Security police head says safety is nothing absolute

Anneli Ammas
, reporter
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Photo: Toomas Tatar

As assured by Security Police chief Arnold Sinisalu, there is no need to be overly worried about terror attacks in Estonia at the moment. Neither is there any need to fear the threat arising with newly arriving migrants, there being no proof of radicals having entered thru such channel.

-May people feel safe in Estonia despite what they see in TV and hear in radio?

If they are in Estonia, to see not much need to worry right now. But those in the areas where terrorist attacks have been committed need to be careful.

Life has shown that terrorist attacks keep adding up at certain interval and Daesh has assumed responsibility. When it is said that thousands have gone from Europe to fight in Syria, and as they return in time, it is obvious that the chances grow regarding them including such as are willing and able to commit acts of terrorism. This is obvious and logical. The issue is how well our colleagues in the specific countries, as well as we, are able to detect, uncover and prevent these events. The trouble being that in no European nation the constitution allows neither is supposed to allow punishment for thoughts. As long as an individual is harbouring some kinds of thoughts, nothing happens.

-That’s a nice principle but will not defend us from the next terrorist attacks.

It is indeed the issue of how to identify the line where fundamental ideas get radicalised and evolve into acts of terror. The line is very delicate and I fear that even the wealthiest of nations have no such resources. That would mean a totalitarian society where all is being monitored. This is neither feasible not reasonable.

What can society do to avoid such acts? In our annual reviews, we have repeatedly asked people to let us know if they are worried about someone. That he is harbouring, propagating terrorism or violence. Sometimes, preventive talks do help which we or the police will have with people like that.

-Do we have any idea at all how many may be in Europe the second of third generation immigrants who are not doing well and are radicalised? Or how many are in Europe illegally and are not registered anywhere?

I cannot tell if anyone has the complete picture, but there definitely is an overview by states who might be among carriers of radical Islam. I do not believe anybody is researching how many potential terrorists may be among Moslems due to ethnic background.

-Perhaps Europe ought to begin to take a closer look at these people?

There are millions of Moslems in Europe but those who have committed acts of terror are in the dozens, not thousands. The other issue is these fighters. They include even the so-called native Europeans. Finland, for instance, has said they do have people from the most ordinary Finnish families who have converted to Islam and gone to fight. Generalisation would be the last thing to do here. I believe we have distanced ourselves from the Middle Ages and will not have a witch hunt.

-Talking about what is happening in Europe, Islamic State has essentially declared war on Europe. We would be in denial to not acknowledge that.

Perhaps it is too much to say war. These are terrorist attacks, not war. Always, scientists have said that terrorism is for the weak. Even the idea of the Islamic State is stupid which is legitimising the terrorist grouping. It is not a state, nobody recognises it as a state, it lack most of the characteristics of a state. What they are doing is to gain limelight and to show how capable they are. To attack the foundations of democratic state, the trust. That European states are unable to guarantee security, safety, order. The worse it is in Europe, the better for them.

-These fanatics are great at pulling that off.

It is such a hot topic at the moment and looks very dark. But the attacks that have been in Madrid, London, Washington or New York have all been survived. Democracy has not collapsed as the result, has it. I think the societies are resilient enough to survive such attacks. Rather, the issue is how do we go from here.  

-Democracy has not fallen but the fear, the sense of danger, the insecurity – this does clearly deepen with each such attack?

It is totally natural for people to have anxiety, worry, fear. As live must be lived.

-How much and how do you work with people interested in Islam in Estonia?

We work on threat based assessment. We have no need nor resource to deal with all people interested in Islam, neither is it needed. Our focus is to detect those who are getting radicalised, who wish to go fight in Syria or commit acts of terror.

-Do we have such?

Yes, we do. Ivan Sazanakov who went to fight in Syria, and Roman Manko and Ramil Khalilov who supported him. In cooperation with the prosecutor’s office, we sued the latter two for the very reason that they supported Mr Sazanakov i.e. financed terrorism. At the court of first instance, they were found to be guilty, and this very day (yesterday – edit) circuit court held its session to decide in May.

-Do we have more?

Regrettably, yes.

-Are these rather such as have been living in Estonia from birth?

There are all kinds of them.

-Have we had Moslem extremists come in with the refugee flow, too?

No, it cannot be said that of these lately entering Estonia anyone would have radicalised. Rather, it’s the people who have been here. There may be some who have come to Estonia years ago, but that somebody just arrived and is a terrorist – can’t say that.

The trouble with all these things is there is nothing absolute. Currently, our danger level is not bad. We have no references that anybody would be planning to set off explosions here. But we cannot rule out that if Daesh want to commit a pan-European terrorist attack, in the Schengen visa-free area they might send someone into Estonia that we do not know. This is the dark side and it needs to be told. Naturally, in cooperation with Police and Border Guard Board and other agencies and our colleagues abroad we are doing everything to avoid such events.