Danish spy agencies on trial over undercover agent claims
August 24, 2023 10:37 AM
Denmark's spy agencies go on trial on Thursday in a unique case brought by a Dane who claims he spied for Denmark in Syria but wound up in prison over alleged IS group ties.
In a case that has proven embarrassing for Danish intelligence services and politicians, Ahmed Samsam, 34, a Danish national of Syrian origin, claims he was working for the secret service PET and military intelligence service FE in Syria in 2013 and 2014, spying on foreign jihadist fighters.
But in 2018 Spanish courts found him guilty of fighting for the Islamic State (IS).
Several investigations by Danish media since then have backed Samsam up, concluding he never joined IS, but the two intelligence agencies -- inherently tightlipped -- have refused to say whether he was working for them.
"My client wants the court to recognise that he has been an agent for the intelligence services in Denmark," his lawyer Erbil Kaya told AFP ahead of the trial in Copenhagen's district court.
He insists Samsam only went to Syria to inform on foreign jihadists.
"This is a tough case for us, to be up against the intelligence services and the state," Kaya said.
"This is the first (such) case in Denmark. We don't know... what is enough to prove that you have been an agent in Denmark."
"The trial is completely unique," Aarhus University law professor Lasse Lund Madsen told AFP.
- Court of public opinion -
Samsam, who has a long criminal record, travelled to Syria in 2012 of his own accord to fight the regime.
Danish authorities investigated him after his return but did not press any charges.
He claims he was then sent to the war zone on several occasions with money and equipment provided by PET and later FE, according to Danish media outlets DR and Berlingske citing anonymous witnesses and money transfers to Samsam.
Despite its sensitive nature, the case will be heard in open court and not behind closed doors.
"Samsam is pleading his case in newspapers, on television, everywhere," said the spy agencies' defence lawyer Peter Biering.
"It would be of no use to us to have closed doors," Biering told AFP.
So far, Samsam appears to have won over public opinion.
"Most people in Denmark who have followed the case are probably now of the belief that Samsam was sent to Syria in agreement with the Danish intelligence services," law professor Lund Madsen said.
"I personally had it confirmed by sources in the intelligence world."
Parliament decided in February to have its investigative committee probe Samsam's claims, though the left-wing government is opposed to an inquiry.
Kaya says there is more to the case that will come out during the trial.
"He has been limited in telling his story. But now in court he will be able to tell everything."
- 'No miscarriage of justice' -
In 2017, threatened by Copenhagen thugs in a settling of scores unrelated to his trips to Syria, Samsam headed to Spain.
There, he was arrested by Spanish police, who were surprised to find pictures of him on Facebook posing with the IS flag.
Samsam was sentenced the following year to eight years in prison for having joined IS.
He has since 2020 been serving his sentence -- reduced to six years -- in Denmark. He is due to be released in two or three months, according to Kaya.
For Denmark's spy services, "our basic position is there has never been a miscarriage of justice. He is convicted rightly", defence lawyer Biering insisted.
"He received eight years from the Spanish Supreme Court that quite explicitly said that even if he actually worked for the Danish intelligence services in 2013 or 2014, they had enough evidence disregarding that point to convict him."
For Samsam, an admission from the intelligence agencies that he was working for them would make it possible for him to seek to have his Spanish conviction overturned.
"We are not seeking any damages or compensation right now," Kaya said.
But they face a tough legal battle.
"It is not certain that Samsam will win the case, as the intelligence services are not obliged by law to confirm classified information," the law professor said.
The trial is scheduled to wrap up on September 8.