Observers and analysts have expressed concern over the Muslim Brotherhood’s growing influence in Germany, which has started to knock on the doors of the country’s democratic system. The city of Cologne in the North Rhine-Westphalia region has for years acted as the group’s headquarters in Germany. The Brotherhood has, however, been expanding to other cities in recent years, pushing the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, or internal intelligence, to warn that the extremist group was now a greater danger to Germany than ISIS and al-Qaeda.
Terrorism affairs expert, journalist Axel Spilcker recently wrote of the Brotherhood’s threat in the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger and FOCUS Online. He said that security agencies in North Rhine-Westphalia have noted how the Brotherhood’s mosques and organizations have grown in popularity.
According to German internal intelligence, the Cologne-based Islamic Community of Germany has transformed into the Brotherhood’s main headquarters in the country. Spilcker said that the intelligence services have voiced their concern that the group was “infiltrating the democratic system with its efforts to create a social and political order based on Islamic Sharia law.”
He quoted Burkhard Freier, head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, as saying that the Islamic Community of Germany, and organizations that are working with it, are ultimately seeking to establish a state based on Sharia law. This mission also includes Germany.
He, therefore, estimated that the Brotherhood’s threat to Germany on the medium-term was greater than other extremist groups, such as ISIS and al-Qaeda.
Intelligence agencies have noted how groups affiliated with the Brotherhood are increasingly attracting Arab refugees in Germany in order to exploit them for their interests, added Freier. He attributed this to the Brotherhood members’ high education and their funding from some Arab Gulf powers. The Brotherhood’s institutions offer comprehensive education and training for people of all ages.
Lectures and seminars
Spilcker explained that the Brotherhood education institutions and others it cooperates with focus on the youth in particular. They can reach tens of thousands of Muslims through lectures and seminars that present a radical interpretation of the Quran, he warned.
The Brotherhood boasts some 1,000 members in Germany and their numbers are growing. According to the Islamic Community of Germany, the group boasts 50 affiliated organizations. North Rhine-Westphalia intelligence estimates that 14 mosques in the region are linked to the group and 109 places of worship that promote extremist Brotherhood ideology are spread throughout the Rhine region. Spilcker noted some extremist mosques in Bonn and Cologne.
The Abu Bakr mosque in Cologne, he said, used to be frequented by a German extremist who had initially joined the extremist left. He was imprisoned for 13 years for carrying out terrorist operations. He converted to Islam while in jail and after his release, he became a frequent visitor of the Abu Bakr mosque. He often used his personal website to launch attacks against the German judiciary and police. He also showed pro-Qaeda sentiments and he is today active in advocating the causes of detainees held on charges related to extremism.
The Brotherhood in Germany denies that it supports violence, but German intelligence countered the argument, saying the group aimed to promote negative perceptions of western values. Most alarming, said Spilcker, is the group’s success in influencing the central Muslim council of Germany. He added that the Brotherhood is attempting to portray itself as moderate, but behind closed doors, its leaders speak of forming an Islamic state.
Network of relations
The Islamic Community of Germany denied its ties with the Brotherhood, but Spilcker said that head of the organization, Khaled Sweid has expressed on his Twitter account his sympathy with groups that call for boycotting Israel. He has also posted on his Facebook page the four fingers sign that has become associated to the Brotherhood.
Germany’s ARD television had reported former Brotherhood chief Mohammed Mahdi Akef as describing the former head of the Islamic Community of Germany, Ibrahim al-Zayat as the leader of the Brotherhood in Germany. Zayat denied the claim.
Zayat had headed the organization between 2002 and 2010. In 2008, he was sentenced in absentia by Egypt to ten years in jail. He was referred to military court by former President Hosni Mubarak in 2006 alongside a number of other Brotherhood leaderships. Ousted President Mohammed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, had issued a pardon for Zayat and others in 2012.
The Islamic Community of Germany was formed in 1958 and it is one of the oldest Islamic organizations in the country. It enjoys a vast network of ties with other organizations throughout Germany. It currently boasts the greatest number of Brotherhood followers in Germany. It is based in Cologne and funds itself through membership fees and donations collected at mosques.
The Brotherhood, say North Rhine-Westphalia intelligence, was formed in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna. The group seeks to replace governments in countries where it is active with systems based on Sharia law. It seeks to achieve its goals through “culturally” infiltrating countries, “sometimes through force if necessary.” The intelligence service also notes how the Brotherhood attempted a coup in Syria in 1982 and one in Algeria in the 1990s.
Platforms of incitement
FOCUS Online had published an interview Spilcker had conducted with Islamic affairs researcher Susanne Schröterin in which she warned of underestimating the Brotherhood in Germany. She said that the leaders of the group “often publicly shun violence, but they enjoy secret ties with figures that advocate it.”
In addition, German internal intelligence said that the Brotherhood is represented in various other organizations in Germany that in turn are integrated in an international network. These ties are aimed at ideologically influencing Muslims who live in Germany. Furthermore, it said that Brotherhood followers rarely appear openly and the group’s centers are used as platforms for political incitement.
In 2017, the internal intelligence service in the eastern Saxony state warned of the expansion of the Brotherhood. It warned that the group was trying to exploit new refugees in Germany to increase the number of its members in order to form a Sharia-based state. Moreover, it said that the group was buying property and buildings to expand its presence and construct mosques.
“This has nothing to do with jihad and terrorism, but the Brotherhood wants to impose Sharia law in Germany,” said head of Saxony intelligence Gordian Meyer-Plath.