Under a new anti-terrorist law, Germany cracks down on the Kaplan group, a radical Islamic network suspected of inciting violence and terrorist activities.
The Caliph of Cologne, Muhammed Metin Kaplan
Early Wednesday morning special police forces raided the headquarters of the Cologne based Kaplan group as part of sweeping new security measures aimed at putting pressure on radical Islamic organizations.
According to the German Interior Ministry, police searched 200 houses in seven different German states before seizing the groups’ headquarters in Cologne.
The operation, carried out by several hundred police officers, began around 6:00 am and continued until mid-morning. All connected buildings including shops and the group’s mosque were thoroughly searched as well as members’ private homes. The police confiscated the group’s computer and several other objects. No arrests were made.
The action was part of a nation-wide ban on a network of radical Islamic groups centered around the Kaplan organization and its self-appointed leader, the "Caliph of Cologne". Early Wednesday morning, German Interior Minister Otto Schily issued a ban on the organization, citing the group’s previous record of inciting violence through anti-democratic activities. The group is also suspected of having close contact with Osama bin Laden.
Wednesday’s ban covers not only the Cologne Kaplan group, but also a foundation linked to it called "Servants of Islam" and 19 other subsidiary groups. Membership in the group is estimated at 1,100.
The crack-down is part of a new anti-terrorist package approved by the German parliament on November 9. The legislation, the first of two security packages to go through parliament, waives the constitutional protection of religious groups suspected of inciting violence and undermining democracy. It allows the government to ban an otherwise protected religious organization if proof is found to connect it to terrorist or other undemocratic activities.
The legislation was passed after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Prior to the change in law, extremist groups organized under the auspices of a religion could not be prohibited by the government. Groups such as the Kaplan network therefore enjoyed constitutional privileges.
The ban against the Cologne Kaplan group is the first to be issued since the new law was passed.
Fritz Behrens, Minister of the Interior for the state of North Rhine Westphalia where Cologne is located, welcomed the law and Schily’s decision to ban the Kaplan group. "Now we finally have the legal framework to take action against groups disguising themselves as religious organizations while engaging in political extremist or criminal activities," Behrens said.
The Kaplan group is a network of fundamental Muslims living in Germany, who propagate the violent overthrow of the Turkish government and the establishment of an Islamic nation modeled on Iran. The German Federal Agency for Internal Security has referred to the Kaplan group as the most radical Islamic organization in Germany.
Organized as a caliphate state, the Kaplan group has created its own constitution and state structure. The leader Metin Kaplan – known as the Caliph of Cologne – claims to be the legitimate ruler of Turkey and has designated Cologne as the seat of the new Islamic state until Istanbul is freed from secular influences.
In April 1992 Kaplan’s father Cemaleddin Kaplan, who was referred to as the "Khomeini of Cologne", called for the establishment of a "Federal Islamic State of Anatolia". In March 1994 the "caliphate" state was created in Cologne. After the father’s death in May 1995, the 49-year-old son Metin took over as caliph.
The organization finances itself through membership dues, donations and the sale of real estate. According to the Federal Agency for Internal Security, the Kaplan group had amassed millions of dollars in the 1990s. These assets were supposedly used to finance illegal and terrorist activities.
The Kaplan group publishes a weekly newspaper and produces a weekly television program which is broadcast in Turkey. According to German police authorities, the organization spread propaganda through the Internet.
In November 2000, the Caliph of Cologne was imprisoned for four years for publicly calling for the murder of his Berlin rival. The "anti-caliph" was shot down in front of his family in Berlin in 1997. Although their is no proof directly linking Kaplan to the murder, witnesses say he was responsible for inciting the attack.
Witnesses at the caliph’s trial last year said the group had rejected German laws and the German constitution while striving for the world dominance of Islam. In the past, German authorities have repeatedly described the group as militant and anti-Semitic, responsible for spreading extremist thinking and hatred among Germany’s three million Muslims.