Authorities in Hamburg raided and shut down a mosque visited by September 11 jihadists on Monday. Shortly before Ramadan, Hamburg deemed the mosque's extreme Islamist ideology as sufficient grounds for a ban.
Police only found one man in the mosque in their 6 a.m. raid
Hamburg police early Monday morning raided a mosque with a known history of breeding jihadists, city authorities reported.
At 6 a.m. Monday morning 20 police officers reportedly entered the mosque searching for evidence of Islamist radicalization. Hamburg's interior minister, Christoph Ahlhaus, deemed the group's Islamist ideology reason enough to close the center for good.
"The mosque is now being sealed up, so that the phantom behind the walls on Steindamm Street has come to an end," announced Ahlhaus, who ordered that the mosque's community be banned - and the homes of four members of the supporting Taiba Arab-German Culture Association searched.
Ahlhaus called the mosque a 'phantom'
Ahlhaus said in a press conference hours after the raid that Hamburg could not allow "a point of contact for a group that advocates Islamist social order and will not shy away from violence to assert it."
The Taiba Mosque in Hamburg's St. Georg neighborhood received international attention under its former name, Al Quds, when it became known that the September 11 suicide pilot Mohammed Attah had used his contacts there to forge a terrorist cell.
According to Manfred Murck, deputy director of Hamburg's internal intelligence service, the mosque had continued to serve "as a symbolic location for jihadists from all over Germany and even abroad, because it had the perpetrators as its nimbus."
"The mosque also continued to serve as a center of radicalization," he said.
Lothar Bergmann, head of Hamburg's anti-terrorism unit, referred to the Taiba Mosque's leader, Syrian-German Mamoun Darkazanli, as a "preacher of hate," adding that his teachings and sermons as well as texts published on the community's website promoted jihad.
The investigation had gone on for months as strong evidence was needed to close the house of worship, Murck said.
Bad timing, or strategic timing?
Yet, after a decade of suspicion against the mosque, the timing of the raid has come under question, especially considering the proximity to Hamburg's August 25 mayoral election, in which Ahlhaus is a prime candidate to win the office.
Aiman Mazyek, secretary general of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, told Deutsche Welle he also found it "regretful that this [raid and ban] had to take place just before Ramadan."
"Politicians should want to get peaceful Muslims on their side ... Maybe they should have tried to do this at a different date, not just before Ramadan - and an election," Mazyek added.
Mazyek, whose organization represents nearly 2,600 Muslim communities, also fears that the pursuit of Islamists will have a negative impact on peaceful Muslims living in Germany.
The community says it planned to vacate anyway
He said studies had proven that the "war on terror" had increased extremist violence against Muslims and mosques.
Staying on guard
Authorities estimate that Hamburg is home to 45 jihad supporters and that around 200 people regularly attended Friday services at the mosque, which they believe to have been particularly aggressive in ideology.
Hamburg's jihadists have continued to make the news since the World Trade Center attacks. Authorities say that 11 young Muslims went on from the Taiba mosque to train in militant camps on the Afghan-Pakistani border.
One of them, known as Rami M., found his way into a terrorist militia in the region before he was arrested in March 2009.
Yet the problem is not specific to Hamburg, according to Rolf Tophoven of the Institute for Terrorism Research and Security Policy.
Tophoven said there were centers of radicalization all over Germany and Europe, but that most - working under the guise of mosques and Koran schools - were focused on indoctrination rather than militant training.
Misorienting Muslim youth
"Not all these cells are looking for a terrorist operation," he said, adding that Germany in particular was threatened by "Islamist centers, which are going to infiltrate the minds of young Muslim people."
Abu Askar is a known jihadist, formerly from Hamburg
"If you have a young Muslim student, who is not centralized in his family, who is looking for orientation, and this man falls in the hands of a radical imam or scholar, then often he will leave his family and look for jihad training in Afghanistan, and especially on the Afghan-Pakistani border on the Pakistani side," Tophoven said.
Furthermore, he added, local terrorist cells in Europe had become more sophisticated and no longer needed operational orders from above.
"They know how to recruit perpetrators. The ideological framework is the credo of Osama bin Laden: every good Muslim has the duty to fight the so-called non-Muslim community."
Author: David Levitz
Editor: Nancy Isenson