Yassin Ali was released on June 11th, 2008 after spending more than three months in custody last year following his arrest in a joint raid carried out by Swedish and Norwegian security police.
He and two other men were suspected of having sent money to al-Shabaab (‘The Party of Youth’), a Somalia-based Islamist insurgent group with ties to al-Qaeda.
Al-Shabaab has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and is considered a terrorist group by both the Swedish and Norwegian security police.
One of the men was released shortly after the February arrests, while Ali and a second man remained in custody as prosecutors continued to build their case.
But Swedish prosecutor Ronnie Jacobsson eventually closed the case in September 2008 without filing formal charges, saying he had been unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the men had sent money to finance terror groups in Somalia.
“The investigation has not been able to show to a sufficiently high degree to whom or what in Somalia, and for what purpose, the money was sent,” wrote Jacobsson in a statement at the time.
Having since returned to Somalia, Ali has assumed a top leadership position within Hisbi Islam (also known as Hizbul Islaam – ‘The Islamic Party’) a recently formed coalition of four insurgent Islamist groups united in fighting the Somali government.
In late February, both al-Shabaab and Hisbi Islam were involved in a fierce battle with African Union peacekeepers which claimed more than 20 lives and left dozens wounded.
Following the revelations that Ali was leading an armed insurgency in Somalia, Jacobsson said he knew that Ali had return to the country but wasn’t aware of his role.
Jacobsson added that he didn’t think there was much he could do about the matter.
“I’d have to think about it awhile,” he told the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.
“But just being a member in something identified as criminal isn’t enough to be convicted of a crime.”
Mats Paulsson, who heads the counter terrorism division with Sweden’s security police, Säpo, was also skeptical as to whether Swedish authorities have any power to stop Ali.
“Under current legislation it’s not possible to impede, legally speaking, Swedes from participating in these types of groups,” he told SvD.
Per Gudmundson, an editorial writer with SvD who has written extensively about Swedish terror connections in Somalia, says it’s regrettable that Swedish authorities weren’t able to build a case against Ali and prevent him from returning to Somalia to participate in more violence.
“Part of the problem is that the Swedish security services, law enforcement, and prosecutors don’t have the resources to carry out the costly and time consuming work of tracing money all the way back to al-Shabaab,” he told The Local.
“Of course, they also operate with the goal of preventing crimes from taking place in Sweden, and don’t have the legal tools to prevent crimes from occurring abroad.”
Gudmundson also noted that revelations of a Swedish citizen leading an Islamic terrorist group in Somalia hadn’t gotten much attention in the Swedish press or among Swedes in general.
While news about Africa seldom attracts a great deal of attention, he theorized that Swedes’ views about citizenship may also have something to do with the general lack of awareness of Ali’s case.
“In the eyes of most Swedes, a Swedish citizen of Somali origin is simply considered Somali,” he said.
“Swedes don’t really think it has anything to do with them.”