Germany′s Problems in Outlawing Islamic Extremists | Current Affairs | DW | 02.08.2002
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Current Affairs

Germany's Problems in Outlawing Islamic Extremists

The recent bomb attack on Jerusalem University by the radical Islamic group Hamas, has led to fresh calls for a ban of Hamas and Hizbollah on German soil. But under German law, this may prove a daunting task.


Islamic extremists have fans in Germany: A father and his daughter at a Berlin demonstration in April

Recent reports that the Islamic militant group Hizbollah wants to open up shop in Germany has led to widespread concern that the violence of the Middle East could spread to German soil.

The radical Shi'ite group, formed in Lebanon in 1982, has become notorious for its suicide bombings, hostage takings and the hijacking of a Kuwaiti jet. In recent years, it has launched sporadic border attacks against the Israeli army.

So far, there haven't been any attacks on German soil and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's government wants to keep it that way.

But efforts to keep the Hizbollah from opening up a Koran School and training center in Berlin are likely to fail. The reason: Germany's constitution only allows groups to banned if they are proven to have violated German laws.

The bind is an especially embarassing one for Germany, where investigators say the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington were planned.

Groups "do not belong here"

In the past year, the government has been actively trying to crack down on groups like Hamas and Hizbollah, which officials estimate have a membership list of 3,000 members in Germany.

Günther Beckstein, the current Bavarian Interior Minister and possible Federal Interior Minister after the Sept. 22 elections, told Der Spiegel magazine earlier this week that Hizbollah and Hamas were "clearly groups, who use violence abroad."

"These kind of groups do not belong here," he said.

The sentiment is echoed by Professor Paul Wilkinson of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence in St. Andrews.

"It should surely be possible surely to count terrorist activity as serious violation to criminal law, " he told DW-Radio. "One would think German parliament could amend the law to ensure those organisations involved in terrorism were excluded from operating and opening support offices in Germany."

Under observation, but that's it

Both the US and Britain have already banned the organisation in their countries, and Israel’s Ambassador to Germany Schimon Stein is pressing Germany's government to do the same.

A government spokesman told reporters recently that both groups were under observation and that interior ministers on both state and federal level were collecting material on the organisations.

DW-Radio's Middle East expert Peter Philipp said European branches are important for Hizbollah. The organizations recruit interest from foreign Islamic and Arabic populations and provide both moral and financial support.

Extremist organizations grew in 2001

The latest report on extremist activity released in May by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency showed the government faced a long battle in the fight against terrorism.

Figures from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution showed that the number of foreign extremists living in Germany had increased from 58,800 in 2000 to 59,100 in 2001, the majority being Islamic extremists.

"Islamic organisations are no longer interested in just creating an Islamic societal order in their country of origin," Interior Minister Otto Schily warned after the report was released in May. "Increasingly, they want to transplant their political and religious ideas to Germany."

In December, the German government banned the first radical group since the September 11 attacks - the Union of Islamic Associations. This organisation was led by the radical Metin Kaplan, who was convicted of incitement of murder last year.

But the government has so far been unsuccessful in deporting its members.