By Soeren Kern
In Austria, the government threatened to close the Vienna-based King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), due to its refusal to condemn the flogging of Raif Badawi, a Saudi human rights activist and blogger who has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for «insulting Islam.»
Saudi Arabia responded to the threat by issuing a counter-threat to move the permanent headquarters of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) out of Austria.
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said: «If this center says it stands for interreligious dialogue, then it must do so. But if it wants to remain only an economic center with a religious fig leaf, then Austria should no longer be a part of it. In any event, Austria will not allow itself to be threatened or blackmailed.»
On January 20, the government announced a new plan to spend nearly 290 million euros ($330 million) to combat terrorism over the next four years. The largest share of the money (126 million euros) will be dedicated to human resources to provide additional training of specialists for cyber security, crime fighting and forensics. At least 13 million euros will fund «de-radicalization» programs aimed at cracking down on Islamic extremism in the country.
In Vienna, city officials closed a private Islamic primary school in the Brigittenau district, over concerns that teachers were endangering the welfare of the students. The move came after the principal failed to call an ambulance when a six-year-old pupil was knocked down by a classmate and seriously injured her forehead. The incident was not reported until the following day, when the girl still had significant swelling.
The school’s principal allegedly prohibited the teaching staff from cooperating with local authorities in order not to upset the children’s parents, many of whom are immigrants from Chechnya. The school said the charges against it were motivated by «Islamophobia.»
Previously, Austrian authorities initiated a review of the Islamic Austrian International School in Vienna after local reporters obtained a copy of a school history textbook that contained conspiracy theories and incitement against Jews. It later emerged that some parents had forbidden their children to attend music lessons at the school on the grounds that music is haram, or prohibited in Islam. The music teacher was subsequently fired for drawing attention to the problem.
In Belgium, two suspected jihadists, Sofiane Amghar, 26, and Khalid Ben Larbi, 23, were killed on January 15 in an anti-terror operation in Verviers, a city close to the German border. Prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt said police had targeted a cell of jihadists returning from Syria, who were planning to launch imminent attacks.
After the shootout, police seized police uniforms, explosives and four AK-47 assault rifles. Thirteen other Belgian nationals were charged in connection with the raid, five of whom were charged with «participating in the activities of a terrorist group.» The suspected ringleader of the cell, Belgian-Moroccan jihadist Abelhamid Abaaoud, remains at large.
Belgian authorities revealed that 335 Belgian nationals have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq, making it the European country with the highest proportion of jihadists in the Middle East. Of the 335, 184 are on the battlefield, 50 have been killed, and 101 have returned to Belgium.
On January 4, a Muslim inmate at the prison in Vorst stabbed six prison guards with a knife. The inmate, a 35-year-old Moroccan named Rachid El-Boukhari, had been sentenced to 27 years in prison in December for setting fire to a Shiite mosque in the Anderlecht district of Brussels. The imam of the mosque died in the blaze. El-Boukhari has now been transferred to a maximum-security prison in Bruges, where he joins Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old French national of Algerian origin, who is awaiting trial for murdering four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014.
In Antwerp, Mayor Bart De Wever postponed a march by PEGIDA Vlaanderen, the Flemish branch of the German anti-Islamization group PEGIDA, due to the heightened terror threat in the country. The demonstration, as well as a counter-demonstration, was to have taken place on January 26. It was rescheduled for March 2, according to the group’s Facebook page.
«This is the first time ever that we have gone to this alert level [level two]. I have been with the police for many years and I cannot remember any point at which we were at a higher alert level than we are right now.
«We have raised the level of preparedness to be ready if the threat becomes greater. Mentally we are preparing anything that could happen. When you look at what is happening around Europe, it is not inconceivable that someone can be inspired to carry out attacks here.»
Meanwhile, the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir rejected Denmark’s new anti-radicalization strategy, arguing it is not Muslims who need help, but young Danes who need rescuing from a «sad Western culture» and its «capitalist existential void.» On January 25, Junes Kock, a Danish convert to Islam who serves as media representative for the group, wrote:
«We Muslims in no way need your help to drag us down into a sad, Western culture where youth suffer from a capitalist existential void which causes widespread depression, addiction, self-injury, and even an alarmingly high rate of suicide. It is clearly the Danish people who need help to find the correct meaning of life, and here we would like to help.»
In Finland, police revealed that nearly 50 people from the country have joined the ranks of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Helsinki Police Chief Inspector Jari Taponen said on January 22 that of the 50 individuals, nearly 20 are native Finns (defined by Taponen as Finnish citizens who have two Finnish parents), while 76% are Finnish passport holders.
When asked whether the Finnish government should withdraw the passports of those who have joined the ranks of the Islamic State, Taponen said: «The aim is to reintegrate the individual back into society. These people have to live somewhere. They cannot be swept under the carpet as if they do not exist.»
The Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) estimates that between six and eight Finnish jihadists have been killed on the battlefield, and that 20 have already returned to Finland. Although most of those travelling to the Middle East are young males, there has also been an upswing in interest in radicalism among young female converts to Islam.
The managing director of the British counter-extremism think tank Quilliam Foundation, Haras Rafiq, estimated that on a percentage basis per capita, there are more IS recruits coming from Finland than from the UK. He said:
«[Finland] is one of the biggest problem areas in Europe. In Finland, the proportion of combatants in the Muslim population is more than three times higher than in Britain.
«There seems to be something going on in Scandinavian countries, and I think it’s been the reluctance to actually identify and confront hate preachers.»
On January 9, Supo said that the Finns Party MEP Jussi Halla-aho had received a threatening message from a Finnish jihadist who calls himself Abu Hurairah Finlandi. He wrote: «You are on the list of the first to be killed when we arrive in Finland.» He also threatened to attack the government and parliament buildings if Finland decides to join the «coalition against the caliphate.»
An investigation carried out by local media concluded that the individual is a 21-year-old man of Pakistani origin who was studying business in Pori, a city along the west coast of Finland, but who had left to join the Islamic State in Syria in October 2014.
On January 14, a man described by police as having «dark skin» and a «foreign background» hacked two people to death with an axe at a pub in Oulu, a city in northern Finland. Police are refusing to publish the identity of the suspect, who was fatally shot hours later when police tried to apprehend him. Detective Chief Inspector Ari-Pekka Kouva, who is leading the investigation, told reporters that Oulu police have stepped-up monitoring of social media, to prevent anti-immigrant sentiment from «boiling over» following the killings.
Meanwhile, the chairman and the secretary of the Finnish Kurdish Alliance, Wehlat Neri and Majid Hakki, respectively, warned that self-taught «false imams» were spreading Islamic Sharia law in Finland. They said that controls were needed to prevent «unqualified» imams from radicalizing the moderate Muslim community. «Of the imams in Finland, more than half of them would not be allowed to have the same role in Muslim countries, where there are controls over who can serve as an imam,» they wrote. They noted the example of one imam who began preaching Islamism and later left Finland to become a jihadist with the Islamic State.
In France, a series of jihadist attacks in Paris left 17 people dead. The first and deadliest of the attacks occurred on January 7, when French-born Islamic radicals Chérif and Saïd Kouachi stormed the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and fatally shot eight employees, two police officers, and two others, and injured eleven other people.
On January 8, a third assailant in the attacks, Amedy Coulibaly, shot and killed municipal police officer Clarissa Jean-Philippe in Montrouge, a southern suburb of Paris. On January 9, Coulibaly entered a Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris, killed four people and took several hostages. Coulibaly was killed when police stormed the store. His female accomplice, believed to be his wife, Hayat Boumeddiene, remains at large.
An Ifop poll published by the Journal du Dimanche on January 18 showed that 42% of French people oppose the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, such as those published by Charlie Hebdo, and indicated that they believed there should be «limitations on free speech online and on social networks.» The vast majority – 81% – said they favored stripping French nationality from dual nationals who have committed an act of terrorism on French soil.
More than two-thirds (68%) said that French citizens should be banned from returning to the country if «they are suspected of having gone to fight in countries or regions controlled by terrorist groups.»
On January 28, an Ipsos/Sopra-Steria poll produced for Le Monde and Europe 1 Radio found that 53% of French citizens believe the country is «at war» and 51% feel that Islam is «incompatible» with the values of French society.
On January 20, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that the terrorist attacks exposed a «territorial, social, ethnic apartheid» that is plaguing French society. In a speech that was described as one of the strongest indictments of French society ever by a government figure, Valls said there was an urgent need to fight discrimination, especially in impoverished suburbs that are home to many Muslim immigrants. He said that despite years of government efforts to improve conditions in run-down neighborhoods, many people have been relegated to living in ghettos. He added:
«The social misery is compounded by daily discrimination, because someone does not have the right family name, the right skin color, or because she is a woman. I am not making excuses, but we have to look at the reality of our country.»
On January 21, Valls announced a 736 million euro ($835 million) program to augment its anti-terrorism defenses amid a rapidly expanding jihadist threat. He said the government would hire and train 2,680 new anti-terrorist judges, security agents, police officers, electronic eavesdroppers and analysts over the next three years. The government will also spend 480 million euros on new weapons and protective gear for police. The initiative includes an enhanced online presence based on a new government website called «Stop Djihadisme.»
On January 23, the Conseil Constitutionnel, the highest court in France, dismissed a legal challenge to a ruling that stripped a French-Moroccan jihadist of French citizenship after he was convicted on terror-related charges. The challenge was brought by lawyers for Ahmed Sahnouni el-Yaacoubi, a Moroccan who obtained French citizenship in 2003, and who was sentenced to seven years in prison in March 2013 for recruiting jihadists online. He was stripped of his citizenship in May 2014.
Sahnouni’s lawyer argued that the move was unconstitutional because it breached the equality between French-born citizens and those who are naturalized. The lawyer said that the French Civil Code, which states that naturalized French citizens can be stripped of their nationality if found guilty of «acts of terrorism,» violates France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which states that the law «must be the same for everyone, whether it protects or punishes.»
In a statement, the high court wrote:
«The Constitutional Court noted that people who acquired French nationality and those to whom French nationality was given at birth are in the same situation, but that the difference in treatment, which was created to combat terrorism, does not violate the principle of equality.»
On January 20, police arrested five Chechens in southern France on suspicion that they were preparing an attack on French soil. Four of the suspects were detained in the city of Montpellier, and the fifth was arrested in the nearby town of Béziers.
On January 27, heavily armed police arrested five suspected jihadists, aged 26 to 44, in dawn raids in Lunel, a small town near the Mediterranean coast. At least ten, and possibly as many as 20 people from the town — with a population of just 25,000 — have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight with the Islamic State.
On January 3, a 23-year-old Muslim man in the eastern city of Metz tried to strangle a police officer while shouting «Allahu Akbar!» («Allah is greater!»). The assault took place at the police station after the man, who was arrested for purse-snatching, asked the officer to bring him a glass of water. When the policeman opened the cell door, the man lunged at him. The officer was rescued by a colleague who saw the scene unfold on a video surveillance camera.
The attack was similar to one that occurred in Joue-les-Tours in December, when a 20-year-old convert to Islam named Bertrand Nzohabonayo attacked police with a knife while shouting «Allahu Akbar.» The man was killed by police in self-defense.
In the Paris suburb of Clichy-la-Garenne, an artwork depicting women’s shoes on Muslim prayer rugs was removed from an exhibition after the Federation of Islamic Associations of Clichy warned that it might provoke «uncontrollable, irresponsible incidents.» The artwork, made by the French-Algerian artist Zoulikha Bouabdellah, included high-heel shoes placed on the center of prayer rugs in shades of blue, white and red, symbolizing the French flag.
Bouabdellah defended herself, saying that she did not consider the work to be blasphemous, but curator Christine Ollier said it would be removed to «avoid polemics.» The act of self-censorship was criticized by other artists who said that the freedom of expression was being undermined.
In Germany, the offices of the Hamburger Morgenpost were firebombed on January 11, after the newspaper republished Charlie Hebdo cartoons on its front cover in solidarity with the French magazine and in defense of free speech. The perpetrators remain at large.
On January 12, a record 25,000 people joined an anti-Islamization march in Dresden, just days after the jihadist attacks in Paris. The march was organized by a citizen’s movement called PEGIDA, short for «Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West.» The group, which has been holding marches in Dresden on Monday evenings since October, has seen the number of protesters increase exponentially from week to week.
On January 21, however, PEGIDA’s founder and leader Lutz Bachmann abruptly stepped down after German media published a photograph of him with an Adolf Hitler-style haircut and moustache. On January 27, five other senior PEGIDA leaders abandoned the group. The leadership split has cast the future of the movement into doubt.
On January 12, German Chancellor Angela Merkel repudiated the PEGIDA movement by saying that Islam «belongs to Germany.» She was repeating comments made by former German president Christian Wulff in October 2010, when he triggered a heated debate about the role of Islam in Germany.
On January 25, however, the prime minister of the eastern German state of Saxony, Stanislaw Tillich, said he disagreed with Merkel. «Muslims are welcome in Germany and can practice their religion,» he said. «But this does not mean that Islam is part of Saxony.» The capital city of Saxony is Dresden, which is the headquarters of the PEGIDA movement.
Also on January 25, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said PEGIDA was harming Germany’s international image.
On January 12, a 20-year-old Eritrean refugee and asylum seeker named Khaled Idris Bahray was stabbed to death in Dresden. European media were quick to blame PEGIDA for inciting the murder of Bahray, who was Muslim. The London-based Guardian reported that the killing «exposes racial tensions» and «anti-immigration sentiment» in Germany. On January 22, however, German prosecutors said that a 26-year old Eritrean roommate of Bahray had confessed to the stabbing.
On January 9, Der Spiegel reported that Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Agency (Bundeskriminalamt, BKA) was implementing a nationwide emergency plan aimed at preventing Islamic terrorists from striking in Germany. According to the magazine, federal and state security agencies were ordered to locate the whereabouts of up to 250 German Islamists and other «relevant persons» whose identities are known to counter-terrorism authorities.
In a January 11 interview with the newspaper Bild am Sonntag, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière confirmed that German intelligence was monitoring «around 260 individuals» who could potentially strike at any moment.
Bild questioned whether Germany has enough security personnel to track all the potential terrorists. According to the newspaper, at least 60 police officers are needed to monitor successfully just one German jihadist around the clock. De Maizière said he was doing all he could, but he conceded: «So far we have been lucky. Unfortunately, this may not always be the case.»
A few days later, German police said they had received specific warnings that Islamic terrorists were planning to attack the central train stations in Berlin and Dresden. The newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported that foreign intelligence agencies had intercepted the information from jihadist groups. «We are taking these tips seriously,» a high-ranking security official was quoted as saying.
On January 15, police in Lower Saxony arrested a 26-year-old German-Lebanese jihadist identified as Ayub B. He is being charged with participating in the jihad in Syria. Also on January 15, police in Pforzheim raided the apartments of two Balkan Salafists. On January 16, more than 250 police searched 11 premises in Berlin. They arrested five Turkish Islamists, including a 41-year-old Turk identified as Ismet D., who refers to himself as the «Emir of Berlin.» On January 20, more than 200 police raided 13 properties in Berlin and the eastern states of Brandenburg and Thuringia.
German intelligence authorities estimate that at least 550 people have left Germany for Syria and around 180 have returned.
On January 29, the carnival committee in Cologne dropped plans to build a Charlie Hebdo-themed float on fears that it might pose a security threat. The float was to feature in the February 16 parade as an expression of support for Charlie Hebdo in France. The design, which was chosen by the public in an online poll, showed a cartoonist forcing a pencil into the barrel of a terrorist’s gun.
Finally, the German supermarket chain Aldi removed a brand of liquid soap from store shelves after complaints that its packaging was offensive to Muslims. Aldi said the packaging of the Ombia 1,001 Nights liquid soap, which depicts a mosque with dome and minarets, together with a lantern and a set of prayer beads, was intended to evoke a scene from the Middle East
But Aldi reacted quickly after Muslim customers posted complaints about the design on Aldi’s Facebook page. «When I saw your liquid soap by Ombia on your shelves, I was a little shocked since it showed a mosque,» one customer posted on Aldi’s Facebook page. «The mosque with its dome and minarets is a symbol that stands for dignity and respect for Muslims. That is why I do not find it appropriate to depict this meaningful image on an item of daily use.»
In Greece, police on January 17 arrested a 33-year-old Algerian man named Omar Damasch, believed to be linked to a foiled jihadist plot to attack police in Belgium. He was among half-a-dozen other Islamists detained by Greek police after Belgian police raided a suspected Islamist cell in the east Belgian town of Verviers. On January 29, Damasch was extradited to Belgium, where he was charged with terrorism offenses.
In Italy, the media reported about a four-minute video in which jihadists threatened to attack famous historical sites in Rome, including the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain and the Vatican. The video includes English subtitles that warn:
«O Europeans, the Islamic State did not initiate a war against you, as your governments and media try to make you believe. It is you who started the transgression against us, and thus you deserve blame and you will pay a great price.
«You will pay the price as you are afraid of travelling to any land. Rather you will pay the price as you walk on your streets, turning right and left, fearing the Muslims. You will not feel secure even in your bedrooms.
«We will strike you in your homeland, and you will never be able to harm anyone afterwards.
«We have warned you that today we are in a new era, an era where the [Islamic] State, its soldiers, and its sons are leaders not slaves. They are a people who through the ages have not known defeat. The outcome of their battles is concluded before they begin. Being killed—according to their account—is a victory.
«This is where the secret lies. You fight a people who can never be defeated. They either gain victory or are killed.
«We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women, by the permission of Allah.»
On January 18, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano revealed that Italy has deported nine suspected Islamic militants so far this year. He said that five Tunisians, one Turk, one Egyptian, one Moroccan and one Pakistani, all of whom had longstanding residence permits, had been expelled. Two had been preparing to travel to Syria to fight with Islamist militant groups, he said. Alfano also said that Italian authorities were monitoring more than 100 suspected Islamic militants.
On January 21, a former jihadist now working with Canadian intelligence told the Italian television show Matrix that there are dozens of Italians who are «ready to fight» for the Islamic State. «They do not feel Italian,» said Mubin Shaikh. «Only their citizenship is Italian,» he added, noting that «they could be sent back to their ‘home country’ to carry out attacks.»
In the Netherlands, it emerged that police in The Hague hired Muslim patrols from the Salafist As-Sunnah mosque to keep the peace during New Year’s Eve. The patrols were tasked with keeping order in the city’s Transvaal and Schilderswijk districts, home a large Muslim community.
MPs Joram van Klaveren and Louis Bontes of a party called «For the Netherlands» (VNL) said that it was «more than misguided» that the Dutch government «must be represented on the street by a Salafi mosque.»
The leader of the Freedom Party in The Hague’s city council, Leon de Jong, asked the city council written questions about what he called the «Sharia police» of the As-Sunnah mosque. «This kind of Islamization undermines the authority of the police,» he said. «The police should control the streets. There is no place in The Hague for any kind of Islamic law enforcement whatsoever.»
In Norway, police on January 20 ordered the forcible relocation of Najmuddin Faraj Ahmad, an Iraqi-born cleric, who was released from prison after serving time for making death threats against politicians and fellow immigrants. The 58-year-old Kurdish Sunni cleric, also known as Mullah Krekar, was to be held at an asylum center in the village of village of Kyrksæterøra in Trøndelag, situated more than 600 kilometers (370 miles) from his home in Oslo.
Krekar came to Norway as a refugee from northern Iraq in 1991. He was the leader of the Islamist group Ansar al-Islam in Kurdistan. In 2005, he was convicted of making death threats against three other Kurdish immigrants who he said had insulted Islam. In 2007, the Norwegian Supreme Court determined that Krekar was a «danger to national security.» In 2012, he was sentenced to five years in prison for issuing death threats against Norwegian officials if they tried to deport him to Iraq.
In Spain, the websites of at least 40 municipalities in the autonomous community of Navarre were hacked on January 20 and replaced with messages in support of the Islamic State. The messages, in Arabic, read: «The Islamic State exists and will endure, Allah willing, and will destroy all with rage.» The hackers also included a message in English which read, «I love ISIS,» followed by messages in French which read, «Je suis Mohamed» and «Je suis ISIS.» Spanish police said they believed the hackers were sympathizers of the Islamic State based in neighboring France.
On January 24, police arrested four suspected jihadists in Spain’s North African exclave of Ceuta. The Interior Ministry said that the men, of Spanish nationality and Moroccan origin, had been carrying out an aggressive campaign on Internet forums using Islamic State slogans to recruit jihadists to fight in Syria and Iraq and to carry out attacks in Western countries.
Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz said: «There are two pairs of very radicalized brothers who are highly trained militarily, physically and mentally and are prepared to carry out an attack, and ready, according to police, to blow themselves up in the act.»
On January 9, police in the Catalan city of Manresa apprehended an 18-year-old Moroccan, identified only as Omar S., after he took to the street wielding a knife and yelling «I am a Muslim!» and «Allahu Akbar!» During his arrest, Omar tried to grab the police officer’s weapon and managed to smash the windows of the police car. He later said: «You killed my brothers in Paris … all you Christians will die.»
Meanwhile, the government banned the Spanish branch of the German anti-Islamization movement PEGIDA from rallying in front of the country’s largest mosque in Madrid on January 23. The Interior Ministry said the rally «could pose a serious risk to public security.» The march was organized by a group called «Spain on the Move» (La España en Marcha) under the slogan «Islam get out of Europe, along with your hatred for our Christianity. No to multiculturalism.» The group vowed: «We will not be silenced.»
In Sweden, a reporter who walked around Malmö, the third-largest city in the country, while wearing a Jewish skullcap and a Star of David chain around his neck to test attitudes toward Jews, was repeatedly attacked by passersby.
In a 58-mintue documentary (shorter version here) about anti-Semitism in Malmö that was aired by Swedish Television on January 21, journalist Petter Ljunggren, equipped with a hidden camera, was shown sitting at a cafe in downtown Malmö reading a newspaper as several passersby hurled abuse at him.
At one location he was called «Jewish sh*t» and at another a «Jewish Satan.» One passerby told Ljunggren to «get out,» while another person on a scooter approached him to warn him to leave for his own safety.
In the Rosengård district, a neighborhood with a large Muslim population, Ljunggren was surrounded by a dozen men who threatened him, while residents of nearby apartments threw eggs at him and shouted anti-Semitic slogans. He was forced to flee the area.
Meanwhile, the Swedish welfare agency Socialstyrelsen reported that an estimated 38,000 girls and women in Sweden have been subjected to female genital mutilation, and that another 19,000 are «at risk» of having the procedure performed on them. Although FGM was outlawed in Sweden in 1992, the practice continues apace among the country’s immigrant community.