HELSINKI, Finland, March 6 (UPI) -- Foreign governments and groups are carrying out more spying on refugees and dissidents living in Finland, the country's security intelligence service says.
SUPO, the Finnish Security Intelligence Service, issued a report last week contending that while the Scandinavian country isn't seeing an increased threat of terrorist acts on its soil, it still faces several terror-related challenges.
One of them is "regular" surveillance activity by foreign intelligence services operating within Finland, whose aim is spy on their home countries' dissidents and develop links with other refugees and expatriates, the Helsinki daily Helsingin Sanomat reported.
The newspaper said SUPO is concerned about an increasing number of "refugee espionage cases," wherein foreign spies keep tabs on their own citizens residing in Finland permanently or temporarily.
The spies use information gathered in Finland to target the individuals' relatives in their home countries, who are often harassed, detained and interrogated -- sometimes to the point of torture and execution -- to place pressure on dissidents, the agency said.
One such country is Somalia, SUPO said. It noted the al-Shabaab Islamic extremist group fighting for control of the East African nation has close links with Somalis in Finland and other Nordic countries.
In September, Finland made its first- terrorism arrests: a Somali man and woman suspected of financing terrorism and terror recruitment for al-Shabaab.
The National Bureau of Investigation accused the 34-year-old of also recruiting at least one person abroad to commit an act of terrorism overseas, Finland's YLE television reported.
SUPO Chief Inspector Tuomas Portaankorva told Helsingin Sanomat in December local support for al-Shabaab had subsided in recent months because the terrorist group has carried out violent acts and won't let international humanitarian organizations operate within its territory.
SUPO Director Antti Pelttari confirmed in November there have been recent cases of Finnish residents taking part in fighting or armed training in various crisis areas around the globe but asserted fewer have come from Finland than from the other Nordic countries.
"The number is relatively small, not in the dozens," he told the newspaper.
But, Pelttari added, Finland has a hole in its legal structure: Unlike other Nordic countries, it's not illegal for residents to go abroad to receive training with terrorist groups.
"It is problematic that terrorist training is not a crime in Finland, as it is in many other European countries," he said. "The phenomenon was unknown when Finland's laws on terrorism were passed."
Anti-Islamic and right-wing terrorism is also a concern in Finland in the wake of last year's slayings of 92 people by an armed ant-immigration extremist in Norway, he said.
"Nowadays there have unfortunately been terrorist attacks carried out around the world motivated by both of these -- both those rationalized in extremist Islamist terms and as a sort of response, such as the events in Norway," the SUPO chief said. "In other words, both must be taken seriously."
Anti-Islamic "hate speech" is present in the country but not to extent as elsewhere in Scandinavia, Anssi Kullberg, first secretary and terrorism researcher for Finland's foreign ministry, told YLE.
"The danger is that (hate speech) might provoke the other side," he said. "Finland has so far avoided a conspicuous Islamic discourse. We do not have the same kind of situation as Sweden or Norway have in which certain religious leaders incite people to hate."