Germany starts to clamp down on Salafists
Salafists clash with German police in Bonn.
BERLIN, Germany - Last week the German interior ministry stepped up its efforts against a growing Salafist network in the Federal Republic, stating that "[t]he organization acts in opposition to the idea of constitutional order and multicultural understanding." With those words, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich justified a massive series of raids on Thursday targeting Salafist organizations across seven German states, the Associated Press reported.
The German authorities conducted sweeping police actions, with a force of 1,000 officers, resulting in the formal ban of one Salafist group, Millatu Ibrahim, and investigations into banning two additional Salafist groups--- Dawa FFM and DWR. The name DWR is an acronym for a group that calls itself "The True Religion." There are an estimated 5,000 active Salafists in the Federal Republic.
The Austrian-born Islamist Muhammad Mahmoud, who was convicted and incarcerated in Austria for his work with the al Qaeda-affiliated jihadi media company Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), has played a key role in Millatu Ibrahim ("The Religious Community of Ibrahim").
After serving his Austrian prison sentence, Mahmoud left in late 2011 for Germany, where he co-founded the Millatu Ibrahim group, noted an April report on the website of The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
The daily Berlin Tagesspiegel's extremism expert, journalist Frank Jansen, reported in mid-June that Mahmoud had called in a chat forum for Islam to dominate the world. The aim of the group's ideology, Mahmoud said, is for "Allah's Sharia and its flag [to] fly over the White House and the Vatican."
The Hesse state interior ministry stated on April 27 that Mahmoud had left Germany after being threatened with deportation, according to Bloomberg News.
Salafist extremism a growing concern
Last year Heinz Fromm, the president of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's equivalent of the FBI, explained that "Not all Salafists are terrorists....[b]ut almost all the terrorists we know about had contacts with Salafists or are Salafists themselves," the BBC reported.
The Salafist strand of Islam propagates a strict adherence to the Koran, and the fundamentally anti-Western group divides the world into believers and non-believers of Islam. Salafists aim to convert non-believers to their form of radical Islam.
The recent crackdown initiated by Germany's Christian Social Union party interior minister is seen as an escalation in the federal government's efforts to counter a rapidly growing German-based Salafist ideological campaign to radicalize and recruit new advocates to embrace extremist Islam.
The opening salvo of the Salafist campaign took place in April. Ibrahim Abu Nagie, a Gaza-born German-Palestinian businessman and preacher in Cologne who heads the DWR group, launched a free Koran distribution action in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. According to the Jerusalem Post, Abu Nagie seeks to pass out 25 million Korans in Central Europe.
German security experts believe that either the Saudi or Qatar government has allocated funds to DWR group, according to the German-language publication Focus.
In May, member extremists from Millatu Ibrahim clashed with the radical right-wing and anti-Muslim political group Pro-NRW in the cities of Solingen and Bonn in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. According to German media reports, Salafists attacked "police with rocks, sticks and even knives," and in Bonn, the former capital city of the Federal Republic, "29 police were injured, two of them landing in the hospital with stab wounds."
The acts of violence prompted greater attention from the German authorities, but there have been previous warning signs in German news outlets, including Die Welt, which published an article in 2010 titled "Germany on the way to becoming a world terror exporter." In May 2011, the German magazine Spiegel observed that despite Osama bin Laden's death, "al Qaeda is alive and well in Germany" and stated that each month an average of five Islamists leave the country for terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
According to a March analysis in The Guardian on the French-Algerian gunman Mohammed Merah, "British security officials say their biggest current concern in continental Europe is Germany, where a very substantial Muslim population appears to be more radicalised now than it was only a few years ago."
Salafist role in radicalization of Frankfurt shooter
Perhaps the most overlooked fact in the reports on the recent German raids on the three Salafist organizations is the case of the radical Islamist Arid Uka, a 22-year-old Kosovo native who worked at Frankfurt's airport. He shot and killed two American airmen in March 2011. Although he was sentenced earlier this year to life in prison, he could be released as early as 2028 because of lax counterterrorism criminal laws, The Weekly Standard noted.
According to the Tagesspiegel, the Salafist organization Dawa FFM contributed to Uka's radicalization. In a document outlining the inquiry into Dawa FFM, the authorities noted that lectures from the group's leader, Abdellatif Rouali, played a role in motivating Uka to jihadism. "Dawa" means "call to Islam" and "FFM" is the acronym for the German city of Frankfurt am Main where the group is based.
The new interplay between Dawa FFM and Uka suggests that the German authorities prematurely misdiagnosed (or downplayed and ignored) the connections between the Salafist movement and Uka. At the time of his arrest, German authorities seemed surprised by the swiftness of his radicalization, TIME reported.
Benjamin Weinthal is the Berlin-based European correspondent for the Jerusalem Post and a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.