German vice chancellor calls for ban of Salafist mosques
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German vice chancellor calls for ban of Salafist mosques

Urging crackdown on fundamentalist Muslim communities, Sigmar Gabriel says religious freedoms do not extend to 'those who encourage violence'

Sigmar Gabriel (CC-BY DavidG, Wikipedia )
Sigmar Gabriel (CC-BY DavidG, Wikipedia )

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has called for banning Salafist Islamist mosques and deporting preachers who advocate violence.

“Salafist mosques must be banned, communities dissolved and the preachers should be expelled as soon as possible,” Gabriel told the German weekly Der Spiegel on Saturday.

“Those who encourage violence do not enjoy the protection of religious freedom,” he added.

Gabriel, who also serves as the party chairman of Germany’s center-left Social Democratic Party, emphasized that he employs a “zero tolerance” policy in combating the rise of Islamic extremism in Germany.

“If we are serious about the fight against Islamism and terrorism, then it must also be a cultural fight,” he told the paper.

According to Gabriel, half of the foreigners who have traveled to Syria to fight alongside the Islamic State jihadist group in recent years, are Germans.

The vice chancellor’s calls for a crackdown on Germany’s fundamentalist Muslim communities comes weeks after a self-proclaimed Islamic State jihadist rammed a truck into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12.

A clip shows suspected Berlin attacker Anis Amri pledging allegiance to Islamic State ahead of the truck-ramming at a Christmas market that killed 12 people (screen capture: YouTube)
A clip shows suspected Berlin attacker Anis Amri pledging allegiance to Islamic State ahead of the truck-ramming at a Christmas market that killed 12 people (screen capture: YouTube)

The attack suspect, 24-year-old Tunisian Anis Amri, was shot dead by an Italian police officer in Milan days later.

An illegal migrant, drug dealer and ex-convict, Amri made a video message in which he pledged allegiance to IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before he mowed a stolen truck through a Christmas market in the German capital on December 19.

In the wake of the attack, it emerged that Amri, a failed asylum seeker, had slipped through the net of German security services.

According to German news reports, counter-terrorism officials possessed a detailed file on Amri, and knew he was tightly linked to Germany’s radical Islamist network and had looked up instructions online on how to build pipe bombs.

Duesseldorf police deemed Amri a Salafist and radical fundamentalist, while Dortmund police had rated him a sympathizer of the Islamic State.

The latest version of their file on Amri, which included information on his eight different identities, was updated on December 14 — just five days before he allegedly carried out the Berlin attack.

Amri had been a regular guest at a religious school in a Dortmund apartment run by a notorious radical known as Boban S. that was believed to be a recruitment ground for jihadists.

Nevertheless, on an eight-point scale assessing an individual’s potential danger, with “one” the highest threat, counter-terrorism experts rated him a “five” — meaning they considered an attack possible but unlikely.

Shortly after the rampage, authorities admitted that counter-terrorism services had been watching Amri, suspecting he may have been plotting an attack.

The scene of a terrorist attack is seen on December 20, 2016 after a lorry smashed into a busy Christmas market in central Berlin. (AFP Photo/Odd Andersen)
The scene of a terrorist attack is seen on December 20, 2016 after a lorry smashed into a busy Christmas market in central Berlin. (AFP/Odd Andersen)

But surveillance of Amri was dropped in September, as police thought he was primarily a small-time drug dealer.

The domestic security service estimates that the number of radical Islamists in Germany rose above 9,000 this year, from some 3,800 in 2011.

About 550 are considered capable of a violent attack — a list that once included Amri.

This year, Germany has been rocked by a spate of attacks committed by young extremists — including some who were among the more than one million migrants and refugees who arrived in the past two years.

In February, 15-year-old German-Moroccan girl Safia S., previously known for singing religious songs on YouTube, stabbed a police officer in the neck with a kitchen knife, badly wounding him.

In April, three 16-year-olds set off a bomb in Essen that left three people injured at a Sikh community wedding.

German police investigate at the site in Ansbach, Germany, Monday, July 25, 2016, where a failed asylum-seeker from Syria blew himself up. (Daniel Karmann/dpa via AP)
German police investigate at the site in Ansbach, Germany, Monday, July 25, 2016, where a failed asylum-seeker from Syria blew himself up. (Daniel Karmann/dpa via AP)

In July, a 17-year-old Afghan refugee wounded five people in an axe rampage on a train before police shot him dead.

Days later a 27-year-old rejected Syrian asylum seeker blew himself up outside a music festival, wounding 15 people. Both July attacks were claimed by IS.

The youngest plotter known so far is a 12-year-old German-Iraqi boy who tried to set off a homemade nailbomb in Ludwigshafen this month.

Addressing the apparent intelligence failure, Chancellor Angela Merkel in her New Year’s address vowed to conduct a sweeping review of the security apparatus to identify failures in combating the rise in the shadowy Islamist scene in Germany.

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