03/19/2013, 00.00
GERMANY - ISLAM
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NR-Westphalia: Govt cracks down on Salafist influence on young Germans

German authorities issue warnings of possible attacks against political and religious leaders. Three Salafist groups are outlawed for corrupting young Germans. A language school in Alexandria teaches Arabic and Islamic culture to young Europeans, but also trains potential terrorists.

Berlin (AsiaNews) - German authorities are warning of possible Salafist attacks against local politicians and religious leaders. This comes after police raided Salafist groups on 13 March in the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia and foiled an apparent Salafist plot to attack a senior member of the regional, right-wing party Pro-NRW. Four Islamists were allegedly planning an attack on Markus Beisicht, head of Pro-NRW, in Leverkusen. Three of the suspects held German passports whilst the fourth was Albanian.

In recent years, Islamist groups have attracted a growing number of second- and third-generation immigrants as well as some young ethnic Germans. This has led German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich to ban three Salafist groups. One of the groups, DawaFFM, was targeted due to its hate-filled propaganda against non-Muslim Germans and Christians, which on several occasions included inciting its members to attack the symbols of secular society. Reports of the situation have even reached Egypt and Jordan, where local media have raised concerns for the dangerous growth of Islamic extremism in Germany.

Volkhard Krech, professor in the Research Department of the Center for Religious Studies CERES, Ruhr-Universität, Bochum (North Rhine-Westphalia), told AsiaNews that Islam has recently begun to attract young people the way extreme rightwing and leftwing ideologies did in the 1970s and 1980s.

Although it remains a circumscribed phenomenon, the rigid rules imposed by Muslim extremism has a certain appeal to young people, Prof Krech explained, because it offers a way to cope with modernity, which many find confusing.

"In North Rhine-Westphalia, the movement has only about a 1,000 members out of a Muslim population of about 250,000 people," he said. "The local Muslim community is well integrated with many holding German citizenship."

In spite of their small number, Salafists scare people, Muslims included. Germany has about 4.3 million Muslims. About 1.5 million are naturalised German citizens. Estimates put the number of Salafists at 5,000, many of them ethnic German converts to Islam.

According to the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution), some 60 Germans, mostly from the western part of the country, are in Egypt to study the Qur'an and learn Arabic.

Alexandria is the city of choice. Here, Salafists have set up the Easy Language Center, a school where Arabic and Islam are taught to Westerners, a place that is also thought to offer paramilitary training.

Daniel Schneider, an extremist German Muslim, studied at the school. He was arrested in 2010 on terrorism charges. He planned to attack NATO bases in Germany and Afghanistan.

Two other students, Robert. B. and Christian E., Salafists from Soligen (North Rhein-Westfalia), were arrested in December 2012 at a London airport. They were carrying explosive materials in a suitcase. (S.C.)

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