Germany cracks down on Salafist Muslims

A man is inspected by policemen after he attended a demonstration called by ultra-conservative Muslims Salafist movement against the small extreme-right party Pro NRW on May 5, 2012 in Bonn. (AFP Photo / Henning Kaiser)
Nationwide raids targeting Islamic Salafists have swept Germany, with one Salafi group being banned, as Berlin steps up pressure on the ultra-conservative movement to quell its members' “anti-democratic behavior."

­Announcing the crackdown, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said the freshly outlawed Millatu Ibrahim group “works against our constitutional order and against understanding between peoples.

Raids across seven German states, involving searches in about 70 apartments in Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne and other locations, could produce evidence allowing the ban of two more Salafists groups associated with extremism and violence, Friedrich added.

Some 4,000 Salafis are believed to reside in Germany, while not all of them are considered violent, remarks national broadcaster ARD. Despite the group looking insignificantly small in numbers compared to the four million Muslims living in the country, Berlin fears Salafists still manage to fuel militancy among socially alienated Muslims.

"Today's operation shows we are raising the pressure on the Salafists and are acting with resolve against their anti-democratic behavior," Ralf Jaeger, the Interior Minister of North-Rhine Westphalia, told Spiegel Online.

A legal ban on all Salafist groups was considered months ago, with the country’s Interior Minister saying at that time that the movement was "ideologically close to al-Qaeda" and bent on destroying liberal democracy.

"Germany will not allow anybody to impose religious wars on us, neither radical Salafists nor far-right parties such as the Pro NRW," Friedrich said, referring to the ultra-nationalist group that clashed with the Salafists in Bonn in May.

The clashes between the two groups resulted in Salafis eventually turning to police. In Bonn, 29 police officers sustained injuries and 109 arrests were made. The standoff between the far-rights and ultra-conservative Muslims spread to Cologne and other German towns. Hundreds of law enforcement officers had to be deployed to keep the conflicting parties apart.

This and Salafists’ recent campaign to hand out Korans across Germany seem to be among the reasons underlying the newly announced crackdown. Still, it remains unclear how Berlin is going to convince the far-rights to stop bringing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad to their rallies to purposely infuriate Salafists.

In general, Salafists, who promote the use of Sharia law in Europe, have been the focus of police investigations in Germany since a man from Kosovo shot dead two US soldiers at Frankfurt International Airport in March 2011. Security officials estimate that 24 Salafists present a threat of Islamist attack in the country.