By Shiraz Maher and Peter R. Neumann
Earlier today, German law enforcement agencies launched a massive crackdown against three Salafist organisations with alleged ties to terrorism. They are: Millat Ibrahim (‘the path of Abraham’); Die wahre Religion (the true religion); and DawaFFM (dawah means ‘to proselytize’ while ‘FFM’ stands for Frankfurt am Main).
This ICSR Insight explains the broader implications of what happened in Germany today. It reveals the emergence of a Europe-wide network of Salafi extremists who use megaphone tactics to promote jihadist ideas and terrorism. They are often dismissed as harmless, but with every new case, it becomes more apparent that many of its members are linked to Al Qaeda or go on to become involved in terrorism.
Links to Al Qaeda
The most significant arrests came in relation to Millat Ibrahim – a group whose main activities are based online. Run by Mohamed Mahmoud (also known as Abu Usama al-Gharib), an Austrian who moved to Germany recently, the website distributes material praising Al Qaeda and translates Al Qaeda’s propaganda into German.
Mahmoud is described by the New York Times as having ‘a virtual Rolodex of Qaeda leadership connections’. The newspaper also claims that he has been in touch with Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, briefly Al Qaeda’s second in command until his death last year, and that he travelled to Iraq in 2002 to train with the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam.
In 2007, Mahmoud was arrested in Vienna for his involvement with the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF) and served four years in prison. GIMF is a propaganda arm of Al Qaeda which translates Arabic material from jihadist battlefronts into English, German, French, and other European languages. Its motto states: “Observing the Mujahideen News and Inciting the Believers”.
GIMF is widely believed to have originated in Europe – probably in Germany and Austria – around 2005 when the Iraqi insurgency reached its high watermark. The group initially began disseminating videos and other propaganda material before morphing into a more sophisticated operation. Arrests of its members have previously taken place in Germany, Austria, and Spain.
Links to British Extremists
Millat Ibrahim has strong ties to a group of British extremists which used to be known as Al Muhajiroun. The group, founded in the mid-1990s, are known for their public – often provocative – protests and their sophisticated use of the internet. In many cases, the group also served as a gateway into terrorism, providing ideological indoctrination and access to Al Qaeda recruiters.
In Britain, Al Muhajiroun now operate through a series of deliberately diffuse and dispersed alliances, both nationally and internationally. Its online presence revolves around a website called ‘Salafi Media’ while much of its public activity is arranged under the title ‘Shariah4UK’.
In Germany, Millat Ibrahim used the ‘Salafi Media’ registration for their own website whose content mirrored the style, format, and presentation of their counterparts in Britain. In turn, the British Salafi Media website hosts a number of articles authored by Mahmoud (under the name Abu Usama al-Gharib).
Both websites preach an identical message, adopt the same position on key doctrinal and political issues, and often operate in unison, underscoring the strength of their institutional links.
An earlier raid against members of Millat Ibrahim prompted Salafi Media in Britain to issue a public declaration of support. In a YouTube video, Shah Jalal Hussain (also known as Abu Muwahhid), encourages his German counterparts to ‘continue with your dawah, continue upon the path of Millat Ibrahim’.
The Rise of the Megaphone Jihad Network
The activists involved in Salafi Media in Britain appear to be at the heart of a loosely connected European network of extremists with the same ideology and tactics. Their names can vary, but typically begin with the label ‘Sharia4’, followed by the country in which they operate (e.g. ‘Sharia4UK’, ‘Sharia4Belgium’, etc.). The Toulouse terrorist Mohammed Merah, for example, was linked to Forsane Alizza (The Knights of Pride) which had earlier been known as ‘Sharia4France’.
This emerging network is often dismissed as harmless because of its megaphone tactics. However, every new case makes it more obvious that many of its members are linked to Al Qaeda or go on to become involved in terrorism.