While many Western countries have increased their security measures after the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day, in some parts, such as in Lower Saxony in Germany, heavy monitoring of mosques and Muslim-frequented cafes is standard police procedure. For years this policy has increasingly outraged German Muslims while failing to yield a single terrorism-related arrest.
In Lower Saxony, Muslim worshippers heading to Friday services routinely arrive to find the street in front of the mosque cordoned off and armed police at the entrance. Those entering or leaving the mosque must show their identification papers. Sometimes the police search bags, ask questions, or bring those who cannot show ID to the precinct station. In one city, officers stamped Muslims on the arm after checking them.
In these controls, known as “unmotivated mosque checks,” the police are not seeking any specific person or investigating any particular crime. Rather, they are acting under a 2003 state law that empowers them to question and search individuals in public places regardless of any suspicion of wrongdoing in the interest of preventing crimes of “grave and international concern.”
From December 25, 2009, there has been ample news coverage in the UK on the attempted terrorist attack on a flight to Detroit, as the alleged bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had formerly been a student at University College in London. News reports try to uncover whether Abdulmutallab had always held fundamentalist views or whether he adopted them in London, during his studies 2005-2008 or only afterwards while in Yemen.
Some claim that Abdulmutallab had reached out to extremists that were under MI5 surveillance during his studies. On the other hand he served as president to the Islamic Society of University College, with the majority of such societies being very mainstream, cooperative and pursuing inter-faith dialogue. Then again, this particular Islamic Society organized some events with controversial speakers during Abdulmutallab’s presidency, for instance a strong homophobic speaker, and had disputes with the university’s Jewish society over the definition of anti-Semitism. The Federation of Islamic Societies has expressed their shock about the incidence, but also demanded that Islamic Societies at universities not be condemned across-the-board.
In London, Abdulmutallab also attended a mosque in central London, Goodge Street. This is run by the Saudi-based organisation Muslim World League, which promulgates a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, but has repeatedly condemned terrorism. It is most probable that a variety of sources for Abdulmutallab’s radicalisation will be found, and that some of them are British, while their actual influence has been underestimated by security services.