by Klaus Grünewald
Middle East Quarterly
Klaus Grünewald is head of the counterterrorist division of Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution). Before joining the agency in 1961, he worked as a freelance journalist concentrating on rightwing extremism in Germany.
At this very moment, no less than fourteen extremist Islamic organizations have structures active in Germany. All these groups have two goals in common: to propagate militant Islam in Europe and to fight the governments in their home countries; alternatively--in the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran--they aspire intransigently to suppress all dissident sentiment at home and abroad.
In recent years, these extremist groups have shown a continuous increase in membership. At the end of 1993, they had over 21,200 members or supporters in Germany alone, representing about 1 percent of all the foreigners of Muslim faith resident in Germany. This number has grown substantially in recent years, and could continue to grow dramatically in the future should the Muslim population's standard of living decline or should it consider its future prospects in the Federal Republic of Germany to be hopeless. These findings apply similarly to other European countries with a significant Islamic population.
In Germany, extremist Islamic organizations find an overwhelming majority of their members and sympathizers among the foreign and immigrant population. These groups themselves are branches of organizations in countries with strong Islamic movements, such as Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iran. They also include many Palestinians. Within these organizations' German branches, Arabs stand out for their militancy, Iranians for their model of a theocratic system, and Turks for their sheer numbers.
Almost all extremist Arab organizations currently active in the Middle East and North Africa have branches or at least individual members in Europe.
The leading radical Islamic group of Sunni Arabs is the Muslim Brethren, whose two largest European centers are in Munich (headquarters of the Egyptian branch) and Aachen (under the influence of the Syrian branch). Though little separates the two ideologically, they are distinguished by being subsidized and influenced by the two branches. Members of the Muslim Brethren have to date not been involved in violence outside their native countries. Their activities in Europe are confined to carrying out Friday prayers, monthly meetings, training courses, and an annual congress attended by guests from abroad. The Muslim Brethren distributes publications drawing attention to the political conditions in such countries as Bosnia and Algeria, as well as among the Palestinians.
In 1982, members of the Muslim Brethren founded the Islamic Federation of Palestine (Islamischer Bund Palästina--IBP), which is the representative of Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement) in Europe. IBP carries out extensive public relations by circulating Hamas declarations and (sometimes with Islamists of other nationalities) staging large-scale demonstrations in support of their cause.
The Muslim Brethren's centers are contact points for all other regional branches of the group, such as Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut--FIS) or Tunisia's En-Nahda. The FIS aims to establish an Islamic state in Algeria. France, with its approximately three million Algerians, is the main operational area of the group and its military wing, the Armée Islamique du Salut, as well as the especially militant Groupe Islamique Armée. FIS propaganda activities and acquisition of weapons also take place primarily in France.
Since November 1992, Germany has hosted the wife and sons--Oussama, Salim, and Abou Alkacem Ikbal Abbassi-- of the charismatic FIS leader Abbassi Madani, presently under arrest in Algeria. In addition, Rabah Kbir--head of the Executive Authority of the FIS abroad--has been living with his family in Germany. In November 1992, the Abbassis and Kbir applied for political asylum. In March 1994, a ban on political activity was issued against Kbir after he gave speeches propagating violence. As far as is known, the activities of FIS activists living in Germany are concentrated on political propaganda support for the FIS in Algeria. There are, however, additional indications and even proof that FIS members living in European countries are involved in the delivery of weapons and other technical equipment to Algeria. Several arrests in France revealed that weapons were purchased in that country to be shipped to Algeria; and that some people living in Germany may be involved. The FIS is an especially good example of the fact that many Islamic organizations are active across European borders. They most probably do not organize into divisions corresponding to national borders in Europe.
In Egypt, the terrorist Jama`at Islamiya (Islamic Groups) insist that all foreigners leave the country, and have even killed some Western tourists. So far, however, the Jama`at appear to have no organization in Europe.
Hizbullah, the extremist Shi`i Lebanese group, operates in Europe under the designation "Islamic Resistance." Since 1991, it has concerned itself with establishing structures to provide a political basis for enlarging membership. Visiting functionaries from Lebanon train the European branches and indoctrinate supporters on the current political line. To date, only one Hizbullah terrorist operation is known to have been carried out in Europe: the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 on June 15, 1985.
Germany is the center for Iranian activities in Europe. The religious and political propaganda activity of Iranian Islamists in the West helps the regime's primary aim of exporting its revolution to countries with Muslim majorities by recruiting Muslims of many nationalities to their cause. All official Iranian facilities abroad--embassies, consulates, trade offices, culture centers, airline offices, media organizations, and even state companies--must support the government's religious and political propaganda. Only those persons who unconditionally accept these tasks can serve as employees of such institutions.
After Ayatollah Khomeini assumed power, the Islamic Center Hamburg (Islamisches Zentrum Hamburg--IZH) played an exceptional role as Iran's ideological center for the dissemination of Iranian-type Islamism among Muslims living in Western Europe. At great human and monetary cost, the regime engages in systematic agitation and propaganda to promote the export of its revolution. Meetings of the IZH regularly include Iranians and other Shiite Muslims from Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey, as well as German converts. The spiritual leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamene`i, appoints the head of the IZH and allots funds for his use. The IZH allows sympathizers of all nationalities to use the facility free of charge.
Concurrently, the IZH distributes a series of publications and videocassettes in several languages, mainly Arabic. Many of them deal with the achievements of the Islamic Republic and urge an anti-Western outlook. This propaganda uses every possible incident--such as Serbian war crimes against Bosnian Muslims--to make the case that there exists a Western crusade against the Islamic world and Islam. It routinely presents The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie as part of this conspiracy.
Iranian students living abroad loyal to their regime belong to the Union of Islamic Student Associations in Europe. Financed by Iran, its main tasks include propagating Khomeini's concepts of revolution, recruiting new supporters, and combatting opponents. Members of the union are obliged to defend to the death the Islamic faith and the Islamic revolution, presumably through both verbal and physical means. They are also substantially involved in the annual large-scale demonstration in the Federal Republic to commemorate Jerusalem Day, which is attended by some five thousand Muslims; the last such demonstration took place in Hamburg in March 1994.
The Association for New World Outlook in Europe (Vereinigung der neuen Weltsicht in Europa e. V. -- AMGT), founded in 1985, seeks to bring an end to the secular state organization in Turkey and replace it with an Islamic system. The group supports the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi) [no dots] of Professor Necmettin Erbakan and gives considerable financial support to his election campaigns; its 1994 budget was more than seven million Deutsche marks. It does not take recourse to violence. Throughout Europe, according to its own figures, the association has over four hundred branches and some thirty thousand members, making it the strongest of all Turkish extremist organizations. Its functions are attended by more than ten thousand persons. AMGT publications often include anti-Semitic expressions: its daily Milli Gazete, published in both Turkey and Germany, describes Israelis as "a nation damned in the Holy Qur'an and a godless hotbed of discord."1 The association considers itself the lead institution for Islamic Turks in Europe, and boasts increasing membership figures. To expand its already considerable financial power, it purchases real estate, thereby also increasing its geographic bases (the 1995 target includes five hundred mosques). It maintains varied and sometimes close contacts to Arab Islamic groups, such as the FIS and En-Nahda, to which it also gives financial and other support.
The association does not shy away from condoning violence. At a large function in Belgium on July 2, 1993, Erbakan publicly expressed his approval of an arson attack by Islamists on a hotel in Sivas, Turkey, where a meeting of Turkish artists and intellectuals was taking place and thirty-seven people were killed.
Since its inception in Cologne in 1984, the Association of Islamic Societies and Communities (Verband islamischer Vereine und Gemeinden e. V. Köln--ICCB) has been led by Cemaleddin Kaplan, sometimes called the "black voice" or "the Khomeini of Cologne." The ICCB is uncompromising in its demands for the universal rule of Islam, which in its view would begin with the downfall of the Turkish state structure and the establishment of an Islamic Turkish state. It sees this happening only through revolutionary means, for Islam must defeat its three greatest threats of democracy, capitalism, and laicism.
The ICCB vehemently slanders the State of Israel and the Jewish people; for example, its publication Ümmet-i Muhammad gives special prominence to such remarks as, "The Jew is not only the enemy of Islam but of humanity."2 As a consequence of these anti-Turkish-regime and anti-Semitic statements, the German government in 1987 restricted Kaplan's political involvement in Germany and in 1993 forbade it altogether. In September 1993, the Aliens' Office of the City of Cologne ordered Kaplan to leave the Federal Republic. But he has yet to do so, for the deportation restrictions in the Aliens' Law are exceedingly strict. Recent association publications indicate that Kaplan is rapidly losing support, to the point that the ICCB finds itself in a crisis, partly due to the restrictions, and also due to his poor health and to growing opposition within the organization.
Radical Islamic groups in Europe presumably will continue to expand, given that they are gaining strength in the Muslim world. This will be all the worse if the social and economic situations in their home countries do not considerably improve. This will have serious implications both for the Muslim world itself and for Europe.
What kind of threat do the Islamic movements pose to Europe? The main threat is to Western security. Muslim ghettos already exist in large European cities such as Paris, Marseilles, Cologne, and Berlin, and they continue to grow with new immigration. Radical Islamic indoctrination thrives when the residents of such places consider themselves to be socially and politically disadvantaged. This potential already exists; it could attain a critical mass and lead to destabilizing influences in Western countries, a development to be welcomed by Islamist strategists. The recruitment possibilities for terrorist operations among discontent Muslims in Europe must be considered high.
What responses do European societies have at hand? First, they can take measures to improve the circumstances of Muslim residents by providing them with adequate economic, social, and political conditions and helping them integrate into the society of the host country.
Secondly, the intelligence services, whose task it is to obtain information on the covert attempts of Islamic groups, must work closely and intensively with each other. So far, such cooperative efforts have had fairly good results, uncovering secret organizations and, in many cases, resulting in the prosecution and sentencing of offenders. These initial successes, in turn, have a deterrent effect. Since the extremist Islamic organizations are active across borders, the cooperation of Western intelligence services is of crucial importance.
1 Milli Gazete, Apr. 12, 1994.
2 Ümmet-i-Muhammed, July 15, 1993.