Sweden’s help sought in Auschwitz theft probe

Polish authorities investigating possible Swedish ties to the theft of the Auschwitz “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign planned to formally ask for help from the Swedish justice ministry, the Polish justice ministry said on Wednesday.

Sweden's help sought in Auschwitz theft probe

Polish Justice Minister Krzysztof Kwiatkowski spoke with his Swedish counterpart Beatrice Ask, the Polish ministry said in a statement.

“Their discussion focused on a request for judicial assistance being drawn up by regional prosecutors in Krakow,” the southern Polish city where the probe is being steered, it said.

The relatively rare step of involving ministers came “because of the importance of the case”, it added.

Earlier, a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office in Krakow, Boguslawa Marcinkowska, said the request would be made on Wednesday, but declined to provide any further details, the Polish PAP news agency reported.

Five men are currently being held in Poland in connection with December 18th theft of the iconic, five metre long sign, which translates from German to “Work sets you free”.

Polish police are also hunting for a sixth person, reportedly based in Sweden, who they believe may have acted as an intermediary for whoever ordered the theft of the sign, an unnamed source told PAP.

Sources close to the investigation added that four of the thieves now in custody claim they were unaware of the sign’s historical significance.

While Polish investigators said the mastermind of the theft lived abroad, they have consistently refused to confirm media reports that the individual is in Sweden.

They have also refused to say whether his or her name is known to Polish justice authorities, or that they plan to ask the Swedes for an arrest.

Poland had contacted Interpol and its European Union equivalent Europol in the wake of the theft at the former World War II death camp, on the edge of the southern Polish city of Oswiecim.

Police recovered the metal sign two days later in northern Poland, charging the five suspects with theft and damage. If convicted, they face up to 10 years in prison.

The men, aged 20 to 39, have criminal records for theft or violence, but none appeared to be neo-Nazis although they may have been working for neo-Nazis, police have said.

According to the BBC, police began to suspect the theft had a Swedish connection following the arrest of two of the suspects in the Polish port of Gdynia, which has ferry connections to Sweden.

Unconfirmed reports that the theft was carried out at the behest a Swedish collector surfaced at the same time that the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet reported last week that an extremist group was plotting a politically-motivated attack against the Swedish parliament, the foreign ministry, and the prime minister’s residence.

Citing unidentified sources, the tabloid said the attack was meant to be financed by the sale of the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign.

Swedish intelligence agency Säpo said last Thursday it was investigating a far-right attack plot on the Swedish parliament and prime minister’s residence.

“I can confirm the fact that we have some information about alleged plots on the parliament and prime minister’s residence,” Säpo spokesman Patrik Peter told AFP.

However, Peter couldn’t confirm whether there was a connection between the plot and the theft of the sign from the main gate of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

“I have no information to give you about that,” the intelligence agency’s spokesperson said.

When it was recovered, the sign had been cut into three pieces, with the letter “i” from “Frei” abandoned at the camp, a Polish state-run museum and memorial since 1947.

The sign has long symbolised the horror of the camp, created by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland in 1940 and run until Soviet troops liberated it in 1945.

This was where 1.1 million mainly Jewish prisoners from across Europe died during World War II: some from overwork and starvation, but mostly in the camp’s notorious gas chambers. Among the other victims were non-Jewish Poles, Roma and captured Soviet soldiers.

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Prominent Muslim head of free school seized by security police

The chief executive of a largely Muslim free school in Gothenburg has been placed in custody by the Swedish Migration Agency on the orders of the country's Säpo security police. It follows the arrests of other Imams in recent months.

Prominent Muslim head of free school seized by security police
He was seized on Wednesday and taken to an immigration detention centre in the city, Sweden's Expressen newspaper reported on Thursday
Abdel-Nasser el Nadi, chief executive of Vetenskapsskolan, is the fifth senior member of Sweden's Muslim community to be placed in custody in less than a month. 
Three prominent imams are now in custody: Abo Raad, imam of a mosque in Gävle, Hussein Al-Jibury, imam of a mosque in Umeå, and Fekri Hamad, imam of a mosque in Västerås. Raad's son is also being held. 
Sven-Erik Berg, the school's headmaster, told The Local that he had no idea what was behind the arrest. 
“We don't know anything. I don't know anything more than you,” he said. “We are doing nothing, but the school is naturally maintaining a dialogue with the Swedish School Inspectorate and their lawyers.” 
He said it was inaccurate to describe the school as a 'Muslim school' as it has no official confessional status. 
“The chief executive is a central person among Swedish Muslims, so naturally the group of people we recruit from are often those who have a relation to Islam or Sweden's Islamic associations,” he said. “But the school does not go around telling children what they should or shouldn't believe.”
On its website the school declares: “At our school everyone is treated equally irrespective of gender, religion, ethnic background, appearance, opinions, or abilities”. 
“We are one of the best schools in Gothenburg. You just have to look at the statistics,” Berg added.  
A spokesman for Säpo told Expressen that he could not comment on any of the five cases or on whether they were in some way linked. 
But according to the Swedish news site Doku, which investigates Islamic extremists, Säpo is probing whether el Nadi has any links to a network of Islamic militants.
In an article published last October, the site alleged that El Nadi's activism was part of the reason that so many young men from Gothenburg had travelled to fight for the terror group Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. 
El-Nadi was previously the school's headmaster, and the school was in 2018 criticised by the Swedish School Inspectorate for not sufficiently promoting equality between girls and boys.
When he was interviewed by Dagens Nyheter a year ago, he asserted his loyalty to Sweden. 
“I have five children, all of whom were born in Sweden, a big family, and I want to protect this society in the same way that I have protected my children,” he said.  
El-Nadi was born in Egypt but has lived in Sweden since 1992. He has twice applied to become a Swedish citizen, in 2007 and 2011, and twice been rejected.