was rejected.
Al-Sharqawi says he is proud to have a network of “brothers” in Sweden, individuals who have disputes with the authorities regarding the “withdrawal” of children. He claims they help him monitor the media.
Yet, the Daraj team was unable to confirm Sharqawi’s identity. He openly states to be against violence, yet at the same time provides an almost daily platform for individuals to promote false information, including Social kidnapping Muslim children, children being sold to pharmaceutical companies for drug testing, and Sweden being ruled by “freemasons and Jews.”
Islamic Affairs furthermore published a video, which featured Raad Al-Dohan, son of the controversial Iraqi Salafi sheikh Riyad Al-Dohan, imam of the Al-Rashideen Mosque in the Swedish city of Gavle.
Raad explained that many notable people in Sweden have criticized Social, describing it as a mafia for child trafficking. The reasons for children’s removal were “trivial.”
“My dear, I will tell you what the reason is,” he said. “One report from a doctor and they take your children. A report from the school, a report from the youth activity center (fritidsgård), a report from your neighbors, a report from a person who wants to plot against you, an intelligence report from the police: all these could lead to them taking your children.”
The main problem, according to him, is the report “falling into the hands of a Social employee, with no experience, mercy or humanity.” He added that bribery is more prevalent in Sweden than in any other country in the world.
In 2019, the Swedish government decided to deport Raad and his father for their being involved in extremist Islamic circles that threatened national security. However, the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) declared that the deportation order could not be executed because the two men were at risk of persecution in Iraq.
Another major influencer in the campaign against Sweden is the Moroccan preacher Hamid Al-Idrisi, who launched the hashtag #Sweden_Fascist_state, which has rapidly spread widely.
Al-Idrisi presents himself as a university professor, with PhDs in Arabic literature and Islamic jurisprudence. He is also a family counselor hostile to feminist ideas, as well as a doctor, and a counselor at the American University of Minnesota (AUM) for distance learning.
However, the Daraj team did not find the latter in the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs (DAPIP) of the US Department of Higher Education. A search for the AUM address in fact leads to the Al-Farouq High School in Minnesota.
Some imams in Sweden, and many of the campaign’s most influential influencers, have also promoted a book published in Swedish called “LVU Lönsam Kommunal Människohandel (LVU Profitable Municipal Kidnapping) by Ove Svidén, who died in 2020.
The book describes the Swedish act on the care of young people as a “beautiful facade” behind which “kidnapped children are used as a commodity in the lucrative trade in people.”
But the book published in 2013, which was translated into English, is not an academic or even journalistic source. It is a collection of personal notes written by Svidén, after his return to Sweden from Belgium, where he resided until early 1997.
Svidén took part in the 2006 and 2010 parliamentary elections for the Centerpartiet (Center Party). But he was expelled as a party member in 2010 when it was found he was promoting conspiracy theories. According to him, AIDS is a Jewish conspiracy and Jews were behind both the 9/11 attacks and the Holocaust.
Although he used to promote himself as a “political philosopher,” Svidén’s academic and professional background is far removed from the work Social does. In the 1960s, he obtained a BA in aeronautical engineering and a doctorate in transportation. He always worked in traffic and transport policy and published several technical articles in the field of his expertise.
Stop, Just Stop
In early 2022, Egyptian YouTuber Abdullah Al-Sharif said that what is happening to Muslims and Arabs in Sweden is a “disgrace and crime.” They, and their children, fled their countries of origin only to encounter “dirty and misguided dictatorships.”
To back up his claim, Al-Sharif, launched the hashtag #Stop_kidnapping_our_children. He also re-issued a video that was circulating in February 2015. The video shows a private security guard at the train station in the city of Malmö violently dealing with a nine-year-old who was arrested at police request.
The Daraj team was able to verify that the video was taken from a report by Swedish Public Television (SVT), as part of a series about the miserable conditions experienced by unaccompanied minors on the streets of Sweden.
TRT Arabi and several other media broadcast reports about “dragging off children ” in Sweden, using a short video showing two people carrying a child towards a car with a policeman behind them. However, the Daraj team found that the video was in fact not shot in the Dutch province of Gelderland in 2012.
According to him, this “semi-governmental” site describes Sweden as a “communist, oppressive, totalitarian state” that “is similar to Stalin’s regime in Russia or the communist regime in China that kidnaps Muslims.” However, the Daraj team found that the website, which provides information in Arabic, is not a governmental or quasi-governmental entity at all, but was established by immigrants in 2015. It does not disclose information about its editorial team nor its funding. The site presents itself in Swedish as “founded on Swedish democratic values.”
Former Salafi imam Anas Khalifa stated in a series of tweets that, while he was in prison, Social received reports of concern about his six children. Khalifa, who was one of the most influential Salafists in Sweden, explained that, despite the Social investigations, his children were not “withdrawn” and the case was closed.
He did face “racism and prejudice.” In an interview on the YouTube channel “Toma,” which was also shown on Islamic Affairs, a Swedish politician of foreign origin said he resigned from Social, due to the policy of child removal. The man, Issa, presented himself as being of Syriac Syrian origin, a legal advisor on immigration and a local politician in the city of Norrköping in central Sweden.
Without mentioning an official source, Issa said that only 10 percent of the children removed from their families are Christians and that 80 percent of the parents, whose children were taken, were “wronged.” He emphasized that Social takes a decision to “withdraw” too quickly due to a lack of time.
Issa also said some of the Social employees were not even 20 years old, have no work experience, are not familiar with the LVU law, and “take children without verification.”
Still, Issa refused to use the words “kidnapping” or “trafficking” of children, because of the “incitement against social workers and government officials.” Rather he used the word “custody,” stressing that some children need the intervention of Social to take care of the family without taking the children from their families.
The Daraj team, however, found Issa is a former member of the far-right and xenophobic Sverigedemokraterna (SD).
According to the Expressen daily, the party dismissed Issa in 2020 because of a drug party he participated in. Norrköping also relieved him of his duties in 2020, after he threatened police officers when they had stopped him for speeding while driving a car. The court had furthermore suspended him from carrying out his duties for a period of time, because he had given false information, according to the Swedish Arabic language website Combs.