BERLIN — Earlier this year, the Austrian-born Islamist and al Qaeda supporter Muhammad Mahmoud fled Germany for Egypt, where he has launched an organizational structure to develop a base of German jihadists. The daily Die Welt reported on Aug. 10 that Mahmoud’s campaign to recruit German Salafists to leave the Federal Republic has resulted in the relocation of as many as 12 jihadists to the North African country. German domestic intelligence and police authorities called the development the emergence of a “German Salafist colony” in Egypt. A few days later, Der Spiegel stated that about 20 of Mahmoud’s followers have left for Egypt and that another 30 are planning to leave shortly.
Mahmoud said he would return to Germany only as a “conqueror to introduce Sharia.” Salafists interpret the Islamic sharia system to mean the imposition of a pre-modern way of life that rejects Western liberties. Although one of Mahmoud’s close associates, the former rapper Denis Cuspert, was under observation by the German authorities in Berlin, he also has managed to flee to Egypt.
In 2009, Austria’s judiciary convicted Mahmoud, the ringleader of the German-speaking group, for aiding the al Qaeda-affiliated jihadi media company Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF). After serving a prison sentence in Austria, he moved to Germany in late 2011 and played a critical role in building the Millatu Ibrahim (“The Religious Community of Ibrahim”). Germany’s Interior ministry banned Millatu Ibrahim in June.
According to the Die Welt article, which was written by the paper’s radical Islam expert, Florian Flade, three well-known German Salafists have gone to Egypt: the former boxer Pierre Vogel, the Islamic preacher Sven Lau, and the former Berlin rapper Denis Cuspert “Deso Dogg.” The three Germans are Muslim converts and advocate a fiery brand of ultra-orthodox Islam that is characterized by anti-Western ideology, anti-Americanism, and deep misogyny.
Flade’s report noted that the departure of Cuspert, who is deemed by German police to be a violent Islamist, prompted significant concerns among German intelligence agencies. The Berlin police agencies have been criticized by the Verfassungsschutz (Germany’s version of the FBI) for their lax observation methods. “The LKA-Berlin (state criminal police) was responsible to secure the person Cuspert,” a high-level Verfassungsschutz representative told Die Welt. Cuspert was a co-founder of the Millatu Ibrahim organization. The Die Welt article noted that the Cuspert scandal prompted German security officials recently to bar a young German Salafist from traveling to Egypt for the purpose of enrolling in a language class.
In an Aug. 8 New York Times article titled “German case spotlights difficulty in monitoring Muslim extremists,” the paper’s Berlin-based journalist Melissa Eddy chronicled the “revelations that a Tunisian man considered a ‘dangerous jihadist’ who may have served as a bodyguard to Osama bin Laden in 2000 has been living for years in a western German city….” The Times article highlighted that Sami A. “is idolized by young Muslims in the region for having attended training camp of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan before the Sept.11, 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.” German privacy laws prohibit the disclosure of Sami’s last name.
The new head of Germany’s federal domestic intelligence agency, Burkhard Freier, said that “we designated Sami A. as a dangerous preacher.” According to a report in the business daily Handelsblatt, Rainer Wendt, the head of a German police union, considers it ” unacceptable” that Sami A. is allowed to live in Bochum at great cost to German taxpayers because of the security expense. Wendt called for greater coordination among the police and counterterrorism agencies to strengthen
efforts to combat terror. He further argued that the judicial extradition requirements, as in the case of Sami A, are too high in the Federal Republic.
German authorities permit many radical Islamists and organizations, like the Iranian proxy Hezbollah, to operate legally in the Federal Republic. The United States outlawed the Lebanese entity Hezbollah in 1995 because of its global terror operations.
The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has contributed to greater latitude for radical Islamic groups. Flade’s report confirmed the growing evidence that Egypt is serving as a magnet for Islamic extremists. “Security officials in Germany noted that the political situation in Egypt is attractive for radical Muslims,” Flade wrote. According to Der Spiegel, Muhammad Mahmoud’s father is a member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
In early August, global jihadists murdered 16 Egyptian police and civil servant officials at a border crossing located between Egypt, Israel, and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Disturbingly, Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, which had been largely free from jihadist groups during the tenure of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, has turned into a semi-lawless hotbed of global jihadist groups.
Reactionary ideologies are gaining traction in Egypt. Writing last week at Bloomberg news, Jeffrey Goldberg noted that “anti-Semitism, the socialism of fools, is becoming the opiate of the Egyptian masses.”
Goldberg continued: “The level of anti-Semitism in Egypt has consequences, of course, for Middle East peace and for the safety of Jews. But, importantly, it has consequences for the welfare of Egypt itself. The revolution that overthrew the country’s dictator, Hosni Mubarak, held great promise, but it also exposed the enormous challenges facing Egyptian politics and culture. And anti-Semitism, if nothing else, has always been a sign of a deeply damaged culture.”
The confluence of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, lax German security policies, and highly organized German Salafist networks in Egypt and the Federal Republic undoubtedly will present Herculean challenges for counterterrorism efforts.
Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a European affairs correspondent for the Jerusalem Post.