Net Around German Islamic Fundamentalists Gets Tighter

Deutsche Welle (Germany), Jan. 17, 2003
http://www.dw-world.de/

Officials hope the banning of the alleged Islamic fundamentalist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir in Germany will hinder the work of what remains an active and dangerous scene.

In an effort to shake up what experts fear is an active and dangerous Islamic fundamentalism scene in Germany, the government on Wednesday banned an organization it accused of spreading violent anti-Semitic and anti-American propaganda.

Police raided homes and offices connected with the group Hizb ut-Tahrir, or Party of Liberation, in five different German states on Wednesday. The announcement concluded a two-month long investigation into the organization.

“This organization promotes the use of violence to achieve political goals and also wants to provoke violence,” said Interior Minister Otto Schily upon announcing the ban Wednesday.  “It pursues the political goal of destroying Israel and calls for the expulsion and killing of Jews.”

Slow steps in terrorism fight

The group was the third alleged Islamic fundamentalist organization banned in Germany under new laws enacted following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. The new laws gave teeth to what critics called a weak anti-terror fight by allowing the government to ban foreign extremist organizations active in Germany.

“You can’t say that Hizb ut-Tahrir are terrorists, but they are most definitely a group that shares the same spirit,” said Kai Hirschmann, a terrorism researcher at Germany’s Federal College of Security Studies. “Just as you reach a city by first passing its suburbs, you have to reach terrorists by getting into their environment.”

The 50-year-old organization, which is believed to be based in London, has long been a problem in Central Asian republics. Anti-terror officials in Kyrgystan said the Hizb ut-Tahrir recently allied themselves with drug lords to form a powerful, destablizing force in the region.  An Egyptian court is currently trying 25 people accused of spreading propaganda for Hizb ut-Tahrir in that country. 

The group first attracted attention in Germany following an event at Berlin’s Technical University on Oct. 27. In front of a gathering including members of Germany’s extreme right-wing National Democratic Party, an organization speaker uttered “anti-American statements” and demanded the re-introduction of the Caliphate state in Islamic countries, according to the Interior Ministry.

After investigating, the ministry said they discovered the group was printing anti-Israeli and anti-US propaganda on leaflets and handing them out around universities and near Islamic centers. The organization was “extremely conspiratorial” in the way it went about its work, according to the ministry.

“The organization wants to sow seeds of hate and violence,” Schily told reporters.

Organization denies accusations

In a statement on one of its web sites following media coverage of the Oct. 27 event, the group maintained that it was categorically against violence of any kind and that it demanded change in the Islamic world, not in Germany.

“We offer people an alternative lifestyle to the domination of Western capitalistic culture in the world today,” read the statement.

The group “is striving for the establishment of a Caliph-state in an Islamic country, not in Germany or Europe,” it read. “We are not against the German constitution nor do we aim to change the parliamentary-democratic system in this country.”

A meaningful step

Though not as well-known as the Cologne-based Caliph State, banned last year, Hirschmann says the elimination of the Party of Liberation could prove more effective. Unlike the Caliph State, which lost power after its charismatic and controversial leader Metin Kaplan was imprisoned, Hizb ut-Tahrir is an al-Qaeda-like organization, without a central leader.

“It’s much more significant,” Hirschmann said of the arrest. “The dangerous thing and the new thing about Islamist movements is that they are decentralized and not organized in a hierarchical way.”

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