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Germany

German Intelligence Says Islamists Present Major Threat

Germany's domestic intelligence service warns in its annual report that Islamic extremists and foreign terror groups pose the greatest danger to the country's security.

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German police conduct a raid on a mosque in Bochum in April, 2004.

Germany's Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BFV), one of three national intelligence services in Germany that is charged with gathering information on domestic as well as foreign extremist and terror groups active on home soil, stressed on Monday that Islamic terrorism posed the biggest security threat in Germany.

Presenting the annual domestic security report 2003 in Berlin, German Interior Minister Otto Schily said, "Unfortunately we still face diverse dangers in Germany of which Islamic terrorism and Islamic extremism form the focal point."

Bundesinnenminister Otto Schily

German Interior Minister Otto Schily

Schily (photo) added that recent terrorist attacks such as the ones in Madrid in March this year that killed almost 200 people targeted so-called soft targets worldwide.

"We can't assume that Germany lies outside the reach of such targets," Schily warned, saying that in the eyes of Islamic terrorists Germany counted as an ally of the United States and Israel and was also actively involved in the war against terrorism through its peacekeeping deployment in Afghanistan.

Islamist groups extending influence

According to the report, around 7.3 million foreigners lived in Germany at the end of 2003, among them over three million Muslims.

Though the BFV described 57,300 foreign individuals as "radical," the report pointed out that only a tiny majority of the Muslim population -- around 31,000 Muslims -- were active in 24 Islamist organizations. The largest membership potential was found in six Turkish organizations which together have 27,300 followers.

Though the number of foreigners joining Islamist organizations remains almost the same as last year, Schily said the BFV believed that extremist Islamist groups command a much larger number of covert sympathizers and had extended its influence to a wider swathe of the Muslim population than a year ago.

Moschee in Kreuzberg

Muslime pray in the Mevlana mosque in Kreuzberg, Berlin

The interior minister added that Islamist groups were reaching many more people in mosques and community centers. Describing the groups as "fanatic" and "religious," Schily spoke of their "disintegrative activities" that were in particular, attracting a younger following.

The minister pointed to the largest Islamic organization in the country, Milli Görüs, which operates legally in Germany but has been on the watch list of the BFV for some years now, as having a strong anti-western and anti-democratic character. The organization specifically tries to indoctrinate Muslims living in Germany. "We're very critical of their youth work," Schily said.

Jihadis pose potent threat

The report also said that Islamists, who followed the model of Jihad or holy war, posed one of the most potent dangers to the country. It mentioned the militant Islamist Abu Mussab al Zarqawi, whose al Qaeda-affiliated Jordanian-based al Tawhid group was accused of carrying out attacks on Jewish targets in Berlin and Düsseldorf.

According to the BFV, Zarqawi also plays a central role in the radical Islamic Kurdish group Ansar el Islam, which last year was supported logistically by members in Germany.

The report also included the names of the Mideast-based Hamas militant Islamic group, which has about 300 members in Germany and the Lebanese Hizbollah militia, which is believed to have around 800 sympathizers in Germany.

Muhammed Metin Kaplan

Muhammed Metin Kaplan also known as caliph of Cologne

Also mentioned is the now banned Islamic organization led by Metin Kaplan (photo), the so-called "Caliph of Cologne" which had 800 members before it was disbanded at the end of 2001. The domestic intelligence services point out in the report that former members are attempting to once again set up the organization structures of the group despite the ban.

Drop in rightwing extremism

The BFV however reported an eight percent drop in membership among rightwing extremist groups in the country to 41,500 individuals -- the first significant decrease in nine years. Politically motivated rightwing crimes and violent acts also dipped by ten percent each.

Deutsche Neonazis in Frankfurt mit Polizisten

German neo-nazis clash with police outside a train station in Frankfurt

At the same time, Schily said he was concerned about the 15 percent rise in Neonazis to 3,000 members. Skinhead music fuelled by the Internet is "the number one gateway drug" for many young people, the minister said, adding that anti-Semitism was the distinguishing mark of the scene.

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