Danish govt confirms it accidentally paid Syria militants

COPENHAGEN • The Danish government has been inadvertently paying benefits to citizens fighting for terror group ISIS in Syria, Danish officials said, as outrage grows that militants are manipulating the country's generous welfare system.

About 145 Danes have travelled to Syria or Iraq to fight for militant groups there since 2012, according to the security and intelligence services in Denmark.

Officials said on Tuesday that they had identified a number of Danish citizens who, while getting government disability pensions, had gone to Syria to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Labour Minister Troels Lund Poulsen said: "It is a huge scandal that we are paying out money from the welfare funds in Denmark to people who are going to Syria and elsewhere in the world to undermine democracy that we have been fighting for for hundreds of years."

Last year, the news media reported that more than two dozen Danish citizens receiving unemployment benefits had travelled to Syria to fight for ISIS, even though the law requires the recipients to reside in Denmark.

WHAT A SHAME

It is a huge scandal that we are paying out money from the welfare funds in Denmark to people who are going to Syria and elsewhere in the world to undermine democracy that we have been fighting for for hundreds of years.

MR TROELS LUND POULSEN, Denmark's Labour Minister.

Senior Labour Ministry officials said on Tuesday that the centre-right government of Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen was planning to pass legislation to plug the loopholes and prevent what they called an egregious misuse of public funds.

Officials noted that, since last year, municipal and state authorities had been trying to collect about 672,000 kroner (S$135,000) in welfare benefits that had been wrongly paid to 29 citizens who had gone to Syria to fight for ISIS.

The efforts to tame Islamic radicalism in Denmark are taking place against the backdrop of a simmering culture war over Danish identity and the challenge of integrating immigrants.

This has helped drive support for the far-right anti-immigrant Danish People's Party.

Earlier this month, Parliament approved a statement by the Danish People's Party expressing concern that there were more immigrants than native-born Danes in some areas of Copenhagen.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2017, with the headline 'Danish govt confirms it accidentally paid Syria militants'. Print Edition | Subscribe