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Sports

Bundesliga: Islamic-organization dispute forces Ben-Hatira out of Darmstadt

Darmstadt have parted company with midfielder Änis Ben-Hatira over his connection to an aid organization that is reported to have links to the Salifist movement in Germany.

The Bundesliga club announced on Wednesday that they had parted ways with Änis Ben-Hatira by "mutual consent."

A statement posted on the official website cited Darmstadt president Rüdiger Fritsch as saying that the club condemned Ben-Hatira's support of a humanitarian organization, which he did not identify by name.

"SV Darmstadt 98 wish Änis Ben-Hatira, who always conducted himself in an impeccable and exemplary manner at our club, all the best in his future sporting endeavors," the statement said.

The organization in question is the Düsseldorf based Ansaar International, which has been described by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia's internal intelligence agency as being "tightly interwoven in the Salafist movement."

Ever since the Berlin-born Tunisian international's support of Ansaar International came to light in late November, Ben-Hatira had been under growing pressure to cut ties with the organization. At last Saturday's home game against Borussia Mönchengladbach, a fan group handed out flyers in which they called on him to distance himself from the organization. Also on Saturday, club President Fritsch said via Twitter that the club had advised him to cut ties with Ansaar International.

Refusal to cut connection

The 28-year-old midfielder, however, had repeatedly refused to do so. In a posting on his Facebook page, Ben-Hatira rejected the assertion that the organization was involved in radical Islamist activities as "complete nonsense." He also described the criticism of his support of the organization as being part of a "smear campaign" against him.

Peter Beuth, the interior minister of the state of Hesse, where Darmstadt is located, had repeatedly called on the club's management to take action against the player over his ties to Ansaar International, most recently on Tuesday night, at a New Year's reception at third division club Wehen Wiesbaden. Beuth noted that sport had an important role to play in the battle against extremism.

"Therefore, it cannot be tolerated when a professional footballer such as Ben-Hatira is closely associated with extremist organizations that are being monitored by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution," he said.

Snapchat controversy

This is not the first time that Ben-Hatira has found himself in hot water. Last season, the National Anti-Doping Agency opened an investigation after the then-Frankfurt player posted a photo on Snapchat, which showed a bottle of a drug that contains the banned substance dexamethasone. Ben-Hatira denied having taken performance-enhancing drugs.