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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Today Germany, tomorrow the whole world...

Raid on Islamic Groups in Germany
By ALAN COWELL and MICHAEL SLACKMAN
Published: December 14, 2010

BERLIN — The German Interior Ministry ordered simultaneous raids in three states on Tuesday against what it called Salafist networks suspected of seeking the imposition of an Islamic state. The action signaled growing concern over the radical messages of some Islamic groups.

The raids, in Bremen, Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia, were not linked to a recent terrorism alert reportedly inspired by phone calls from a man who said he wanted to quit working with terrorists and who warned of a pending Mumbai-style attack, the Interior Ministry said.

The ministry statement said the raids were directed at two groups: Invitation to Paradise in the cities of Brunswick and Mönchengladbach, and the Islamic Culture Center of Bremen, on the North Sea coast. The two groups work closely together and share the same ideology. The authorities are seeking to outlaw both groups.

The raids appeared to represent a departure for the German authorities in their dealings with radical Muslim groups. They were conducted under the authority of postwar laws enacted with an eye to the Nazis to prevent the overthrow of the state or Constitution by extremist groups. Before, those statutes had been invoked primarily against right-wing nationalist and neo-Nazi groups, and German intelligence had focused primarily on individual Muslim extremists rather than groups.

The ministry’s statement emphasized this shift in approach. “For a well-fortified democracy, it is necessary and demanded, without waiting for the jihad to occur in the form of armed struggle, to take action against anti-constitutional organizations.”

The statement said the groups were suspected of opposing constitutional order by seeking to “overthrow it in favor of an Islamic theocracy.” There was no indication that any arrests were made.

“The group is very influential and is especially active in converting people,” a senior German security official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was still under way. The best-known figure in the group is a German citizen, Pierre Vogel, a former boxer and convert to Islam. “They do have the aim to change Germany and make it Islamic, but there is no evidence that they were or are involved in any terrorism,” the official said.

The Interior Ministry statement, signed by the spokesman Stefan Paris, said one of the leaders of Invitation to Paradise had called for the imposition of Shariah law, the statement said, adding that the raids had been carried out under Germany’s laws of association. Shariah is the legal code of Islam based on the Koran.

However, the statement said it remained to be seen whether the raids would confirm suspicions about the groups’ intentions.

Dozens of private homes were searched Tuesday, as well as religious schools and a store belonging to Invitation to Paradise that sells face-covering veils for women and caftans for men, The Associated Press reported, quoting a security official. The police said they seized evidence during the raids, but would not comment further.

German intelligence authorities have said they regard Salafist institutions as a potential source of terrorism.

The term Salafist usually denotes an extreme form of Islamic fundamentalism. But Salafists are divided into several schools, including one that believes that Muslims should remain politically disengaged and take up arms only when called to duty in a Muslim-governed country; anything else represents rebellion against the government, which violates Islamic law.

At the same time, the Salafist movement also has its share of revolutionaries — the so-called Salafi jihadis — who contend that rebellion is permissible. Germany has become increasingly vigilant in recent months about potential threats amid deepening concerns that a small number of German citizens may be under the influence of terrorist groups determined to stage new attacks, either in Germany or elsewhere in Europe.

The recent terrorism alert was prompted by a caller who claimed to have been a jihadist working with terrorists in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and provided what law enforcement officials called concrete information concerning a recent plot to rampage through the Reichstag, the seat of Germany’s Parliament and a popular tourist site. As a result of that alarm, the authorities deployed heavily armed police officers across the nation.

The Interior Ministry said that there was “no connection” with Germany’s current alert and that the raids had been “planned for a long time.”

The authorities’ actions recalled events last summer when officials in Hamburg closed a mosque where Mohamed Atta, one of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers, had prayed. It had become a destination for jihadi tourism.

Alan Cowell reported from Berlin, and Michael Slackman from Erlangen, Germany. Souad Mekhennet contributed reporting from Frankfurt.

A version of this article appeared in print on December 15, 2010, on page A8 of the New York edition.

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