Hanif Azizi was close to become a terrorist, but a broken passport and a dream of ice cream saved him.
I used to stand in front of the mirror and pretend to be in Sweden buying ice cream, says Hanif Azizi. Today he is a police officer and lectures on extremism.
Hanif Azizi grew up in a military base between Iran and Iraq. He dreamed of Sweden as a child. He had heard that there was a car driving around the streets selling ice cream – and that the parents could give pocket money to the children to buy ice cream. One day he was suddenly sent to Sweden.
– Mother said “You are nine years old, you are old enough to take care of your little brother now”. “Yes mom,” I replied.
The plan was that later in life he would return and fight for the terrorist group Mujahedin-e Khalq.
Trauma, fear, lack of trust, grief and hatred are something a child gets who is sent away in that way, Hanif says.
They told me that my father was a hero
– When I came to Sweden, I had to live with a Persian family who were also traumatized. Some days we did not get food and my clothes were not washed. At school I was teased, “Hanif go from here, you stink”.
The staff at Hanif’s school asked many questions and they made concerns. Thanks to that, he got to come to a new family. The actions of the leisure staff came to change Hanif’s entire life.
Although Hanif was doing well with his foster parents, it was something that weighed heavily on him, even though he could not put his finger on what it was. One day Hanif got a phone call from his biological mother that lasted for about an hour, she told him, among other things, that he had to visit Mujahedin’s office in Stockholm.
– They told me that my father was a hero, and that they fought with him. From not being anything, I became something.
Hanif was confused and did not feel that he belonged anywhere. He was desperately looking for an identity and had big questions about life. What was the point of that? He had low self-esteem, felt excluded and did not know exactly what he wanted to do with his life. But he wanted to make a difference, he wanted to find belonging and he wanted to be a hero.
When Hanif was 19, he went to Iraq to visit his mother and was manipulated by the Mujahedin.
– They took advantage of the fact that I had been discriminated against in Sweden to get me to join them. “Why should you be in Sweden, they do not give you a job. For them, you are just a black skull.”
Hanif decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a soldier. But he first wanted to go back to Sweden and say goodbye to his family.
Back home in Sweden, he felt that the heavy backpack he was carrying became lighter, perhaps because he had met his mother.
– When I told my foster parents, my mother said “This is not you, these are not your words. You have been brainwashed”.
After visiting the family, Hanif discovered that his passport was broken, so it took some time before he could return to Iraq.
– It was summer and nice weather, I hiked, ate ice cream and hung out with those who loved me. I realized that I was living my dream life, I had dreamed of coming to Sweden. I decided to make a comeback in Swedish society and today I am a police officer, says Hanif Azizi.