A photograph of Norwegian ISIS fighter Egzon Avdyli [right] and radical Islamist preacher Ubaydullah Hussain [left] that was published on Facebook.
Earlier this week, Albanian and Norwegian media noted the death in Syria of Egzon Avdyli, who had come to Norway from Albania as a child. He is said to have died while fighting in the ranks of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), The Local reported.
Avdyli, a 25-year-old from Oslo, was a former spokesman for the Norwegian radical Islamist group Prophet’s Ummah and had defended the group against what he called a “witch hunt” in 2012, according to The Independent, a Macedonian news outlet. He reportedly left Norway for Syria early this year.
The reactions in Norway to the news have been interesting.
His death was hailed as a martyrdom by members of Prophet’s Ummah, and Ubaydullah Hussain, a former leader of the group [pictured above with Aydyli] wrote on Facebook that Avdyli should be rewarded for “the best death … in the way of Allah.”
In an interview with Aftenposten on May 2, Mehtab Afsar, the Secretary General of the 80,000-member Islamic Council of Norway (IRN), acknowledged that he had had several conversations with Avdyli. Instead of denouncing aspiring young Norwegian jihadists and further isolating them, Afsar argued, it is better to maintain dialogue with them. Afsar also wondered why the government is not making more use of IRN’s contacts with the Muslim community in the fight against extremism.
The next day, Aftenposten ran an article featuring Zakaria Saaliti of the Young Muslim organization, who took issue with Afsar’s statement comparing Norwegian military service with weapons training in Syria, and urged that Norwegian Muslim leaders make it much clearer to young people that they should not travel to Syria.
Today, Afsar spoke out against the way his statements in the interview had been characterized, but he refused to condemn those who travel to Syria to fight. He stated:
I’m not saying that I support those who travel there to actively participate in an armed conflict. What I am saying is that if it were so simple as to say that they should not go, why is it still as many as leave? One must find other ways to communicate with them, than to condemn them and teach them. It is the kind of arrogant attitudes that contribute to isolation and creates people who are a challenge for society.
Norwegian intelligence said in its 2014 annual report that the danger of Norwegian jihadists returning from Syria poses the most significant terror threat to the country, according to a report in Aftenposten. In February, a Norwegian man of Pakistani origin was arrested in Oslo after returning from Syria, where he had fought for ISIS and the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate.
An estimated 40 to 50 Norwegians are thought to have fought in Syria with extremist groups such as the Al Nusrah Front and the ISIS; and about 10 are believed to have died there, but Norwegian authorities will not disclose exact figures. Overall, at least 100 Scandinavians are said to have gone to Syria for jihad.
Lars Akerhaug, a Norwegian journalist who had interviewed Avdyli several times before he left for Syria, said Avdyli had encouraged other young people to travel to Syria for jihad and also “supported the establishment of an Islamic state in Norway or other Western countries,” according to a report in NRK news.