“They have learned, to hate and to kill,“ said Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziére, about Islamists from Germany who have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq, warning that the terrorist organization IS is a “threat to public security.”
Security agencies estimate that around 400 Islamists have travelled from Germany to the Middle East, and most of them will have, at some point, encountered the terrorist organization.
The most high-profile convert is the former rapper Deso Dogg, who now calls himself Abu Talha al-Almani and makes recruitment and propaganda videos showing the desecration of corpses.
Around 40 German jihadists have already been killed in fighting. Only recently, news spread of one suicide bomber from Berlin, who died in the Shiite stronghold of Samarra in Iraq
Nearly 100 of those who went abroad have returned to Germany, although many then go straight back. At least 25 of them received combat training while abroad.
Those who return are unstable, and potentially dangerous. They are often brutalized and under orders to carry out acts of terrorism. One example is Mehdi N. who left France to fight with IS. He returned to Europe and in April orchestrated an attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels, killing 4 people.
Not all fighters returning to Germany are professional terrorists. Kreshnik B., a returnee who is currently on trial in Frankfurt after spending six months in Syria in 2013, wrote to his sister: “I’m chilling out and going to fight and work for Allah.” He came across poorly in court.
Another returnee feigned an injury and returned to Amsterdam, where he immediately lit up a joint.
Many of those going to fight are young and poorly educated. They have sense of adventure combined with religious fervor, prejudice and a desire to gain respect by fighting in what they believe to be holy wars.
Virtually all the 400 Islamists, of whom a tenth are women, are from the Salafist community. The community is about 6,000 people and growing. They tend to be based in Germany’s largest cities and across the Rhineland.
Salafists follow the teachings of the prophet Muhamad closely and believe they are the purest, first Muslims, who are most closely following the values of Island established in the 7th century. Only a small minority support IS and advocate violence, but this group is growing.
Ferrid Heider, a Berlin imam, who works with Salafi youth, has been branded an unbeliever by some radicals because he has spoken out against IS. Scholars worldwide argue that IS is un-Islamic, but supporters pay no attention.
The issue of Islamic radicalization is also not just about Iraq or IS. In Düsseldorf, a court case is currently underway against four militant Salafists who had plotted to assassinate a politician from the extreme right Pro-NRW party. One of them had planted in the Bonn train station in 2012 a bomb that did not explode. The militants were most likely inspired by another formerly Bonn-based radical, who now lives on the lawless Pakistan-Afghanistan border and makes frequent calls for violence, in German.
“They have learned to hate and to kill.”
A surprising number of German Salafists openly express support for IS and other radical groups on Facebook. This may just be posturing, but many of these people later also watch propaganda videos coming out of Syria.
Until recently, Pierre Vogel, a leader among German Salafists, had preached a non-violent message, but the growing fanaticism at the fringes of his community is encouraging him to take a more murky path.
Some of his suggestions are bizarre. As the Kurds were being driven out of Iraq by IS, he suggested installing hotlines to allow them to convert to Islam. He fears that if he does not address the more fanatical members of his community, they will be driven to more violent preachers.
There is little doubt the Salafist community poses a serious security threat. It is highly likely that any an Islamist terrorist attack in Germany would be carried out by members of this group. It is not easy to track breakaway factions within the communities. There is a Salafist group that refers to itself as the “sharia police.” This group is considered to be radical, but not violent, even though it includes some fighters who have returned from Syria.
And away from the Salafist community, there are still 10,000 other Islamists. There is one Turkish group IGMG, but it is not considered to be militant. There are also a few thousand members of Hamas, or Hisbollah, who at this moment present only a minor threat to German security.
Yassin Musharbash is a Berlin-based journalist for Die Zeit, and author of the thriller “Radikal.”