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Image: Colourbox/krbfss

Profiling German Islamists

Dagmar Breitenbach
September 24, 2015

Age, nationality, education: A study analyzes who leaves Germany to join the jihad. Some of the findings - leaked early by media - are surprising.


How many have a criminal background, how are they radicalized, what is their educational background and age group: German security authorities thoroughly analyzed 670 cases of jihadists who had left Germany to travel to Syria and Iraq by June 2015.

This year's findings provide an entirely different "scope of information", the authors of the report are quoted a saying. A similar study last year was based on just 400 cases.

The study, compiled by the domestic security agency Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the Federal Criminal Office (BKA) and the Hesse Information and Competence Center against Extremism (HKE), is still officially under wraps. A spokeswoman for the Office for the Protection of the Constitution told DW the report is scheduled for publication later this year. But reporters from German broadcasters NDR and WDR as well as German daily "Süddeutsche Zeitung" got hold of 11 key pages well ahead of publication and released the findings.

Young, male

In one out of two cases, the people who left Germany reportedly hooked up with Islamist groups, most of them (78 percent) flocking to the "Islamic State" (IS); the majority were male, but 21 percent were women.

woman with niqab
One out of five headed to join tghe jihad in Syria are womenImage: picture alliance / AP Images

Most German Islamists had lived in cities before they headed to Syria to wage jihad, and they were on average 25.9 years old. In 80 cases, the Islamists were very young, just 15 to 18 years of age.

409 jihadists were reportedly born in Germany, 399 had German citizenship, and 160 of those had dual citizenship. About a third even had children. The number of converts is listed at 114, and most of them reportedly converted to Islam before they were 22 years old.

Many were remarkably well-educated. Eighty went to university - though most didn't stay to get a degree - and 82 Islamists graduated from high school. Sixty-three headed to Syria or Iraq straight out of school.

More than one out of two had previously chalked up criminal offenses: assault, theft, drugs and a few cases of sexual offenses.

Surprise findings

The study came up with surprises concerning radicalization factors. It confirms that in 30 percent of the cases, the Internet played an initial role in the radicalization process, but that friends (37 percent) and contacts in the mosques (33 percent) seemed to be even more significant than the web. Reportedly, recruitment in prison only played a role in nine cases.

Of the 670 cases scrutinized, 234 jihadists returned to Germany, and 23 are currently in jail.

Prevent Salafist recruitment

The security agencies hope to use the data as a basis for a joint strategy to help prevent Islamic radicalization in addition to existing state initiatives, hotlines and information centers. As a last measure, authorities can confiscate suspected Islamists' passports under certain conditions to keep them from leaving for terrorist camps in Syria.

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