A series of counseling services and information centers have opened in Germany in response, to inform teenager about the dangers of the sect before recruiters can get to them.
The main challenge is that hormonal teenagers welcome radical groups to upset their parents.
“Young people are defending their new friends (and ideas) more than they actually care about Islam,” said Claudia Danschke, who is the director of the Hayat information center that is helping parents whose children have joined salafist movements. “We help families to meet those challenges and to remain open to their children,” she said.
There are five million Muslims living in Germany today, of which over 6000 belong to the Salafi scene, according to German intelligence services. The latter can be divided into many groups, including those that simply follow a purist and pious lifestyle, those that are political and want to live in an Islamic state where violence is banned and then there is the jihadist branch that supports terrorism and war. The latter is increasingly recruiting teenager to send them abroad and fight in the war.
Ms. Danschke said that young people who are joining a salafi movement are coming from all kinds of backgrounds and are not necessarily corresponding to the typical school dropout with a challenging social background.
“They are all theological analphabets,” said Ms. Danschke, adding that most of them are teenagers undergoing puberty who fight their parents on every possible front. Most of them come from a mixed background, with one parent being Muslim and the other one coming from a Christian family.
Ms Danschke recently handled a case where a 14-year-old girl in the German state of Hessen fell in love with a Turkish boy, who came from a salafist background. When the parents tried to interfere with the young love affair, the girl resisted even more.
“It always backfires,” said Ms. Danschke.
The girl then started to wear a head scarf and later added a hijab, a veil that covers her head and chest. She starts honoring the religious schedule and got up at night to pray. She started to miss classes at school and distanced herself even more from family and former friends.
Ms. Danschke was called in to act as a mediator between her and parents, helping the latter to be more understanding and re-building a relationship with their daughter.
“But when you realize that the situation gets out of hand, parents have to inform the police,” she said. In the past, parents were reluctant to call on authorities to help, but these days, they are afraid of losing their children to a jihadist war mission in Syria.
“When you realize that the situation gets out of hand, parents have to inform the police.”
Ms Danschke said that a recent case involved a 22-year-old with an Arab father and a Christian mother. While his parents were well-integrated in Germany, with the father running his own business, the son started to run into problems at school and at home and often fought with his father. He joined the local Muslim community and met a new friend who was a member of the salafi movement. The friend convinced him of an different way of living which includes the believe of finding eternal relief through martyrism. In this case, police had to get involved.
The danger of Salafists and their growing influence in Germany is met with an increasing number of prevention centers, many of them located in the state of Hessen and North-Rhine-Westphalia, both states with a large Muslim community. The centers are designed for teacher, social workers and imams working together and educating young people.
One of those centers is run by Jochen Müller, an expert on Islamic studies and founder of Berlin-based ufuq.de that is offering classes on Islam studies in Germany. They have educated more than 2000 teacher, youth worker and police men on salafism and run workshop for teenagers that more than 4000 people have attended so far.
In some cases, Mr. Müller’s efforts came to late and he could only comfort family members and friends of victims – one of the students in Frankfurt who joined a radical branch of the Salafi sect went to Syria. He died at the age of 16.