Foreign intelligences services, especially those from Turkey, Syria and Iran, have increased their activities in Germany during the past 12 months, according to a report presented on June 27 by Germany's Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and Thomas Haldenwang, president of Germany's BfV domestic intelligence agency. Pictured: Seehofer (left) and Haldenwang (right) at a press conference on June 18, 2019, with Federal Crime Office head Holger Muench. (Photo by Michele Tantussi/Getty Images)
Foreign intelligence services, especially those from Turkey, Syria and Iran, have increased their activities in Germany during the past 12 months, according to Germany's BfV domestic intelligence agency. The foreign intelligence services are not only pursuing dissidents among the large diasporas in Germany, they are also targeting Jewish and Israeli interests in the country.
At the same time, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood appear to be operating with impunity in Germany, while, according to the BfV, the number of Salafists in the country has tripled in recent years and now exceeds 11,000. Overall, the BfV estimates that Germany is home to more than 26,000 Islamists, an unknown number 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 were presented by Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and BfV President Thomas Haldenwang in Berlin on June 27.
The report, considered the most important indicator of internal security in Germany, draws a bleak picture and raises questions about the government's apparent passivity in face of mounting threats.
Iranian intelligence activities in Germany are carried out by Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), as well as the secret service of the Quds Force, a unit of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) responsible for foreign operations. According to the BfV, Iranian intelligence services in Germany are focused primarily on monitoring regime opponents, but also Israeli interests:
"The Iranian intelligence services are a central instrument of the political leadership to secure their claim to power. As a result, the Iranian opposition will continue to be a target of the MOIS....
"General Yahya Rahim Safavi, military adviser to Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that the Islamic Republic has the authority to destroy any potential aggressors, not only within Iran but also beyond its borders....
"The State of Israel, its representatives and supporters, are among the declared enemies of Iran. This may include leading representatives of Jewish organizations in the Diaspora. The nuclear agreement between Iran and the West has not changed this attitude. Spying activities against Israeli and Jewish targets in Germany therefore continue to be part of the task area of Iranian intelligence services."
The BfV report noted only three successful operations in 2018 against Iranian activities in Germany:
In January 2018, German police in seven federal states arrested ten alleged agents of the Quds Force. The agents were accused of spying on Israelis in Germany.
In March 2018, a court in Frankfurt sentenced an Iranian national to seven years in prison for purchasing, on behalf of the Quds Force, printing presses that produce counterfeit currency. The man, with German residency, also set up a series of front companies to purchase and ship to Iran specialized paper and ink. During the trial, it emerged that the presses were used to print more than 50 million Yemeni banknotes.
On July 1, an Iranian MOIS agent was arrested in Germany on an international warrant for plotting to bomb the annual meeting of the MEK, an Iranian opposition group, near Paris on June 30. The agent was extradited to Belgium in October 2018.
The Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT), the BfV notes, is controlled by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to enforce government policy and ensure internal security.
MIT's activities in Germany are focused on targeting dissidents and opposition groups as well as trying to influence the Turkish diaspora in the country. Targeted dissidents include the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Gülen Movement of the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, a former Erdoğan ally whom Erdoğan accuses of staging a failed coup in July 2016. According to BfV:
"The MIT's activities are flanked by attempts to exert influence on Turkish communities in Germany and the political decision-making process in German society as a whole. Government-related organizations with different structural links to Ankara promote Turkish politics in Germany and other European countries and protect those politics from criticism....
"An essential part of this strategy of influence is to inform the public in an innocuous way on alleged and actual cases of racism, Islamophobia and hostility toward Turkey or other undesirable developments in Germany and Europe, in order to confront criticism of political developments in Turkey."
The two largest Turkish-dominated, state or government-related interest groups in Germany are the "Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) and the "Union of European-Turkish Democrats" (UETD), which was recently renamed "Union of International Democrats" (UID). According to BfV:
"DITIB and UID are umbrella organizations that include a variety of local and regional (branch) associations with membership status. They emphasize their commitment to the public in a moderate way and endeavor to emphasize the autonomous and independent nature of their organizations and downplay the links and dependencies they have to Turkey."
DITIB and UID are financed by the Turkish government's Directorate for Religious Affairs, known in Turkish as Diyanet, and, according to BfV, both organizations cooperate closely with Turkish intelligence. The Turkish government pays the salaries of nearly 1,000 conservative imams in Germany who are leading more than 900 DITIB-controlled mosques across the country.
Meanwhile, the Erdoğan-aligned Islamist movement Millî Görüş (Turkish for "National Vision"), which has around 10,000 members in Germany, is the second-largest Islamist group in the country (the Salafist movement is now the largest Islamist grouping in Germany). Millî Görüş is strongly opposed to Muslim integration into European society:
"According to Millî Görüş, Western Civilization is presently dominated by a 'vain' order based on violence, injustice and exploitation of the weak. This 'vain' system must be replaced by a 'just order' that is based exclusively on Islamic principles, rather than on man-made and therefore 'arbitrary rules.' All Muslims should participate in the realization of the 'just order.' To do this, they must adopt a certain attitude and gain a certain vision ('Görüş') on earth, namely a national/religious ('Millî) vision, a 'Millî Görüş.'"
Germany, the report relates, is a priority for Syrian intelligence services as it is the main host country for Syrian refugees in Europe. The main focus of Syrian intelligence in Germany is to monitor opponents of the Syrian regime. According to the BfV, "the Syrian intelligence services appear to have used the influx of Syrian refugees to Germany in 2015 to establish new structures and networks of agents."
Salafists and other Islamists
The BfV estimates that the number of Islamists in Germany increased to at least 26,560 by the end of 2018, up from 25,810 in 2017 and 24,425 in 2016.
The report does not provide 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 26,560.
According to the report, Salafists comprise the single largest Islamist group in Germany. The number of Salafists in Germany jumped to 11,300 in 2018, up from 10,800 in 2017; 9,700 in 2016; 8,350 in 2015; 7,000 in 2014; 5,500 in 2013; 4,500 in 2012 and 3,800 in 2011.
The BfV report describes Salafism as an Islamist ideology that is at the same time an extremist counterculture:
"Salafism promotes a segregated lifestyle through unique selling points (clothing and language). Salafism wants to create a committed community with an intense sense of togetherness. This particularly attracts people who feel marginalized by the majority society. Unstable persons [ungefestigte Personen] who are looking for a purpose in life, for orientation and security, are especially influenced by the comprehensive Salafist rules, which determine daily life into its minute details. The individual, through Salafist propaganda, becomes part of an elite, the champion of 'true Islam,' distinguished by his moral superiority over a 'world of the corrupt.'
"These subcultural elements are essentially the attractions of the Salafist ideology, which is marked by Wahhabism, the 'state doctrine' of Saudi Arabia, and represents a particularly severe and radical current within Islamism. Salafists see themselves as advocates of an original, unadulterated Islam. They claim to base their religious practice and lifestyle solely on the principles of the Koran, the model of the Prophet Muhammad and the first three Muslim generations, the so-called righteous ancestors (known in Arabic as al-Salaf al-Salih). As a consequence, Salafists are trying to establish a 'theocracy' according to their interpretation of the rules of sharia in which the liberal democratic order would no longer be valid.
"According to Salafism, Islam's universal claim to validity must be accepted, by force if necessary, by all of humanity due to its superiority and Allah's divine plan of salvation. Thus, the basic affirmation of violence is an inherent part of Salafist ideology."
The BfV report also offers demographic data about Salafists in Germany:
"Although Salafist propaganda activities are increasingly aimed at young people, Salafism in Germany is not purely a youth phenomenon. About 27% of followers are 25 years old or younger; 38% are between 26 and 35 years; and 35% are 36 years or older.
"The Salafist scene is clearly male-dominated. Only about 12% of the Salafist supporters known to the BfV are women. Salafism in Germany is dominated by immigrants and their children. About 90% of the followers have a migration background; the rest are converts. New followers find themselves in a scene marked by a 'siege mentality' [Wagenburgmentalität] towards a defamed 'disbelieving' environment that includes not only Christians, Jews and non-believers but also non-Salafist Muslims. Therefore, all outside influences are discouraged. Contacts with non-Salafists are legitimate only if they serve to spread their own ideology."
The report warns that returnees from jihadi warzones in the Middle East will have a radicalizing impact on the German Salafist scene:
"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....
"In almost all cases, the returnees return to known Salafist circles, into which they are accepted without delay. Since the environment is very often the same as before the departure, it is questionable whether the returnees really have freed themselves from Islamic State ideology. Furthermore, it can be assumed that at least parts of the IS ideology will increasingly find its way into German Salafist circles in the medium to long term as a result of these returnees.... In the medium term, the returnees could take on formal and informal key positions and, as role models, influence others and possibly radicalize them."
The BfV report makes a direct link between the increase in anti-Semitism in Germany and the rise of Islamist movements in the country:
"Anti-Semitism is not only a topic of agitation by right-wing and left-wing extremists, but also constitutes an essential element in the ideology of the entire Islamist spectrum....
"In Islamist propaganda, religious, territorial and/or national-political motives often combine to form an anti-Semitic worldview. The stereotypical image of Judaism as the enemy [Feindbild Judentum] therefore forms a central pillar in the propaganda of all Islamist groups. Stereotypes and prejudices are used which can be associated with the anti-Semitic hate in Europe from the Middle Ages to the National Socialist racial ideology in the 20th century.
"Of particular importance in Islamist anti-Semitism is the 'Jewish world conspiracy.' Similar to right-wing extremism, Jews are seen as the 'masterminds' of a worldwide political conspiracy and collectively held responsible for various national and international evils and grievances.
"The BfV has found that all Islamist organizations active in Germany harbor anti-Semitic ideas and disseminate them in various ways. These ideas represent a considerable challenge for peaceful and tolerant coexistence in Germany. The number of physical attacks against Jewish persons is currently still low. However, even these isolated cases make it clear that the ideological radicalization of people and the incitement to hatred and violence by anti-Semitic ideas can lead to violent anti-Semitic attacks, even if the perpetrators are neither members nor supporters of an Islamist organization. This applies not least to those who have been socialized in the Arab world in social milieus in which anti-Semitic attitudes are widespread. An example of this is a young man from Syria who attacked a kippah-wearing Israeli in Berlin in April 2018 on the street with a belt."
Hezbollah, Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas
In addition to the Salafists and Millî Görüş, BfV estimates that Germany is now home to 1,050 members of Hezbollah, 1,040 members of the Muslim Brotherhood and 320 members of Hamas.
"The Shiite-Islamist 'Hizb Allah' [the party of Allah] denies Israel's right to exist. It is propagating the armed, terrorist-led struggle, referred to as 'legitimate resistance,' against Israel as an 'unlawful occupier' of Palestinian land. It must be expected that the 'Hizb Allah' continues to plan terrorist actions against Israel or Israeli interests outside the Middle East. In Germany, the followers of the 'Hizb Allah' maintain organizational and ideological cohesion in local mosque associations, which are financed primarily through donations....
"The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is considered the oldest and most influential Sunni Islamist movement. It claims to be represented in more than 70 countries in varying degrees. The aim of the MB, which is still shaped today in essential elements by the ideology of its founder Hasan al-Banna, is the establishment of a political and social system based on the Koran and Sunnah. The credo of the MB is unchanged: 'Allah is our goal. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our constitution. Jihad is our way. Death for Allah is our noblest wish.' This ideology, as well as the Islamist form of government aspired to by the MB, are incompatible with basic democratic principles such as the right to free elections, the right to equal treatment, and freedom of expression and religion....
"The goal of HAMAS is the establishment of an Islamist state in the entire territory of 'Palestine' — also through armed struggle. A strategy paper written in 2017 states: 'Resistance to occupation by all means is a legitimate right guaranteed by divine laws. At the heart of it lies the armed resistance.' By 'Palestine' HAMAS means the area between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan, which also includes the territory of the State of Israel. Western countries such as Germany are seen by HAMAS as a haven where the organization focuses on collecting donations, recruiting new supporters, and propagating its propaganda."
The BfV noted a "high number" of attempts by "covert Pakistani procurement structures" illegally to obtain technology for use in Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. The BfV also observed a "significant increase" in attempts by Iran to obtain technology for its missile program, which was not part of the Iran nuclear deal. The BfV reported that Syrian intermediaries were also continuing efforts to obtain products for weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons.
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.