The number of radical Salafists in Germany has more than doubled over the past five years, according to a new estimate by German intelligence officials.
Salafists disguised as aid workers are also canvassing German refugee shelters in search of new recruits from among the nearly one million asylum seekers who have arrived in Germany this year from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
A local preacher addresses Muslim refugees in Münster, Germany. Local authorities later cut off contact with the preacher's organization due to suspicions of radical Islamism. (Image source: Westfälische Nachrichten video screenshot)
The revelations by Hans-Georg Maassen, the director of the Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), come amid growing fears that jihadists linked to the Islamic State have infiltrated Germany by posing as refugees.
In a December 3 interview with the Berlin newspaper, Der Tagesspiegel, Maassen said that the number of Salafists in Germany has now risen to 7,900. This is up from 7,000 in 2014, 5,500 in 2013, 4,500 in 2012, and 3,800 in 2011.
Although Salafists make up only a small fraction of the estimated six million Muslims living in Germany today, intelligence officials say that most of those attracted to Salafi ideology are impressionable young Muslims, male and female alike, who are willing to carry out terrorist acts in the name of Islam at a moment's notice.
Salafists — who follow what they say was the original Islam practiced in the 7th and 8th centuries — openly state that they want to replace democracy in Germany (and the rest of the world) with an Islamic government based on Sharia law.
In its annual report for 2014, released in June 2015, the BfV said that Salafism is the "most dynamic Islamist movement in Germany." It added:
"The Salafist scene constitutes a considerable recruitment field for jihad. Salafist ideology purports to be based exclusively on the principles of the Koran, and the example of the Prophet Mohammed and the first three generations of Muslims. The movement also has an affinity for violence. Almost without exception, all of the people with links to Germany who have joined the jihad [Islamic State] had prior contacts with Salafist structures. Also in 2014, Salafists tried to draw attention to themselves with rallies and provocations, including the READ! campaign and the Sharia Police."
The BfV was referring to an effort by Salafists to enforce Sharia law on the streets of Wuppertal, a city in North Rhine-Westphalia, the state with the largest Muslim population in Germany. Salafists have also organized a mass proselytization and recruitment campaign — Project READ! — aimed at placing a German translation of the Koran in every household in Germany, free of charge.
A previous BfV report stated:
"The absolutist nature of Salafism contradicts significant parts of the German constitutional order. Specifically, Salafism rejects the democratic principles of separation of state and religion, popular sovereignty, religious and sexual self-determination, gender equality and the fundamental right to physical integrity."
Speaking to Der Tagesspiegel, Maassen also defended himself against accusations that his agency has failed adequately to vet incoming refugees to ensure that jihadists are not infiltrating Germany. He said:
"My agency has repeatedly pointed to this possibility. Looking at the overall situation, I am advocating a differentiated approach. It would be wrong to see all asylum seekers as a terrorist threat. It would also be shortsighted to act as if the flow of refugees will not have any impact on our security. Salafists are trying to win new followers in the vicinity of refugee camps."
Critics say that Maassen is downplaying the migrant-jihadist threat to Germany to protect German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her open-door migration policy.
The editor of Tagesspiegel's editorial page, Malte Lehming, has accused Maassen of trying to "influence the political discourse for the benefit of the government." In a scathing editorial, entitled, "German Intelligence Has Been Discredited," Lehming wrote that three of the jihadists who carried out the November terrorist attacks in Paris entered the European Union posing as refugees and holding false passports.
According to Lehming, this development is "highly inconvenient" for German intelligence, which has been "disgraced to the core." This is because up until the Paris attacks, Maassen had insisted that the possibility that terrorists could enter the country by posing as refugees was, at best, an "abstract danger."
"The assessment of the German secret services has been discredited ever since the Paris attacks. The question remains, why did they lean so far out on this point?
"Possibility One: They really did not know. This would be appalling. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have entered Germany unchecked. If the security services have no idea who has come here, this country will have a massive problem.
"Possibility Two: The secret services know more than they are publicly saying, but they do not want to stir up panic among the general public that Islamists could be among the refugees."
Some are attributing the fact that Germany has not suffered a major jihadist attack to sheer luck.
According to Ahmad Mansour, an Israeli-Arab expert on Islam who has lived in Germany for more than a decade, the German government is not doing nearly enough to combat Islamism.
Mansour, the author of "Generation Allah," a new book about the radicalization of young German Muslims, says that the number of Islamic radicals in Germany is likely to grow to such an extent that German authorities will no longer be able to keep track of them.
In an interview with Die Welt, Mansour — a member of the Muslim Brotherhood for more than a decade until he abandoned Islamism in the late 1990s — said that many young Muslims in Germany "believe in conspiracy theories, cherish anti-Semitic thoughts and do not think democratically." For these people, "Islam is their only identity."
Mansour said the German government "lacks a plan" to deal with the problem. He added that much of the blame lies with "highly problematic" Islam teachers who are radicalizing German youth. Commenting on the question of why jihadists have not yet carried out a major attack in Germany, Mansour said: "So far Germany has been lucky."
This assessment has also been voiced by German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, who has conceded: "So far we have been lucky. Unfortunately, this may not always be the case."
A poll published on December 3 by the newsmagazine Stern found that 61% of Germans believe jihadists will attack their country in the near future. The poll shows that 58% think the German military should be attacking the Islamic State, although 63% believe this would lead to retaliation in the form of terrorist attacks in Germany. Overall, nearly 75% of Germans believe the government needs to do more to prevent terrorism in the country.
The head of the Federal Criminal Police Agency (Bundeskriminalamt, BKA), Holger Münch, has acknowledged that German intelligence lacks the human resources necessary to track all of the most dangerous Islamists in the country. "Given the number of potential attackers, we must prioritize," he said.
According to the newspaper Bild, at least 60 police officers are necessary to monitor just one German jihadist around the clock.
Meanwhile, some German Salafists are posing as aid workers and are offering gifts of money and clothing in efforts to recruit asylum seekers. Others are offering translation services and inviting migrants to their homes for tea. Still others are handing out leaflets with information about local Salafist mosques. In an interview with the Rheinische Post, BfV Chief Maassen said:
"Many of the asylum seekers have a Sunni religious background. In Germany there is a Salafist scene that sees this as a breeding ground. We are observing that Salafists are appearing at the shelters disguised as volunteers and helpers, deliberately seeking contact with refugees to invite them to their mosques to recruit them to their cause."
In the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, Salafists are distributing literature with the message: "Come to us. We will show you Paradise."
In Frankfurt, city officials are now sending teams of police, translators and social workers to refugee shelters to warn asylum seekers of the dangers of Islamic radicalism. The teams are also educating migrants about the German legal system, religious freedom and the equal rights for men and women.
In Bielefeld, a city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Salafists are infiltrating refugee centers by bringing toys, fruits and vegetables for the migrants.
According to the editor of the newspaper Neue Westfälische, Ansgar Mönter, "naïve" politicians are contributing to the radicalization of refugees by inviting Muslim umbrella groups to reach out to the migrants.
Mönter points out that the main Muslim groups in Germany all adhere to fundamentalist interpretations of Islam and are anti-Western in outlook. Some groups have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, while others want to implement Sharia law in Germany. According to Mönter, politicians should not be encouraging these groups to establish contact with the new migrants.
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter. His first book, Global Fire, will be out in early 2016.