Minister of the Interior Päivi Räsänen: Terrorism to be fought on many fronts

Ministry of the Interior 5.11.2014 12.36
News item

There has been fierce debate this autumn about foreign fighters going to Syria and Iraq. According to the Finnish Police, over 40 people have left Finland to fight in these conflict zones, and it is estimated that foreign fighters coming from Europe number in the several thousands. They are mostly young men, who have left for a variety of motives; and just as their motives vary, so actions directed at them must be taken across a variety of fronts.

In terms of counter-terrorism, this is a two-sided issue. Efforts must be made to prevent radicalisation leading to people going to conflict zones, and to establish the situation of those returning to Finland. Preventing radicalisation requires a balanced approach with both a legislative and a criminal justice response. The Finnish Security Intelligence Service has a key role to play here.

Social media used for terrorist purposes

Social media and the Internet are important channels for terrorist organisations to spread propaganda and recruit new members. In my view, this is worrying because the authorities have limited capacity to intervene.

The issue is being tackled within the EU. On the initiative of the Netherlands, the Member States – including Finland – will further reinforce their joint efforts to prevent the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes. Key measures include exchanging best practices and agreeing possible joint legislative measures.

Crimes committed by unlawful combatants punishable in Finland

In Finland, a criminal investigation must be opened into returning fighters who are suspected, with reason, of having committed a crime in a conflict zone. Unlawful combatants are defined in international law. They include mercenaries, and terrorists who are not part of the regular army. Acts of violence committed by unlawful combatants in conflict zones constitute a criminal offence under Finnish law regardless of where they were committed. The criminal investigation is carried out in accordance with the rule of law.

Legal provisions on terrorism are based on international law. Terrorist offences under Finnish criminal law comprise offences committed with terrorist intent and their preparation; directing a terrorist group; promotion of the activity of a terrorist group; recruitment and provision of training for the commission of a terrorist offence; and the financing of terrorism. A proposal to criminalise receiving terrorist training is being considered by Parliament.

The UN Security Council recently adopted a resolution to counter terrorism. The resolution calls on UN Member States to make it a criminal offence to travel abroad for the purpose of preparing or perpetrating terrorist acts, or providing or receiving terrorist training. This might create in Finland a need to further extend the scope of legislation on terrorist offences. The Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior are examining the impact of the UN resolution on Finnish law.

Police to access passenger name record data

Parliament is considering a legislative proposal on giving police access to passenger name record data for the purpose of preventing and investigating crime. This would be a significant step, which would make it considerably easier for the police to identify people going to and coming from conflict zones.

The process of introducing a similar system at EU level should be moved forward. The EU directive on this issue – 'the PNR Directive' – aims to enable law enforcement authorities to use passenger data collected by air carriers for the prevention, detection and investigation of terrorist offences and serious crime.

Counter-terrorism and the rule of law

Counter-terrorism work is carried out at many levels, involving ministers, law enforcement agencies and officials. It is a constant struggle, and there is no easy solution in sight. The importance of international cooperation is paramount, as terrorist organisations recruit and operate across national borders.

The goal of terrorism is to control society through fear. Our purpose is to guarantee the safety and security of our people and to ensure civil peace by combating terrorism effectively while at the same time respecting human rights and the rule of law.