While right-wing terrorism is currently the focus of attention in Germany, the threat posed by religiously motivated extremism remains. Radical Salafists are considered especially dangerous.
"We have to understand that Islam is a religion of action, a religion of deeds. Each of us should know that paradise is the goal. So don't waste any time on your way to getting there." That is the message of Mohamed Mahmoud, a radical and previously convicted Islam convert active in Germany.
His message is aimed at the Salafist community in Germany, a movement emphasizing the earliest Muslims as model examples of Islamic practice – rejecting any modern changes to Muslim teachings. Salafists are the fastest growing group of Muslims in Germany, ranging from pious believers to radical followers.
Political Salafism is considered a breeding ground for radicalizing young Muslims and recent developments show that religiously motivated extremism remains a source of danger and concern.
"We are worried that known Salafists are traveling across Germany," says Mathilde Koller, head of the domestic intelligence agency in Germany's state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Teenagers and young people, she says, are the main targets as they are easily susceptible to radical teachings suggesting simple solutions for life.
Pioneer of Internet jihad
One of the authorities' main concerns is the Austrian Mohammed Mahmoud who in 2011 moved to Germany. He first was active in Berlin and then moved on to a mosque in Solingen, a town in North Rhine-Westphalia. Currently, the 26-year-old who calls himself Abu Usama al-Gharib is registered in Frankfurt.
In 2008, Mahmoud was convicted on charges of organizing and helping a terrorist organization. Since his release from prison in Austria, he has been holding seminars on Islam across Germany and uses the Internet to promote Salafist teachings. Mahmoud is considered a pioneer in Internet jihad, and is believed to also be behind the production of videos spreading hatred and threatening violence.
Prevention more important than ever
While the domestic intelligence agency does not see an immediate danger in the activities of the radical Salafists, it is concerned about the possible influence they can have on teenagers and young people.
"The worst part of it is that the vast majority of peace-loving Muslims have to suffer from it," says Willi Körfges, member of the North Rhine-Westphalia parliament. He warns that if nothing is done against extremists Salafists, it could lead to more prejudices against Germany's Muslims as a whole.
The majority of Muslims dismiss the Salafist interpretation of Islam and in fact consider them non-believers. Police and domestic intelligence see early prevention as the key to fighting the extremists.
"In our work we try to make sure that young Muslims or non-Muslims don't even get in contact with the Islamists," says Koller. That means that in school, for instance, they learn to distinguish between Islam as religion and the fundamentalist interpretation of small Islamist sects. Special trainings for teachers and youth workers prepare them for dealing with teenagers who otherwise might fall prey to the propaganda of radical Salafists.
Dialogue with extremists
Are those measures enough for effective prevention? Abdlgalk Azrak is a board member at a Bonn mosque that also has extremists coming for prayer. He cannot keep them from the mosque, neither on religious nor legal grounds. He argues, instead, for a strategy that in Germany and internationally is highly controversial: dialogue with the extremists.
"We should offer a dialogue to young people ready to embrace radical Islam – that's the way we can keep radicalism in check," he says. The only question is: will they listen?
Author: Ulrike Hummel / ai
Editor: Gregg Benzow