Helsinki Police Chief Inspector Jari Taponen told Yle on Thursday morning that nearly 20 native Finns (defined by Taponen as Finnish citizens who have two Finnish parents) have gone to areas in which Islamic State is engaged in armed conflict in the Middle East.
Returning jihadists are an increasingly major concern of European authorities, especially in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Of the approximately 50 people from Finland who have been in IS battle zones, about 20 have come back to the country. The Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) believes that 6-8 have been killed in the fighting.
The conflict in Syria and Iraq has drawn mostly young men from Finland - 76% of those who have left to link up with IS are Finnish passport holders. According to Taponen, in recent months there has also been an upswing in interest in radicalism among young female converts to Islam.
"This is being monitored in Helsinki," Chief Inspector Taponen stated during an Yle TV1 morning discussion. "The first priority is to try to prevent travel to the war zone. It is there that people face violence and are susceptible to violence."
Taponen told Yle that in one case late last year, police in Helsinki were able to prevent someone from leaving Finland to wage war in the Middle East.
Preventative measures are extremely difficult to implement because of the difficulty in identifying people intent on joining the ranks of radicals. Additionally, it is impossible for the authorities to know if returnees have peaceful or violent intentions, pointed out Leena Turpeinen, the director of mental health and substance abuse services for the City of Helsinki.
"They may continue to think in terms of their ideology, but it is never obvious from their behaviour," Turpeinen explained.
Many of the Finns who have been recruited to take part in "holy war" are from the capital region. This coming autumn, Helsinki police are to start a mentoring programme in cooperation with several organizations with the aim of preventing radicalization, for example by offering alternative religious interpretations.
"Offering an alternative is the key. There has to be another means of self-fulfillment than going off to a war zone," Taponen stressed.
In the UK, the perceived threat posed by returnees is leading to tougher anti-terrorism laws. Chief Inspector Taponen declined to take a stand on the possibility of Finland withdrawing passports from people who have been in IS ranks.
"The aim is to reintegrate the individual back into society. These people have to live somewhere. They cannot be swept under the carpet as if they don't exist, said Taponen.