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Current Affairs

Foreign Extremist Population Shrinking in Germany

The number of foreign religious extremists active in Germany fell slightly in 2002, according to new government report. The data provides anecdotal evidence that new domestic security measures are working.

Die islamistische Organisation Hizb a-Tahrir von Schily verboten

Concerted efforts by Germany's security agencies in monitoring and investigating religious extremist groups seem to have made an impact on the numbers of radical individuals and groups operating in the country over the past 12 months.

Figures for 2002 from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution show a fall in numbers, with a total number of 57,350 individuals described by the government as "radicals," including 30,000 known Islamic extremists. The overall individual figures represent a decrease of 2,000 from the previous year's results. Organizations classed as "extremist" by the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) have also been reduced to 65 from 69. The latest report marks the first drop in the numbers in Germany the government began publishing records on extremist groups in 1998.

Otto Schily mit Verfassungsschutzbericht

Otto Schily with the latest report.

However, the report, presented by Federal Interior Minister Otto Schily in Berlin on Tuesday, also stated that the number of right-wing extremists in Germany has risen. Figures show that the number of violent acts where offenders showed extreme right-wing motivation increased in 2002 to 10,902 from 10,054 the previous year, an 8.4 percent increase. The figures for individuals termed as "politically motivated foreign criminals," including the increasing number of Baltic drug gangs operating in Germany, has also risen.

Successful cooperation

But it was the reduction in radical religious groups that Otto Schily focussed on as evidence of the success of cooperative investigations between German authorities and foreign agencies in the struggle for security. "The fight against extremism and terrorism is the highest priority for this government," declared Schily.

"The threat of international terrorism continues to be very large, but through national and international cooperation, these terror networks can be weakened," he said.

Recently, German efforts in combating extremism and associated terrorism have been praised by Washington. Germany's leading law enforcement officials scored highly in the U.S. State Department's annual report on the battle against international terror -- getting positive marks for their investigative efforts, arrests and convictions of known terrorists.

The State Department report, released earlier this month, described Germany as "an active and critically important participant in the global coalition against terrorism," adding that its contributions have been "valuable" to fighting terrorists both in and outside of Germany.

The German government has continued to support the vigorous anti-terror campaign it set up in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in the United States in 2001. Security packages pushed through by parliament saw increases in budgets and personnel handed to the police and BKA, and new laws were passed making it possible to crack down on extremist organizations.

New laws target the spread of hate

As investigations into radical groups continue throughout the country, the latest figures seem to show that Germany is making steady progress in breaking up extremist cells and hunting down those accused of acts of terrorism. Although there are often unsubstantiated links between religious extremists and terrorist acts, a new law permits German authorities to ban any extremist group it can prove spreads anti-Semitic propaganda or advocates violence as a means for change and deems such activities as a threat to national security.

At the end of 2002, following police raids in five German states, the Hizb ut-Tahir Islamic fundamentalist organization was banned in Germany. The group first came to the attention of German authorities when a Hizb ut-Tahir speaker addressed a rally in Berlin and made anti-American statements to a largely extremist or right-wing crowd. Further research found that literature advocating the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews had been spread by members of the group around universities, colleges and Islamic centers throughout the country. Hizb ut-Tahir became the third radical organization banned by German authorities since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Muhammed Metin Kaplan

Muhammed Metin Kaplan, the Caliph of Cologne.

The Cologne-based Union of Islamic Associations and Communities, also known as the Caliph State, was banned in 2002 after its leader Metin Kaplan called for the death of a competitor and was arrested and imprisoned.

Sowing the seeds of terrorism

Kai Hirschmann, a terrorism researcher at the Federal College of Security Studies in Bonn, told DW-WORLD at the time that although organizations like Hizb ut Tahir could not be called terrorists until proven links were found, the same spirit of achieving political goals through inciting violence was evident in their rhetoric and their means of delivering it. "Just as you reach a city by first passing its suburbs, you have to reach terrorists by getting into their environment," he said.

The latest report also shows that, despite the crackdown throughout Germany, the country's largest Islamic fundamentalist group, Milli Görüs, continues to attract followers and remains defiant and strong. Milli Görüs promotes adoption of the Sharia, a strict interpretation of the Islamic law, and wants its views to be taught in public schools.

Nor did the report address the current split in thinking between Germany and Turkey over the group. Last month, Turkey’s religious-conservative government ordered its embassies to offer Milli Görüs their support. The group, formed in 1985 in Cologne to support Turkish nationalism and oppose the separation of state and religion, has long been criticized by German officials as being anti-Semitic and against liberal Western values.

Home-grown radicals still a problem

Although a certain level of success has been achieved in combatting foreign religious extremists, home-grown problems remain. Despite efforts to ban the ultra right-wing, neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD), the report shows that the organization continues to attract new skinheads and disaffected youths to its ranks. The party has about 6,500 members and won 0.4 percent of the vote during the Sept. 22 national election.

A government effort to outlaw the NPD was quashed in March when the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe ruled that the use of senior-level NPD informants in the prosecution's case had created bias. The case was discontinued and the likelihood that a new action will be taken against the NPD remains remote at this time.

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