The US news channel CNN has estimated that Finland leads the field in terms of countries with Muslims fighting in Syria. The channel compared numbers provided by 25 different countries to rank Finland as the country with the highest percentage of Muslims who have gone to Syria to fight. The head of Finnish security police Supo says the numbers are about right although not entirely accurate.
The CNN comparison compared official data provided by 25 countries for its comparison. However the table lacked information from some of the world’s most populous states with large Muslim groups, such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. There were also no data from much of Africa.
According to the CNN infographic, about 42,000 Muslims call Finland home. Roughly 30 of them have left to engage in jihadist battles in Syria. As a result CNN has calculated that one in 1,400 people (0.071 percent) is waging war abroad, a fairly significant proportion given the country’s relatively small Muslim population.
CNN’s estimate of Muslims in Finland may not be entirely accurate, however, since not all Muslims are registered as such in official records. Last year researcher Tuomas Martikainen estimated that there could be up to 60,000 Muslims in Finland.
Supo chief: Head count problematic but end result about right
Chief Inspector Tuomas Portaankorva of Finland’s Security and Intelligence Police Supo said that while the CNN estimates of Finnish Muslims close, they were not completely accurate.
“There might be some inaccuracies in these numbers because of the difficulty in head count but the end result is in the right direction, in other words in terms of Europe we can be counted right up there at the top,” Portaankorva noted.
The Supo chief said he couldn’t say why Finland led the table, but pointed out that the absolute number of Muslims fighting abroad was still small.
“Perhaps at the moment Syria is just attracting people who want to fight from Finland as well. Although the absolute number that has left Finland is a mere drop in the ocean, when we consider that thousands of fighters have left some other countries,” Portaankorva added.
He concluded that returnees from Syria in particular may pose a national security risk that Supo is currently evaluating.
Finland trails in absolute numbers
Behind Finland, CNN calculated that Muslims from Ireland (0.07 percent), Australia (0.06 percent), Denmark (0.044 percent) and Belgium (0.039 percent) are all well-represented in the Syrian conflict.
Zooming out to look at absolute numbers presents a different picture, however, with the largest numbers of Muslim fighters in Syria coming from Tunisia (3,000), Saudi Arabia (2,500) and Morocco (1,500). Official estimates put the total number of people who have gone to Syria to fight at 11,000, although some have since returned.
CNN's article lists its data sources as national governments and the Pew Research Centre.