In Germany, Harder Line Looms; Bavarian Probes Into Muslim Groups May Foretell Deeper Scrutiny

MUNICH, Germany — Local officials have started taking steps against one of the historic centers of Islamism in the West, after years of tolerating and even supporting it. At the center of attention is the Islamic Community of Germany, which has its headquarters in a Munich mosque that also has been a key base for the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was founded in 1920s Egypt as a reform movement to Islamicize society but since then has spawned a host of radical organizations. Now, attorneys in the state of Bavaria have launched two separate investigations. One is aimed at determining whether the Islamic Community of Germany misappropriated state funds, a move that could force the group to pay back more than _700,000 ($868,070) to the state. Prosecutors also are investigating an allegedly related organization that runs a nearby school. Officials denied an education license to the school just as the school year was about to start, a move confirmed by courts last week. The actions in Bavaria could signal that Germany will take a harder line nationally against Islamist organizations. One of the driving figures behind the moves is G_nther Beckstein, the Bavarian interior minister who is widely expected to become Germany’s interior minister after national elections on Sept. 18. Mr. Beckstein believes that the Islamic Community of Germany’s allegedly ideological links with the Muslim Brotherhood make it an undemocratic force. Taking Aim “The Islamic Community of Germany is a group that is against the constitution,” Mr. Beckstein said in an interview. “It is justified that the state not support such organizations.” For decades, the Munich mosque and its related organizations have been cornerstones of the Muslim Brotherhood network that gradually spanned Europe. In early July, The Wall Street Journal published a front-page article detailing the history of the Islamic Center of Munich, which was founded in the late 1950s by a group of ex-German World War II soldiers and exiled leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. The center’s legal successor is the Islamic Community of Germany, which is still based in the mosque although most of its operations have moved to Cologne. For almost a decade, domestic intelligence had observed and published warnings about the group’s allegedly radical ideology. Public officials, however, continued to deal with the organization, financing its private school with _340,000 a year. The organization maintained nonprofit status, which allowed donors to write off their contributions. “It was always a thorn in our side that extremist organizations were obtaining public money,” said Michael Feiler, spokesman for the Bavarian branch of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a domestic intelligence agency that tracks groups believed to threaten Germany’s democratic order. In the late 1990s, the Islamic Community of Germany began to attract unwanted attention: A man sentenced for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center had been a regular at the Munich mosque and, later, a high-ranking al Qaeda suspect who had contact with mosque members was arrested nearby. In 1998, the group was put on the domestic intelligence agency’s watch list. The next year, the Islamic Community of Germany lost its nonprofit status because of sloppy bookkeeping, Bavarian state officials say. Although the matter is still in court, donations to the group are no longer tax-deductible. That led to the current investigation. Officials say the Islamic Community of Germany deliberately misled state education officials by failing to tell them about its loss of nonprofit status. From 1999 onward, the Islamic Community continued to receive roughly _340,000 a year to run the school, which last year had seven teachers and 111 pupils. Officials say the group may have to pay back some of the money it received from 1999, when it lost nonprofit status, to 2003, when a new organization took over the school. Ibrahim El-Zayat, the head of the Islamic Community of Germany, didn’t respond to requests for comment. In a previous interview, Mr. El-Zayat denied bookkeeping irregularities at his organization. The Islamic Community of Germany’s direct involvement with the school ended in 2003, when a group called the German-Islamic Educational Enterprise was founded to run the school. It obtained nonprofit status and received roughly the same amount of state support to run the school, officials say. Now, state prosecutors are investigating whether the new group may have forged the signatures of members who weren’t present at its founding. German-Islamic Educational Enterprise couldn’t be reached for comment. Local officials denied the school a license for the current school year because they say it is a dummy organization set up to disguise links to the Islamic Community of Germany. “We are afraid that the group running the school, which belongs to the Islamic Community of Germany, is using the school to spread Islamist ideology,” said Thomas Huber, spokesman for the district government of Upper Bavaria. He said the district hadn’t analyzed the school’s textbooks but that the alleged links to the Islamic Community of Germany were enough to deny the school its license. The group running the school has denied a direct link to the Islamic Community of Germany. Its members couldn’t be reached for comment but have said in local media reports that any links were informal. Sealed registration documents reviewed by the Journal show that most of the school group’s founding members had been members of organizations allied with the Islamic Community of Germany or are active in its mosques. Parents say the maneuvering between the government and the organization is hurting their children. Hisham Awwad, spokesman for the German-Islamic School Parent Committee, said the school wasn’t spreading Islamist ideology. “I don’t know anything about links to the Islamic Community of Germany,” said Mr. Awwad, a German citizen who emigrated from Egypt. “All we parents want is a way for our children to learn some of our Arabic heritage. We have no interest in radicalism, and I never noticed anything radical.” Mr. Awwad and other parents say they want to form their own nonprofit organization to run the school. Last Tuesday, a court denied the parents’ attempts to prevent implementation of the decision denying the school a license. Although the parents have other legal channels, their children will attend other schools this year.

Britain Preparing New Blacklist Of Terror Suspects; U.K. Hopes To Quell Flow Of Militants Into The Country

By Glenn Frankel London — Britain is drawing up a new blacklist to block alleged terrorist sympathizers from entering the country and deport those already here, officials announced Wednesday, detailing expanded efforts to head off violence such as the July 7 bombings. Officials also said they had reached an agreement to extradite Jordanian terrorism suspects to Jordan. Civil libertarians have expressed concern that the deportees could be subjected to torture and other abuses, despite Jordan’s pledges of good treatment. The crackdown is part of a government campaign to root out what it views as fundamental causes of the transit attacks, following the disclosure that the four men who appear to have carried out the suicide bombings were young British Muslims who turned into fanatics. At least 56 people, including the bombers, died in the attacks, and 700 were wounded. Britain has for years seen itself as a haven for political refugees, including some considered extremists by other European countries and the United States. But the bombings have caused the government to reconsider both its immigration policies and its tradition of freedom of speech. In Pakistan, authorities said they were searching for a man named Haroon Rashid, who they believe may have played a role in the attacks. They denied reports that they had arrested him. A man by that relatively common name was taken into custody, officials said, but then released when it was determined that he was not the person being sought. Senior Pakistani intelligence officials have said that, after early questioning of two dozen people suspected of being Islamic radicals, no clues about the terrorist contacts of the London bombers have been found. About 150 such suspects have been detained during a nationwide police crackdown in the past two days. Three of the apparent bombers were of Pakistani descent and visited Pakistan in the months before the attacks. The fourth man was a Jamaican-born convert to Islam. In London, the government hopes that the new measures under discussion will cut off or reduce the opportunities for radicals to influence alienated young Muslims in urban areas such as Leeds, the northern British city where three of the men lived. Charles Clarke, the Cabinet minister in charge of domestic security, told the House of Commons that the government plans to compile a database of unacceptable behavior, such as preaching extremism, running radical Web sites and writing articles intended to foment terrorism. He said he had asked his department and Britain’s intelligence services to “establish a full database of individuals around the world who have demonstrated relevant behaviors.” Those on the list could be barred from the country if their presence is judged as “not conducive to the public interest,” he said. “In the circumstances we now face, I have decided that it is right to broaden the use of these powers to deal with those who foment terrorism or seek to provoke others to terrorist acts.” Clarke also said he planned a new offense of indirect incitement to terrorism that would target “those who, while not directly inciting, glorify and condone terrorist acts knowing full well that the effect on their listeners will be to encourage them to turn to terrorism.” His statement won immediate backing from the opposition Conservative Party, which said it also wanted the government to regulate and vet Muslim clerics to weed out extremists. “There are good imams and bad imams, and it’s no help to the good imams if we don’t deal with the bad imams,” said David Davies, the party’s home affairs spokesman. Clarke also announced that the government had reached a memorandum of understanding with Jordan that would allow Britain to deport suspects there. Under international law, Britain cannot send people back to a country where they might face mistreatment or the death penalty, but officials said the memorandum, which was not released, included assurances that deportees would be treated correctly. Officials have said they are negotiating similar agreements with several other Arab governments. Amnesty International, the human rights organization, said it had compiled recent accounts from Jordan of secret detentions of political prisoners, beatings during interrogation with sticks and cables, sleep deprivation and threats of killing and rape against prisoners and their families. “Frankly, we think these assurances are not worth the paper they’re written on,” said Saria Rees-Roberts, an Amnesty spokeswoman. “It’s just unacceptable for the U.K. to try to circumvent the global ban on torture. We believe the U.K. must bring the people responsible for the bombings to justice, but going soft on torture is not the answer.” One of those likely to be targeted for deportation is Abu Qatada, a Jordanian-born cleric who has been convicted of terrorism in absentia in his native Jordan. The authorities branded him as one of the spiritual fathers of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, after police found tapes of his fiery anti-Western sermons at the Hamburg apartment used by some of the Sept. 11 hijackers. Qatada was arrested three years ago on suspicion of terrorism and is under house arrest in London, but authorities say they have been unable to bring him to trial because much of the evidence against him is based on intelligence data that they do not want to reveal in court.

British Intelligence Units To Track Muslims Across Britain: Report

LONDON – The British government is planning to set up special intelligence units to monitor Muslims nationwide to better detect extremists and thwart eventual attacks, a newspaper reported. The Muslim Contact Units, staffed by London’s Metropolitan Police Special Branch officers, will be established in areas including Yorkshire, northwest England and parts of the Midlands, the Guardian reported. “Deep knowledge of Muslim communities is rare in the service,” a senior police officer with knowledge of the scheme told the Guardian. “If you are going to understand who is extreme and who is dangerous, which are different (ideas), you have to understand the community,” the officer was quoted as saying “Unless you know the subject well and what they are saying, often in Arabic or Urdu, and what the context is, you are not going to get a feel for it,” the source said. He stressed that the squads would be open about their work. “It is not about spying.” The police and Home Office said a Muslim Contact Unit operating in London has already helped thwart extremist attempts to recruit young British Muslims to violent jihad, by working with Islamic communities, the Guardian said. The establishment of the special units is one of the first concrete counter-terrorist measure to emerge after the July 7 London bombings on three subway trains and one bus that claimed the lives of 56 people. Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday met moderate British Muslim leaders and agreed on a taskforce to produce measures to tackle extremism. The units will not only gather intelligence on extremist activity but also help protect Muslim communities from abuse and attacks, the Guardian said. Any leads on extremists can be passed to the security services or acted upon by police. Plans to expand the Muslim Contact Units are expected to get final approval and funding soon from ministers, it added.

British would-be shoe bomber admits plot to blow up plane

By Rosie Cowan, Steven Morris and Richard Norton-Taylor A British would-be suicide bomber yesterday admitted plotting to blow up a packed passenger plane in midair with an explosive device hidden in his shoe. Saajid Badat, 25, agreed to board and destroy an American-bound flight from Europe, three months after the 9/11 hijackers killed thousands in New York and Washington. But four days after he was given the deadly device in December 2001, he had a change of heart and backed out of the mission. However, he kept the bomb and police discovered its components, plastic explosive, a fuse and a crucial piece of evidence – detonating cord matching that found on convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid – when they raided Badat’s family home in Gloucester almost two years later, in November 2003. Traces of explosive were also found in his locker at the Blackburn mosque where he studied. Badat’s conviction marks the first admission of guilt by a British terrorist plotting an al-Qaida-style suicide atrocity. He originally denied the charges and was due to stand trial. But in a surprise change of plea at the Old Bailey yesterday, he admitted conspiring with Reid, who was jailed for trying to bomb a Paris to Miami flight in December 2001, and Nizar Trabelsi, who is in prison in Belgium for trying to bomb a Nato air base there. He will be sentenced on March 18. Scotland Yard said Badat had little choice but to plead guilty given the overwhelming evidence against him, the result of a three-year inquiry spanning 15 countries, and intensive surveillance by MI5 and anti-terrorist officers. Peter Clarke, Metropolitan police deputy assistant commissioner and head of the Met’s anti-terrorist branch, said: “This is a very important conviction, the culmination of a painstaking investigation lasting three years. It is a tremendous example of cooperation between international agencies and those in the UK. “Today’s conviction demonstrates the reality of the threat we are facing. Badat had agreed to blow up a passenger aircraft from Europe to the United States and was prepared to kill himself and hundreds of innocent people.” Intelligence officials and po lice chiefs are also concerned at how such a respectable young man was motivated to contemplate such a ruthless attack that they have asked the cabinet secretary, Andrew Turnbull, to examine how terrorists attract middle-class British Muslims. “We must ask how a young British man was transformed from an intelligent, articulate person who was well respected, into a person who has pleaded guilty to one of the most serious crimes you can think of,” said Mr Clarke. But Badat’s shy, softly spoken demeanour hid a dark secret. Detectives and intelligence sources believe Badat and Reid, a criminal from a broken home, met in terror training camps in Afghanistan, where Badat spent two years, significantly longer than most European-based operatives. It was there, anti-terrorist sources say, that Badat “underwent some form of radicalisation”. Reid and Badat no doubt bonded over common experiences and both were provided with almost identical bombs, destined to cause mayhem. In the end, Badat was not prepared to commit suicide, a reluctance intelligence agencies have discerned among other suspected terrorists they have monitored. The security services made the link between the three men when they established that Badat had used Belgian phone cards, found on Reid at the time of his arrest, to contact Trabelsi. Richard Horwell, prosecuting, said Badat had undergone terror training in camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he was given the bomb. He came back to the UK on December 10 2001. But four days later he sent an email “indicating he might withdraw” and he did not take the flight he had booked from Manchester to Amsterdam, from where he intended to fly on to the US with the bomb. Mr Horwell said Badat confessed on his way to the police station after his arrest. Bearded and wearing a grey sweater, the defendant spoke only to confirm his name and plead guilty during yesterday’s 15-minute hearing. In Gloucester, family and friends were in shock. His parents, Mohammed and Zubeida, moved to the city from Malawi around 30 years ago. Mr Badat worked in an ice-cream factory in Gloucester before he retired through ill health. Badat, one of four children, attended St James Church of England primary school, a minute’s walk from the family home. He attended the boys’ grammar school, the Crypt, where he gained 10 O-levels and four A-levels, in physics, chemistry, biology and general studies, before going to university. David Lamper, the Crypt’s headmaster, said: “He was a popular and diligent pupil.” After university he travelled abroad, ostensibly to study Islam. Friends said he visited Pakistan, India and the Middle East. During one of his returns to the UK he enrolled to study at an Islamic college in Blackburn. He met a young woman in Lancashire and friends said they intended to marry. When he visited Gloucester he attended the two local mosques and was seen as a rising star. One man who knew Badat through the mosques said: “He was one of the most saintly men I had ever met. He was a scholar who had studied our religion so devoutly that he could quote much of the Koran’s teachings word for word. “He was a quiet, reserved, respectful and sober man – you could never have imagined him as a terrorist in a million years. He respected people of all faiths and colours.”