A group of radical young Islamists has recently caused concern on the streets of a German city. The "Sharia police" have been observed trying to deter young Muslims from doing things like drinking or gambling.
Police in Wuppertal are seeking ways to stop the group of men who have been seen patrolling the area around the western city's main train station on several evenings recently. The bearded fundamentalists have declared the sleazy nightlife area of the city of 340,000 to be a "Sharia Controlled Zone."
The young men, who are followers of Salafism, a puritanical form of Islam, walked around the area in orange traffic safety vests with the words "Sharia police" written in English on the back.
They have also been observed distributing leaflets urging people to refrain from alcohol, drugs, gambling, attending concerts, watching pornography or visiting prostitutes.
Police stopped 11 men between the ages of 19 and 33 in Wuppertal on Wednesday night and they are now being investigated to see whether charges of illegal assembly could be brought against them.
Hotline set up
After numerous residents approached police to express their concerns about the group's activities, police on Friday announced that they had set up a hotline to allow locals to express their concerns or report any possible criminal activity.
"Intimidation or provocation won't be tolerated," Wuppertal Police Chief Birgitta Rademacher said on Friday. She added that only police appointed and employed by the state had the legitimate right to act as police in Germany.
Wuppertal's mayor, Peter Jung, said he supported the police taking a hard line on the group's activities.
"These people's intention is to provoke and intimidate and force their ideology (upon others)," Jung said.
He added that Wuppertal was an "open and tolerant city, which is proud of the fact that people of different religions and convictions live together in peace."
Police have said that they would step up patrols of the downtown area as a result of the group's recent activities.
German authorities fear that Salafists have been encouraging young men to travel to Syria or Iraq to join the militant "Islamic State" or similar groups.
pfd/mg (AFP, dpa, EPD)