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Germany

Number of Foreign Extremists in Germany Climbs

The government says the number of religious extremists in the country rose slightly in 2001. The majority belong to groups seeking to transplant fundamentalist Islamic views to Europe.

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Despite banning the "Caliph of Cologne"earlier this year, foreign extremists continue to operate in Germany

After the revelation last year that part of the planning for the September 11 terror attacks in New York took place in Hamburg, German officials stepped up their efforts to locate and crack down on foreign extremists living here.

But the latest report on extremist activity released on Friday by Germany's domestic intelligence agency suggests the government faces a long battle.

Figures from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution showed an increase in the number of foreign extremists living in Germany to 59,100 in 2001, up from 58,800 the previous year.

Islamic fundamentalists

The government says the majority of extremists are members of Islamic organizations.

"Islamic organizations are no longer interested in just creating an Islamic societal order in their country of origin," warned Interior Minister Otto Schily of the Social Democrats. "Increasingly, they want to transplant their political and religious ideas to Germany."

The government also cautioned that in the wake of September 11, the danger of terrorism has increased not only in the U.S., but also in Germany.

"We're looking at these people very closely, as we can't preclude their becoming active or supporting other groups," said President Heinz Fromm of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. "Some of them were trained in Afghanistan, and we're trying very hard to identify who is likely to act."

Milli Gorus is the country's largest Islamic fundamentalist group and continues to flourish despite proposals by some politicians for its ban. Milli Gorus promotes adoption of the Sharia, a strict interpretation of Islamic law, and wants its views of Islam to be taught in public schools.

Germany cracks down on foreign extremists

Since September 11, the government has imposed a number of laws and programs making it easier to shut down groups that pose a threat to democracy and track down potential terrorists.

The government succeeded in banning another major group, the Union of Islamic Associations and Communities, in December. That organization was led by the radical Metin Kaplan, also known as the "Caliph of Cologne." A Düsseldorf court last year convicted Kaplan of incitement of murder; he is currently serving a four-year prison sentence.

Right-wing extremists

In its 2001 report, the office also reported some positive shifts in the political margins of German society.

Membership in right-wing organizations fell by close to ten percent, with an estimated 33,000 activists still being monitored by the office. However, the report stated that the groups were very diffuse and lacking in clear leadership figures, unified ideology and permanent infrastructures.

The office stated that despite a Consitutional Court effort to ban the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party (NPD), the neo-Nazi group still continues to flourish.

The NPD, the report says, agitates with "racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic" messages and "plays down" the atrocities committed by the National Socialists and "glorifies" them.

The office noted a decline in membership in the far-right Republicans (REP), whose numbers dropped to 11,500, down 1,500 from a year earlier.

Left-wing extremist groups, including critics of globalization and anarchists, remained mostly unchanged in 2001, with 32,900 members. Close to 4,418 politically motivated crimes were reported among these groups, and anti-American sentiment is on the rise.

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