The number of Salafists in Germany has doubled over the last five years and now exceeds 10,000 for the first time, according to Germany's BfV domestic intelligence agency. BfV estimates that Germany is home to more than 25,000 Islamists, nearly 2,000 of whom pose an immediate threat of attack.
The new figures are included the latest annual report of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV), and presented by Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and BfV President Hans-Georg Maaßen in Berlin on July 24.
The report, considered the most important indicator of internal security in Germany, draws a bleak picture. The BfV estimates that the number of Islamists in Germany increased to at least 25,810 by the end of 2017, up from 24,425 in 2016.
Strangely, the report does not provide any estimates for the number of followers of the Islamic State or al-Qaeda living in Germany. As a result, the actual number of Islamists in Germany is undoubtedly higher than 25,810.
According to the report, Salafists comprise the single largest Islamist group in Germany. The number of Salafists in Germany jumped to 10,800 in 2017, up from 9,700 in 2016; 8,350 in 2015; 7,000 in 2014; 5,500 in 2013 and 4,500 in 2012.
The BfV report states:
"Salafists see themselves as defenders of an original, unadulterated Islam. They model their religious practice and lifestyle exclusively on the principles of the Koran, the Prophet Mohammed and the first three Muslim generations, the so-called righteous ancestors (Al-Salaf al-Salih in Arabic). As a consequence, Salafists want to establish a 'theocracy' according to their interpretation of the rules of sharia, one in which the liberal democratic order no longer applies.
"Political and jihadi Salafists share the same basic ideology. They differ primarily in the means by which they wish to achieve their objective, the 'Salafist theocracy.' Political Salafists spread their Islamist ideology through intensive propaganda activities — which they describe as 'missionary work' (Dawa) — to transform society, through a long-term process, according to Salafist norms.
"Many political Salafists position themselves as being against terrorism. They emphasize the peaceful nature of Islam and reject open calls for violence. Nevertheless, it should be noted that political Salafism has an ambivalent relationship to violence because in principle it does not exclude religiously inspired violence as a means to achieve its goals.
"In their interpretations of Islam, political Salafists make selective use of the classical works of the Islamic legal literature, which affirms a strong affinity to violence when dealing with non-Muslims. Salafists believe that the universal claim of Islam, due to its superiority as the divine plan of salvation for all of humanity, must be imposed by force if necessary. Therefore, the fundamental affirmation of violence is an intrinsic part of Salafist ideology.
"The two Salafist currents have different but easy-to-bridge views on under which prerequisites violence may be used. This explains why the transition from political to jihadist Salafism is fluid."
The BfV report states that Salafists are focusing their proselytizing and recruiting efforts on migrants seeking refuge in Germany:
"Under the guise of humanitarian aid, Islamists succeed in radicalizing migrants. In the past, Salafists in particular tried to reach out to migrants. They visited refugee shelters for this purpose and offered assistance. The target group was not only adult migrants, but also unaccompanied adolescents, who, due to their situation and age are particularly susceptible to Salafist missionary activities.
"The diverse propaganda activities of Salafists, which they play down as 'proselytizing' or 'inviting people to Islam' — it is in truth a systematic indoctrination and often also the beginning of radicalization — are successful: Salafism is the fastest growing Islamist trend in Germany.
"The Salafist scene represents the essential recruitment field for Jihad. Almost without exception, all persons with a German connection who have joined the jihad were previously in contact with the Salafist scene."
According to BfV, the growth of Germany's Salafist movement is being fueled in part by migrants from Chechnya:
"Within the Salafist scene in Germany, actors of North Caucasian origin — especially from the Russian Republic of Chechnya — have gained importance. Particularly affected are federal states in Eastern and Northern Germany, as well as North Rhine-Westphalia.
"The North Caucasus Islamist scene is characterized by sprawling, Europe-wide networks and characteristics. It is largely sealed-off to the outside. A critical factor for radicalization is the personal contact spectrum, which connects elements from the religion and the traditional clan structure. The North Caucasus Islamist has established contacts with Middle Eastern jihadi groups due to the 'successes' of the North Caucasus fighters in Syria or Iraq."
The BfV report makes a direct link between the increase in anti-Semitism in Germany and the rise of Islamist movements in the country:
"Islamist propaganda often combines religious, territorial and/or national-political motives with an anti-Semitic worldview. The 'enemy image of Judaism' therefore forms a central pillar in the propaganda of all Islamist groups....
"The BfV recorded a large number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2017. The spectrum of incidents ranged from anti-Israeli banners at public events and anti-Semitic sermons to anti-Semitic posts on social media and verbal or physical attacks against individual Jews.
"The BfV has found that all the Islamist groups active in Germany spread and nurture anti-Semitic ideas. This poses a significant challenge to the peaceful and tolerant coexistence in Germany."
According to BfV, the second-largest Islamist movement in Germany is Millî Görüş (Turkish for "National Vision"), which has around 10,000 members in the country. The movement is strongly opposed to Muslim integration into European society:
"The movement believes that a 'just' political order is one founded on 'divine revelation' while those systems designed by humans are 'vain.' At present, the 'vain' Western civilization dominates, based on violence, injustice and exploitation of the weak. This 'vain' system must be replaced by a 'just order,' based exclusively on Islamic principles, rather than man-made ones and thus 'arbitrary rules.' All Muslims should contribute to the realization of the 'just order.' To do this, Muslims must adopt a certain vision (Görüş) of the world, namely a national/religious ('Milli') vision, a 'Millî Görüş.'"
In addition to the Salafists and Millî Görüş, BfV estimates that Germany is now home to 1,040 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, 950 members of Hezbollah and 320 members of Hamas.
Pictured: Thousands of people listen as Salafist preacher Pierre Vogel speaks during a gathering of sympathizers on July 9, 2011 in Hamburg, Germany. (Photo by Christian Augustin/Getty Images)