First I believe in the Creator. After that — in the Swedish justice system. A story of the Kyrgyz terrorist suspect

58 min read
Illustrations: Daria Udalova for Kloop.kg

This material has been prepared on the basis of a 2,220 page pre-trial investigation report prepared by SÄPO (Säkerhetspolisen, the Swedish Security Police — ed.). The translations from the report have been made by Kloop’s Swedish-speaking journalist and Kyrgyz-speaking translators and journalists. Kloop has not utilised the services of certified translators. The quotes in this article come from the report.

It’s 4:23 in the early morning on the last day of April in 2018, and the Swedish SWAT-team is standing outside an apartment on Sibeliusgången street, in Stockholm, waiting for the right moment. With heavy tools, the team strikes and breaks down the front door to apartment 1703. They throw a distraction grenade in the living room to be able to work without interference from the suspects inside. The first man they see is Atabek Abdullaev, a Kyrgyz man, who is in the kitchen right in front of the entrance where the door was broken down. In the hallway, Abdullaev’s neighbour Bakhtiyor Umarov, also known as “Ali”, is standing. The police arrests Umarov and Abdullaev, and drives them to the pre-trial detention. The police investigator asks Abdullaev a couple of questions, but Abdullaev speaks neither Swedish nor English.

Atabek Abdullaev is from Kyrgyzstan, a small, Central Asian nation squeezed between China and Kazakhstan, with a predominantly Muslim population. He is a migrant worker, one of 700,000 Kyrgyz labor migrants living abroad.

People from Kyrgyzstan leave their home country for different reasons. Kyrgyzstan ranks among the fifty most corrupt countries in the world, and is struck by widespread poverty. Many people choose to move abroad for survival, and Kyrgyzstan has the most migrant-dependent economy in the world.

Atabek Abdullaev is one of these thousands filling up the statistics. He lived semi-legally in Sweden, working without the proper permits. Following a more than seven month-long investigation, Abdullaev gave his own testimonial in court in early February. He is accused of financing terrorism and preparing a terrorist attack. Abdullaev was born in the Osh region in southern Kyrgyzstan and arrived in Sweden first time in 2017.

Illustrations: Daria Udalova for Kloop.kg

***

Аround 2006, Atabek Abdullaev was a Kyrgyz migrant worker in Russia. He lived there with his family. He worked on different construction sites, and at some point he met Farkhod Tashmukhamedov, an Uzbek citizen in exile.

Atabek and Farkhod became friends, their families moved in together, and their wives got along well. The next year, Tashmukhamedov moved to Sweden as a refugee, and changed his name to David Idrisson. Years later, in 2017, Atabek Abdullaev arrived in Sweden, and reconnected with his old friend Farkhod, who already had a new name, and a new life in a completely different setting.

David Idrisson became a business owner, and tried to help his old friend find work. Abdullaev’s expenses from home in Kyrgyzstan were high, and there were many bills and lots of debt to pay off. Sweden is a rich country, and he hoped to learn how to make money here. But Idrisson’s business went bankrupt — it was closed by tax authorities. Idrisson has lost everything, and struggled to find a way to feed his eleven children from two wives.

In February 2018, David Idrisson purchases a load of paint and goods at a bargain price, from a bankrupt paint shop, through an auction company. The load included not only paint, but a large amount of extremely dangerous chemicals.

“He planned to use the paint in his construction work. He planned to sell the [chlor] granulate,” Atabek told the interrogator.

Idrisson sends his friends — the Kyrgyz Atabek Abdullaev and an Uzbek man named Abdulgani, to pick up the load. After that, David’s teenage sons help to move around the paint and chemicals in different containers.

Idrisson wants to get rid of the chemicals and pours two of the containers into the ground in the woods — he doesn’t need them. Later, he goes to the local municipality office to sell some of it, but the receptionist is very startled when the Uzbek man comes by with this offer:

The interrogator: Did he say how much chlor he wanted to sell?

The municipality employee: No, I don’t remember… What I thought was weird was that he seemed to believe that you could just sell [chlor] to a municipality office in such a way.

This is not how things are done in Sweden.

Illustrations: Daria Udalova for Kloop.kg

SÄPO started to get interested in Idrisson after he bought the load. On the 15th of March the apartment where he stayed was raided — the security police believed that Idrisson wanted to use the chemicals to make a bomb. Alongside this, Idrisson and Abdullaev’s roommate Bakhtiyor Umarov had been communicating with some Uzbek IS (Islamic State) fighters in Syria, and had transferred money to these people on several occasions. The police found proof of this. But some of these transfers also appear to have happened in Atabek Abdullaev’s name.

The pre-trial investigation concerning Atabek Abdullaev and the five other suspects has been shared with Kloop, which started its own investigation. Not on the case itself – but checking up on the work of the Swedish security police.

Europe in general — and Scandinavia in particular — is known as being one of the few places in the world where rule of law and the legal system has evolved to perfection, ensuring each citizen a fair trial when faced with criminal charges.

However, Kloop identified at least ten major problems in the pre-trial police investigation, related to Atabek Abdullaev’s role in the terrorism case which do not prove him innocent, but show a biased approach from SÄPO.

Screenshot of the first page of the pre-trial investigation report done by SÄPO

1. A truckload of chemicals

Abdullaev is a suspect partially because he assisted Idrisson in transporting the load. But Abdullaev transported only paint, and Abdulgani who helped him was not charged with preparing a terrorist attack at all.

On 7 February 2018, Idrisson sent a WhatsApp message to Abdullaev with the address and phone number of a storage facility where the paint and chemicals he bought on auction were stored. David asked Abdullaev to help him transport his purchased goods, as Abdullaev explains to the interrogator.

“The idea was that he was supposed to go himself, but he couldn’t go because the kid [Idrisson’s child] got a doctor’s appointment in Strömsund.”

The same day as Idrisson sent the message, Abdullaev and Abdulgani went to pick up the goods. The two men were not able to carry the full load themselves, and the rest was delivered by a company a few days later.

Abdulgani was not targeted as a suspect, even though he was also involved in transporting the load. The company, which sold the goods to Idrisson also has not been charged by the Swedish authorities as of the moment when the pre-trial investigation was happening, despite the fact that it is illegal for private persons to possess such chemicals without a permission (the company never asked for one when Idrisson bought the goods).

2. Extremist videos

The reason for Atabek Abdullaev to become a terrorism suspect in the eyes of SÄPO could be traced to, among other things, two videos which have been found in Abdullaev’s possession. These two videos contained brutal IS-propaganda, including real execution scenes. But it is unclear why the material was saved in Abdullaev’s device.

Abdullaev explains that he received the videos from Idrisson around 15th March 2018.

— How did it happen that David sent these videos to you?

— I also asked him he same question, I was unhappy that he sent me these videos. He thought I should look at them, that was all. I don’t know why he wanted that.

These two videos became the link SÄPO built between Abdullaev and IS:

“Information has been found that Atabek has connections to and support for the Islamic State.”

By default, smartphones could auto-download all media sent through messenger apps, and save it in the phone memory. This is a function in the apps, which can be switched on and off. There is no note in the investigation report, whether SÄPO has checked if it was on or not.

3. The “Islamist” finger or a normal gesture?

Abdullaev is — as many other religious Central Asians — displaying a gesture associated with the conception of “Tawhid” (one God) on several photos. This has driven the Swedish authorities to believe he is an extremist.

Another link between Atabek Abdullaev and IS, according to the Swedish authorities, has been a series of photos and statements in relation to the Muslim concept of “Tawhid” — the idea of “one God”. It is a monotheistic statement of faith to Allah as the only god of worship. Tawhid is often linked with a sign — one finger in the air.

SÄPO has found that Abdullaev’s username on Skype included the word “Tawhid”. It also found pictures on social media of Abdullaev’s stepson with his finger raised in the air in this particular manner. SÄPO found this interesting.

Illustrations: Daria Udalova for Kloop.kg

— … what does the sign mean to you?

— Nothing officially, really. Some should say it is the sign for that there is only one god, but for me it doesn’t mean anything special. There is no meaning really, for me, to make this sign.

— Because we often see the sign together with IS-propaganda.

— This sign has no connection to IS, according to me. This is not IS-propaganda according to me. It is obvious that I believe that there is only one god, and if you make this sign, then it doesn’t mean that you’re supporting IS.

The Swedish investigators asked the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) about their analysis of IS-propaganda. In the memo from FOI, the following is written about this symbol: “Another symbol for tawhid, which is used by IS-supporters, is the index finger pointed upwards. This symbol, which can be compared to a gang symbol or a nazi greeting, is used to show that there is only one god.”

Edward Lemon, expert in extremism in Central Asia at the Wilson Center in Washington DC, stated to Kloop: «Tawhid, the belief that there is only one God, is the central belief in Islam. It is not uncommon to see people using the one finger in bazaars and other places across Central Asia»

Ikbalzhan Mirsaitov, expert on extremism and Islam from Kyrgyzstan, also thinks that such a conclusion is far fetched: «It’s known that an index finger raised in the air is a symbol of faith in one God, in Allah. On the other hand, this gesture is used by supporters of terrorism, meaning that only Allah can judge them. However, a person should not be judged just for making this sign, this is an exaggeration. I think it doesn’t mean that he is a supporter of some terrorist organisation.»

4. Can you help me send some cash?

Atabek Abdullaev is also accused of financing terrorism, because money he helped his friends send — or money that was sent in his name without his knowledge — was sent indirectly to IS-fighters in Syria.

Abdullaev had two transactions through the international transfer system RIA-money, which he could not clearly account for: one to Turkey, and one to Ukraine.

The first transfer was made by David Idrisson in Abdullaev’s name to a Ukrainian national, and ultimately transferred to an IS-fighter in Syria. Abdullaev does not really remember what happened.

He explains, the RIA money card can be used for money transfers even without his presence – there is no pin-code associated with the card, and his passport information is registered with the card, so there is also no need to show the ID. Abdullaev confirms that someone else could have used his card without his knowledge. However, he has also helped Idrisson send money on different occasions.

— [Me and David] were [in the bank] together, or I was there alone. I think we were together. […] The staff asked “should it be cash or card?” David responded “card”, pressed the code and got the card back. I got the receipt.

The second transfer, which Atabek Abdullaev had difficulties accounting for, was a transfer to Turkey. Abdullaev only remembered that he made one transfer through his RIA money card on behalf of «Ali», his neighbour Bakhtiyor Umarov. He had explained to Abdullaev that the money was for Umarov’s family in Turkey.

— But have you ever lent your RIA-card to someone?

— Just one time when Umarov sent money.

In fact, the Turkish recipient transferred the money onwards, to Uzbeks fighting for IS in Syria.

The investigators still did not understand the practice of sending and receiving money for strangers or friends. Atabek tried to explain:

“You see, back home in Kyrgyzstan, if you don’t have documents yourself, you say – can you send to this guy and I can get it [the money] from him later…”

According to Edward Lemon, such practice is not unusual among Central Asian migrants: “Central Asian economies are heavily dependent on money sent back from migrant laborers in Russia; remittances make up around one third of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan’s economies, and over ten percent of Uzbekistan’s. Migrants send money back home on a regular basis and it is certainly conceivable that they would sometimes send money when they did not know the ultimate beneficiary.”

Abdullaev has made 16 money transfers to Kyrgyzstan. The Swedish police has not contacted any of the recipients for clarifications of the given transfers.

5. No regional experts consulted

Neither SÄPO or the Prosecutor has called upon a regional expert to attempt to further understand the motivations for some of the things that Abdullaev and the other suspects have done.

Scandinavia and Central Asia are fundamentally different places. The Swedish authorities could naturally have little understanding of cultural peculiarities and the complex political reality affecting the Central Asian region.

One of cultural misunderstanding was admitted to Abdullaev by the investigator in one of the interrogations. The investigator did not understand why all the suspects, including Atabek, and their friends used more than one name — one official, and one unofficial, and why they never are known by their official name.

— It might be a shortfall in cultural understanding from my side, because in my world you call yourself by your name, but it doesn’t seem to be like this in your world?

— Back home, most Uzbeks have two names, this is because of the fear for the dictatorship in their home country. This is why they are scared to say their own name, even to people they are close to. In the case that you would be around, for instance, someone named Ali and ask this guy what his name is in the official documents, then he will be scared. We don’t ask each other those kinds of things.

Many Uzbeks in Sweden are religious refugees, who have been forced to flee their country due to severe problems with the Uzbek authorities, because they are practicing Muslims.

Neither during the pre-trial investigation, nor the court proceedings, Central Asia expert has been called to testify – only experts in extremism, chemicals and bombs.

According to Edward Lemon, this should not be the case: “It is commonplace for either the prosecution or the defense to call in experts on the region to provide context to the evidence presented in cases. Such expertise is invaluable in allowing the judge and jury to make a decision on the case.”

6. Google it

SÄPO’s investigation also resulted in an absurd scene, when a desire to rewatch an innocent Uzbek romantic comedy suddenly became an attempt to watch bombs explode.

A Telegram message in Atabek Abdullaev’s phone containing the word “bomba” attracted some attention from the SÄPO during the investigation. In a message to an account called UzbekTV, Abdullaev had sent a request for the full version of a movie called “Bomba”.

— What bomb movie is that?

— I simply don’t remember. I have no idea what movie it is.

— Do you sometimes watch bomb-videos?

— In movies, there are different bombs. If you watch a movie with bombs in it, it doesn’t mean that you want to watch bombs.

Illustrations: Daria Udalova for Kloop.kg

After a while, Abdullaev finally remembers what movie it is. “Yes, I see. Now I remember. There was just a part of the movie [in the UzbekTV chat], it was such a funny episode, the movie is called bomb-movie, it was an old movie…” Atabek continues, with much energy, to tell about the Uzbek comedy film in great detail, on a man getting married in the movie, and lots of details about traditional Central Asian culture.

The next day, SÄPO googled the words “Bomba UZBEK TV” and found an Uzbek romantic comedy movie from the 1990s with a plot identical to what Abdullaev described in the interrogation.

7. Taking selfies

SÄPO considered Atabek Abdullaev’s social media activity as problematic, because he uploaded pictures of population-dense areas in Stockholm on his Odnoklassniki page.

They questioned Abdullaev about this during several interrogations.

Abdullaev explained that he took selfies and pictures of what he saw, and used these pictures to stay in touch with his relatives.

“I photographed near [Stockholm Central Station]. The reason for uploading these pictures on the website, Odnoklassniki, is to allow others who are not able to travel, to see beautiful things, so that they also can see something,” said the Osh-born terrorism suspect.

During the trial, Prosecutor Per Lindqvist said: “I will not exaggerate the significance of these pictures, but it is obvious that Abdullaev has had an interest in spaces, which would be suitable for an attack,” and added “It is a sign that an attack is being planned. It is a small, but important piece of the puzzle.”

8. Numerous problems with language

The pre-trial investigation and the court proceedings have been marred with language problems arising from an inadequate analysis of the material.

These translation problems have been mentioned by all the suspects in the case. The problem has mainly been related to the extremely little number of Uzbek and other Central Asian interpreters and experts in Sweden, according to a memo from SÄPO.

A notable moment in this regard is the analysis, which the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) prepared for the pre-trial investigation. In the report produced by FOI, it states that “language-proficient employees” have assisted in analysing the IS-material found on the phones of the suspects. In the small report, an IS-propaganda movies are several times described as having “a voice over in a Central Asian language”.

According to Edward Lemon, linguistic capabilities of the researchers from FOI are inadequate, as it is not feasible to make such a generalisation: “Many languages are spoken in Central Asia, belonging to a range of language families including Turkic, Iranian and Slavic. Almost every expert on the region would be able to distinguish with greater precision whether the language belonged to one of these families, rather than just saying it was a «Central Asian language». Tens of thousands of citizens from all over the world have joined IS, so I wonder how they reached the vague conclusion that it was indeed Central Asian languages being spoken.”

Kloop contacted FOI in Stockholm, which stated that the specific linguistic capabilities of its experts involved in preparing this document, could not be disclosed.

8. Translations

The interpreters have also been a problem for the suspects, including for Atabek Abdullaev. Often, the suspects do not understand what is being said to them during the interrogation, due to the lack of Uzbek language translators and their inadequacy in Russian. For Abdullaev, there has been no translation from Kyrgyz language, his mother tongue.

For Atabek Abdullaev, it becomes even more complicated with the translations from Kyrgyz language, from chats on Abdullaev’s phone. For most of the proceedings, Abdullaev has had Russian translators at his interrogations, because his Russian is at a higher level than some of the other suspects. In twelve total interrogations, Abdullaev has had eleven interrogations in Russian, and the first one — very short — in Uzbek.

Despite Abdullaev’s high level of Russian, there were cases, when Abdullaev himself did not understand the translation of his own words, once the interrogation transcript was read back to him. His words were translated from Russian into Swedish orally, written down in the protocol, and then translated orally into Russian again.

In the pre-trial investigation report, there are transcripts and translations of chats Abdullaev has had on Facebook messenger in Kyrgyz language. Although some material was translated correctly, Kloop has identified several seriously flawed translations, where the opposite meaning of the message was translated into Swedish.

Screenshot from the pre-trial investigation report done by SÄPO

For example, the sentence «Кечээ дагы арзан кылып атасынар дейт, биз дагы айла жоктон кылып атабыз даб…» in Kyrgyz was translated as «Yesterday they said that the price [for shooting?] should be lowered, if our city disappears then we shall shoot…». The phrase in the square brackets is a comment made by the official Swedish translator.

However, Kloop translators offered a different version of the translation: «Yesterday it was said that we’re doing it for cheap. we’re doing it because of hopelessness…».

The Kyrgyz word «атасынар» that is used in this message can have two different meanings, depending on the sentence structure. If it is the only verb in a sentence, than it will mean «[you] will shoot». However, here this word is put between two other verbs — «кылып» («[you] do») and «дейт» («[he] says»). In this case, the word «атасынар» most likely becomes a verb that denotes when the action was performed — something similar to the verb «is» when used in the present continuous tense.

The second part of the translation is completely wrong as «айла жоктон» is an idiom translated as «hopelessness», and not as «city disappears».

Such translation mistakes could lead to serious consequences for a suspect.

Kloop contacted SÄPO for a comment on the problems with translations and interpreters. The security service stated that it cannot comment on pre-trial investigation for cases, which are still considered at court.

Illustrations: Daria Udalova for Kloop.kg

10. On religiousness

The case lacks an assessment of Abdullaev’s character and a basic understanding of moderate Islam.

During one of the interrogations, the investigator wanted to know more about Abdullaev’s notions of Islam, and in particular non-Muslims, to understand Abdullaev’s opinions on people who are from a different faith.

How do you see people who are not Muslims or who choose not to follow the faith? — the interrogator asked him.

I am not the one who is the judge. It is the creator who decides. He is the one who punishes or does not punish. A non-Muslim also has rights in how he should be treated. There are Muslims who think it is annoying to be around non-Muslims. And then there are people who think it is ok to be friends with a non-Muslim, — Abdullaev said, and pointed to Kristofer Stahre, his lawyer.

In his chats scrutinised by SÄPO, Abdullaev has not used such words as “infidels”, “dogs” and “cockroaches” to describe non-Muslims, unlike the other suspects in the case. Abdullaev emphasised in an interrogation that in Islam killing one man is equalled with killing humanity.

He is, however, dissatisfied with the treatment of Muslims and Uzbeks in Sweden. He draws a parallel to the terrorist attack in Stockholm by the Uzbek man Rakhmat Akilov in Stockholm in 2017. Abdullaev feels a notion of anti-Muslim and anti-Uzbek sentiment within the Swedish authorities.

“Because of that madman, why should we be seen as criminals? I have nothing to do with Daesh or IS, I simply don’t recognise them […]

It is not all Muslims with beards who are terrorists. All Muslims aren’t terrorists just for that. To take chemicals in your hand isn’t a terrorism crime? Why is the seller [of the chemicals] who has kept these chemicals not the one who is a terrorist? It is just because he is not Muslim. As soon as we Muslims take something it seems as if we will blow it up.”

“We are not the people you are after. In some way or another I have faith, first and above all, in the creator – the almighty. After that I have faith in the Swedish justice system”


The main suspects

Atabek Abdullaev

39 years old, citizen of Kyrgyzstan. Married, stepfather of two children. His family lives in Osh. Atabek arrived in Europe with a Polish work permit in 2017. Later, he came to Sweden to work, but had problems finding a legal job. Abdullaev is accused of assisting in preparing a terror attack, financing of terrorism, and using false documents. During the arrest, lived in the same apartment as Bakhtiyor Umarov.


David Idrisson

46 years old, main suspect of the case. Also known as Farkhod Tashmukhamedov. Citizen of Uzbekistan. Accused of preparing a terror attack and financing of terrorism. Is married twice and has eleven children, who all live in Sweden. His oldest two sons are teenagers. Fled Uzbekistan in the late 1990s because of heavy persecution by the Karimov regime. Idrisson’s family lived in exile in Kazakhstan and Russia, before being granted stay in Sweden on UN mandate as refugees since 2008.


Bakhtiyor Umarov

30 years old, citizen of Uzbekistan. Mainly known as “Ali”. Arrived in Sweden in 2013, and pleaded for asylum in 2016. Has a wife and two small children, who live in Turkey. Fled Uzbekistan before arriving in Sweden, due to severe problems with the Uzbek authorities because of his opposition and Islamic sentiments. Accused of preparing a terror attack, financing of terrorism and using false documents. Lived in the same apartment as Atabek Abdullaev.


***

Atabek Abdullaev was also accused of utilising false documents. In December 2017, he tried to open a Swedish bank account, but he did not have the necessary local documents to do so. To resolve the situation, he had been given a work contract, which was fake. Abdullaev arrived to the bank together with David Idrisson, who was there to help translate from Swedish. Atabek handed the clerk in the bank his documentation, including a copy of his passport. The employee became suspicious, and subsequently phoned the cleaning company, where Abdullaev’s false work contract stated he was employed. The company confirmed that he never worked there. The bank then pressed charges on Abdullaev for utilising false documents.

Police Department of Osh region have informed Kloop that they do not have a file on Atabek Abdullaev, meaning that he has probably never been suspected of extremism in Kyrgyzstan. Abdullaev’s name is not on any international sanction list. The Osh Police Department also inform that neither SÄPO or the Swedish prosecutor have requested information on their suspect in accordance with the investigation. Kloop wasn’t able to receive information from the GKNB — the Kyrgyz Security Service — on this matter before the article was published.

The Swedish media “Expressen” writes that the prosecutor demanded eight to twelve years of imprisonment for the three main suspects, and deportation to their home countries, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. According to “Expressen”, the Swedish Migration services objected to this, as there is substantial risk for the Uzbek suspects to endure torture and persecution upon return. Deporting the three suspects would be a violation of an international convention, because the Uzbek suspects сould face torture upon return home.

The defense of David Idrisson has argued in court that the three suspects were, in fact, convicted before the trial, because SÄPO proclaimed early on that they had «stopped a planned terror attack». The question is now, if the court will decide if there was proof for this.

Atabek Abdullaev and the Uzbeks were on trial until Friday 15 February 2019 at Solna Tingsrätt in Stockholm, Sweden. The verdict is still being considered and is expected to be announced in early March.

Translation: Mia Tarp Hansen, Katya Myachina, Elvira Sultanmurat kyzy, Almir Almambetov, Kairat Zamirbekov, Aisymbat Tokoeva

Editors: Katya Myachina, Dmitry Motinov, Eldiyar Arykbaev