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German home intelligence boss eyes Salafists

The head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency has said in a newspaper interview that a recently-banned Salafist organization is seeking to set up a German language outpost in the Middle East instead.

Hans-Georg Maassen said on Monday that a Salafist group expelled from Germany in the summer was seeking to re-establish its influence in the country from afar. Maassen is the president of the federal division of Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the "Verfassungsschutz;" he took up the post on August 1.

The Millatu Ibrahim group, a band of Salafists promoting a strict interpretation of Islamic law, was banned in Germany by Maaßen's predecessor in July - a move Maassen described as "necessary."

"Yet we must recognize, that one of the key figures from Germany is now quite clearly working on setting up a kind of German-language media center in the Middle East, in order to exert influence over Islamists in Germany," Maassen said in an interview published in the Monday edition of the Rheinische Post newspaper. Maassen also said his organization had identified one threatening text calling for German politicans to be murdered.

Late in September, Maassen said he believed that Austrian citizen Mohamed Mahmud, one of Millatu Ibrahim's leading figures, had gone to Egypt seeking to establish a foothold there instead - with German intelligence suggesting that others had followed him.

The traditional Salafist movement is considered one of the more dynamic, influential branches of European Islamists. Recent marches and counter-protests, coupled with a mass-giveaway of Korans across much of Germany, have brought Salafist groups into the spotlight.

Intelligence compromised by its own scandal?

Maassen took office after a massive overhaul in Germany's domestic intelligence agencies, stemming from a series of long-unresolved far-right murders by a small terror cell. The domestic intelligence agencies' use of informants within neo-Nazi groups has come under severe scrutiny, amid allegations of a possible cover-up in the case - which was ultimately foiled by chance after a botched bank robbery led police to the cell.

Maassen said he was concerned that stricter policies on the use of insider informants, known as "V-Leute" in Germany, would hamper his organization's effectiveness.

As a result of the indiscretions in the files being investigated by the parliamentary committee, it may become more difficult for us to enlist human sources," Maassen said. "Without such informants, the state is blind to developments among extremists. If the domestic intelligence agencies cease to seek human sources, the only people rubbing their hands with glee will be those on the far-right."

msh/sej (AFP, dapd, dpa)