• In an effort to improve their image, the Salafists have removed from their "information booths" all literature about the role of women in Islam or the supremacy of Islamic Sharia law over democracy. The German translation of the Koran has edited out many of the verses which call on Muslims to make war on non-believers.

German authorities have launched a major crackdown on radical Islamists suspected of plotting against the state.

The move reflects mounting concern in Germany over the growing assertiveness of Salafist Muslims, who openly state that they want to establish Islamic Sharia law in the country and across Europe.

In nation-wide raids on June 14, over 1,000 German police searched about 70 Salafist homes, apartments, mosques and meeting places in seven of Germany's 16 states in search of evidence that would enable the German government to outlaw some of the dozens of Islamist groups operating in the country.

German authorities believe the Salafists, who trace their roots to Saudi Arabia, want to create a Sunni Islamic Caliphate (Islamic Empire) opposed to Western democracy; and that some within the group support martyrdom and the use of violence, and are also fuelling militancy among German's socially alienated Muslim youth.

Announcing the crackdown, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said he had banned a Salafist group called Millatu Ibrahim, based in the western city of Solingen. "The Millatu Ibrahim group works against our constitutional order," he said, "and against understanding between peoples." Among other things, Millatu Ibrahim teaches its followers to reject German law and to follow Islamic Sharia law, and that "the unbelievers are the enemy."

Friedrich also said that the raids in Bavaria, Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg and North Rhine-Westphalia, among other locations, may unearth evidence that would allow outlawing two other Salafist groups, the DawaFFM and "Die Wahre Religion" [DRW, "The True Religion"].

Friedrich said a "comprehensive collection of evidence" had been seized, including cell phones, laptop computers, videos and other items. "All these things will be evaluated over the coming days, and we shall see to what extent the evidence is sufficient to ban the two organizations being investigated."

Among the homes targeted in the raids was one belonging to Ibrahim Abou-Nagie, a Palestinian-born, Rheinland-based Salafist hate preacher who runs the DRW Salafist group.

Abou-Nagie is the orchestrator behind an unprecedented nationwide campaign to distribute 25 million copies of the Koran, translated into the German language, with the goal of placing one Koran into every household in Germany, free of charge.

The mass proselytization campaign -- called Project "READ!" -- is being implemented by hundreds of Salafists in cities and towns throughout Germany, as well as in Austria and in Switzerland. More than 100 Salafist "information booths" have already been set up in dozens of German cities, particularly in the regions of North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony, Hessen and Hamburg.

In September 2011, German public prosecutors launched an investigation into Abou-Nagie after he called for violence against non-believers in videos posted on the Internet. In his sermons, Abou-Nagie glamorizes Islamic martyrdom and says that Islamic Sharia law is above the German Constitution. He outspokenly believes that music should be prohibited, that homosexuals should be executed, and that adulterers should be stoned.

Abou-Nagie has tens of thousands of followers across Germany. Among them are two German Muslim converts-turned-terror suspects trained by Abou-Nagie and recently arrested in Dover, England, after British border police searched their luggage and found a document entitled "How to Build a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom," an article from the English-language online magazine "Inspire" produced by Al-Qaida in Yemen.

In one video, Abou-Nagie tells his audience that "whoever follows the Christian Bible or the Jewish Torah instead of the Islamic Koran will go to Hell for eternity." Abou-Nagie says he sees it as his calling to save the German people from the wrath of Allah by converting them to Islam.

During the extended Christian Easter weekend from April 5-9, Abou-Nagie's Project "READ!" entered into a new phase. According to the Berlin-based newspaper Die Welt, the Salafists launched a "frontal assault" against people of other faiths and "unbelievers."

On April 7 Project "READ!" organized a nationwide campaign to distribute the Koran in 35 German cities, including Berlin, Cologne, Dresden, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hanover, Heidelberg, Konstanz, Munich and Osnabrück.

According to Die Welt, German authorities view the Koran project as a "most worrisome" recruiting campaign for radical Islam. Security analysts say the campaign is also a public-relations gimmick intended to persuade Germans that the Salafists are transparent and "citizen friendly."

In an effort to improve their image, the Salafists have removed from their "information booths" all literature about the role of women in Islam or the supremacy of Islamic Sharia law over democracy.

Moreover, the German translation of the Koran has edited out many of the verses which call on Muslims to make war on non-believers. According to the German domestic intelligence agency, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), the German version of the Koran is "rather non-controversial."

The BfV believes there are an estimated 29 Islamist groups active in Germany with around 35,000 members or supporters who want to establish a "Koran-state" in Germany because they believe Islamic Sharia law is a divine ordinance that is supposed to replace all other legal systems. The BfV says the Salafists, who are estimated to be about 4,000 in number, are the fastest growing Islamic group in Germany, which has a total Muslim population of 4.3 million.

German authorities have been stepping up their monitoring of Salafist groups after a series of violent clashes with police.

In May, for example, more than 500 Salafists attacked German police with bottles, clubs, stones and other weapons in the city of Bonn, to protest cartoons they said were "offensive."

The clashes erupted when around 30 supporters of a conservative political party, PRO NRW, which is opposed to the further spread of Islam in Germany, participated in a campaign rally ahead of regional elections in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW).

Following the fights (in which 29 police officers were injured, two of them seriously), a video surfaced on the Internet by a known terrorist, the German-born Yassin Chouka, a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.

In the German-language video, Chouka calls for members of PRO NRW and German media to be killed. He also urges the Salafists to move away from street confrontations, where the risk of being arrested is great, and instead to target PRO NRW members in their homes and workplaces.

In a June 8 interview with the newspaper Die Welt, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said: "Radical Salafism is like a hard drug. All of those who succumb to her become violent."

Friedrich also said the recent Salafist attacks on German police show "that the threshold for violence has decreased in an alarming way. There can be only one answer: The government must make it clear with all the force of the law that our democracy is fortified. Salafists fight the liberal-democratic legal system and in its place want to introduce their radical ideology in Germany. But we will not let that happen. We will defend our freedom and our security with all our might."

Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.

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