Sunday, September 11, 2011

Islamist Sleeper Cells Proliferating in Germany

by Soeren Kern

The number of potential Islamic terrorists currently living in Germany has jumped to around 1,000, according to new information provided by the German Interior Ministry.

Many of these home-grown Islamic radicals are apparently socially alienated Muslim youths who are being inflamed by German-language Islamist propaganda that promotes hatred of the West. In some cases, the extremists are being encouraged to join sleeper cells and to one day "awaken" and commit terrorist attacks in Germany and elsewhere.

In a September 4 interview with Bild, Germany's largest-circulation newspaper, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said: "We have almost 1,000 people who could be described as possible Islamist terrorists. Of these, 128 are highly dangerous, that is to say, they are known to be capable of committing serious crimes, including terrorist attacks."

Friedrich said that around 20 of these had received training in camps in places such as Afghanistan and Pakistan that are associated with terrorist groups. He said that these individuals are at least partly under surveillance by Germany's security services.

Although the death of Osama bin Laden has damaged the al-Qaeda terrorist network, the group still represents a threat, Friedrich said. Nevertheless, "the greatest danger today is rather individual offenders. They are difficult to detect," he said.

The head of the German Police Union (DPolG), Rainer Wendt, told the Bild newspaper on September 5 that he was concerned about the presence of clandestine Islamic sleeper cells made up of Muslim immigrants and converts in Germany. He has called for the recruitment of undercover agents to infiltrate the Islamic environment. It is the "only way to monitor the scene," Wendt said.

"Radical Islamists live everywhere and nowhere in Germany. One cannot rule out that that nice young man from next door, who brings grandma her fresh bread every morning, is not in fact an Islamic sleeper and terrorist," Wendt warned.

According to Germany's Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), the domestic intelligence agency, there currently are an estimated 29 Islamist groups in Germany with 34,720 members or supporters who pose a major threat to homeland security. Many of them want to establish a "Koran-state" in Germany because they believe Islamic Sharia law is a divine ordinance that is to replace all other legal systems.

The BfV is concerned about Muslim youth who are prone to "rapid radicalization patterns," and who possess a "high willingness to use force" and "to attack." Some of them are under surveillance by the security authorities, according to Wendt.

Friedrich and Wendt were speaking after the August 31 opening in Germany of the trial of a 21-year-old man from Kosovo who said he was acting alone under the influence of Islamist propaganda when he shot and killed two American soldiers at the Frankfurt Airport who were heading to Afghanistan by way of Germany.

The March 2 attack was the first successful attack by a suspected Islamic extremist on German soil. It sparked fears about the danger of "lone wolf" terrorism carried out by a self-radicalized individual, unaffiliated with any organization and previously unknown to the authorities.

German prosecutors say Arid Uka was radicalized by Islamist propaganda he saw on the Internet trying to incite Jihad. They believe he acted alone and did not belong to a terrorist network.

Germany's indigenous militant scene has been steadily growing on the fringes of Muslim communities in the country. Populist imams are using online videos and discussion forums to spread Salafism, an ultra-conservative branch of revivalist Islam with roots in Saudi Arabia that calls for restoring past Muslim glory by forcibly re-establishing an Islamic empire (Caliphate) across the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Europe.

The surge in online Islamist propaganda, much of which warns Muslims that they are not to integrate into German society, comes as immigration from Muslim countries continues to surge. With an estimated 4.3 million Muslims, Germany has Western Europe's second-biggest Islamic population after France.
Whereas much of the Islamist propaganda circulating in Germany once originated in places like North Waziristan, a Pakistani tribal region known for al-Qaeda and Taliban activity, the Islamist movement in Germany is now being fuelled by Muslim immigrants from Turkey, Kurdistan, North Africa, Central Asia as well as West Africa.

One man German officials say is a major security risk is Denis Mamadou Cuspert, a former street rapper of Ghanaian origin. Cuspert, who converted to Islam sometime in 2009, has been accused of inciting violence and unrest through inflammatory videos and fiery speeches that praise terrorists and attack the West.
Some of the Islamists are Germans who recently converted to Islam. This would include former boxer Pierre Vogel, who converted to Islam and studied in Saudi Arabia. He is now an Islamic preacher who rails against Muslim integration into German society.

Many of the German converts to Islam are socially disaffected drop-outs from school and/or ex-convicts, and radical Islam is giving them respectability, according to German security services.

The BfV office in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia has analyzed the lives of some 130 Muslim converts living in that region. In their analysis, the BfV concludes that they are very often "unstable characters with abnormalities in the course of socialization." The majority are male and between 20 and 30 years old. About 25% of this group is unemployed. About 60% have committed crimes, before or after their conversion. In about 15% there is an affinity for violence, according to the BfV.

Some of the home-grown Muslim radicals are being alienated from German society by means of Sharia law, which is now competing with the German criminal justice system.

Settlements reached by the Muslim mediators often mean perpetrators are able to avoid long prison sentences, while victims receive large sums in compensation or have their debts cancelled, in line with Sharia law. This is fomenting distrust for the established legal system, analysts say.

According to Kirsten Heisig, the author of a book entitled "The End of Patience": "The law is slipping out of our hands. It's moving to the streets or into a parallel system where an imam or another representative of the Koran determines what must be done."

Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group.


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