Criminal Middle Eastern family clans are a large problem in Germany. The most well-known are mainly based in Berlin, Bremen, North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony, and are named Abou-Chaker, Al-Zein, Remmo and Miri. Pictured: Mahmoud Al-Zein, head of the Kurdish-Lebanese Al-Zein clan, attends the funeral of a murdered criminal associate on September 13, 2018 in Berlin. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
In a recently aired documentary by German broadcaster ARD, about Germany's Middle Eastern criminal family gangs -- or clans, as they are called in Germany -- the head of Germany's Federal Criminal Police Agency (BKA) Holger Münch, said "In about one-third of proceedings, suspects also included immigrants — and that means that we need to keep a very close eye on this phenomenon".
Münch seems to have been referring to the fact that migrants who arrived in Germany from Syria, Iraq and other countries during the migrant crisis in 2015-16 are now starting to compete with Germany's long-established criminal family gangs whose original founders arrived in Germany from Lebanon in the late 1970s during Lebanon's civil war.
German authorities fear that this competition might lead to even more violence: Some of the newcomers have "combat experience" from living in war zones, as police chief of the city of Essen, Frank Richter, told ARD. "Of course," he added, "this would be a very, very different situation from what we have at the moment".
Criminal Middle Eastern family clans are already a large problem in Germany. The most well-known are mainly based in Berlin, Bremen, North Rhine-Westphalia, and Lower Saxony, and are named Abou-Chaker, Al-Zein, Remmo, and Miri. Several of the families are also known as Lebanese mafia clans. Their criminal activities include robberies, protection money, drug dealing and prostitution.
In May, a study presented by Interior Minister Herbert Reul of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) revealed that 104 criminal clans were active there. Some 6,500 clan-linked suspects were believed to have been responsible for 14,225 offenses between 2016 and 2018. This included two murders and 24 attempted murders, in addition to bodily harm, robbery, and blackmail, police said. Ten clans alone were said to have committed one third of the crimes. According to Reul:
"For years, reports on this problem from citizens and from police circles were deliberately ignored. Whether it was from misunderstood political correctness, or because it was considered that things that are not supposed to happen were impossible — this is now finally over. We are not under the rule of clans, but the rule of law."
According to police, the largest number of suspects linked to clans were German nationals (36%), followed by Lebanese (31%), Turks (15%) and Syrians (13%).
As reported by the strategic analyst Soeren Kern, as late as December 2015, then NRW Interior Minister Ralf Jäger rejected a study to determine the scope of criminal clans in NRW because it would be politically incorrect:
"Further data collection is not legally permissible. Both internally and externally, any classification that could be used to depreciate human beings must be avoided. In this respect, the use of the term 'family clan' (Familienclan) is forbidden from the police point of view."
Similarly, the head of Germany's Federal Criminal Police Agency Holger Münch, told the ARD broadcaster that, "such things should not be allowed to go on for years and years — that is, I believe, the biggest lesson that we need to learn from the development in the last 30 years."
According to Deutsche Welle:
"For decades, police turned a blind eye to extended criminal families, in part to avoid being accused of racial discrimination. This has made the present-day challenge all the more difficult as clan structures have solidified, parallel societies have formed, and the enemy has grown".
Ralph Ghadban, a Lebanese-German political scientist and a leading expert on clans in Germany has estimated that:
"There are now half a million people across Germany who belong to a clan, though not every person is a criminal. Many nationalities are represented. There are Lebanese clans, Turkish, Kurdish, Albanian, Kosovan and even Chechen extended families who run illegal businesses".
"Clans behave in their German surroundings as if they were tribes in the desert. Everything outside the clan is enemy territory and available for plunder" Ghadban told The German Times in October.
Family clans are not the only kind of organized Middle Eastern gangs operating in Germany. There are also biker gangs, an area that was once dominated by more "traditional" biker gangs such as Hells Angels. According to Sebastian Fiedler, head of the Association of German Criminal Investigators:
"Crimes perpetrated by the Hells Angels are still an issue... I'd say that these older groups are now more like illicit businesses. ...What is different today is that biker gangs tend to have members from various ethnic backgrounds, and some gangs have ties to extremist groups, or sometimes follow a foreign agenda. In sum, the biker gangs have become much more heterogeneous."
Fiedler added that some gangs also have ties abroad:
" It is known that the Osmanen Germania gang has received financial assistance from Turkey's ruling Justice and Development (AKP) party. The gang has essentially functioned as [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan's armed wing in Germany. Many biker gangs who are making headlines today are similar. Most are no longer just interested in controlling illicit markets but now have larger goals. These always have a financial dimension."
"A policy that finally recognizes the problem of clan crime, a police force that carries out continuous raids and a judiciary that uses all legal means are together still not enough. About a third of clan members actually want to lead a normal life. They feel trapped in their clans."
The crackdown must therefore be backed up by programs for people who want to get out of the clans. Berlin's Neukölln district is setting up such a program. According to Martin Hikel, the mayor of Neukölln district:
"At the heart of these patriarchal structures are people who don't want to end up in forced marriages, people who don't want to live in a state of permanent rivalry, or even war with another clan, to be constantly hiding from the police. But these people need help. We're setting up a program to help them turn their backs to this way of life and start a new one elsewhere".
Berlin's interior secretary, Andreas Geisel, recently said that gang crime in Berlin is controlled by "about 20 influential families, seven or eight of whom are extremely involved in crime". According to The German Times:
"There are streets in Neukölln, Kreuzberg and Gesundbrunnen [districts in Berlin, ed.] where police will only dare to tread with a squad. Even during routine actions like citing a clan member for parking in a bike path, police officers are often surrounded and threatened by relatives and associates. 'Clan members stand out for the way they act on their territory,' says a police spokesperson. 'Their message is: 'Scram! This is our street!'"
Neukölln is one of the districts in Berlin with the most problems, including the abuse of the welfare system by the clans. According to Neukölln's deputy district mayor and district councilor for youth and health, Falko Liecke, the clans "...see unemployment benefits as a source of income to supplement all their other sources."
"They're not uncomfortable with welfare assistance. After all, they don't have to rely on it to get by. They're not interested in laws. They try only to extract gains from what the state and society can offer."
According to Liecke, the clans see the state as, "an object of ridicule, a target for exploitation".
According to Geisel, fighting the clan crime will take "decades": "It's a marathon, not a sprint" he said.
Judith Bergman, a columnist, lawyer and political analyst, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.