Extremist group with links to 140 Isis fighters active in UK

Exclusive: Members giving out Quran translations to recruit supporters in Britain's largest cities

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The Independent Online

Members of an extremist group banned in Germany for inspiring more than 140 Isis fighters with its “violent” ideology are active in the UK and seeking to recruit followers in Britain’s largest cities, The Independent can reveal.

Police launched almost 200 raids across Germany at mosques, offices and homes linked to Die Wahre Religion (DWR) movement, meaning “The True Religion”, this week but British security forces remain powerless to stop the same group’s activities.

Announcing the prohibition on Tuesday, the German interior minister said members were spreading “hate and anti-constitutional messages, seeing young people radicalised with conspiracy theories” under the cover of a Quran distribution campaign.

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Members of the Read! Quran UK project at a stall in Oxford Street, London, on 13 November (Facebook)

“After taking part in DWR activities, more than 140 young individuals so far have travelled to Syria or Iraq to join in the fighting by terrorist groups,” Dr Thomas de Maizière said.

“Germany is prepared to defend its democracy. Freedom of religion does not allow systematic interference with our fundamental values.”

The interior ministry said the group was stirring up “militant and aggressive attitudes” among its predominantly young audience, including calls to wage jihad and reject democracy in favour of the DWR’s Salafist interpretation of Islam.

It banned the DWR and all its activities, including the prominent “Lies!” or “Read!” Quran distribution campaign, which has spread to countries including the UK, France, Spain and Brazil, where members at branded stalls hand out hardline translations of the text in busy shopping areas.

But the prohibition extends only to Germany, meaning the DWR’s British affiliate can continue its campaigns untroubled, unless the UK adds it to its list of proscribed terrorist organisations.

Members were running a stall in London’s busy Oxford Street as recently as Sunday and have posted footage of events in towns and cities including Leicester, Nottingham and Blackburn.

A familiar face at the events has been the founder of DWR, Ibrahim Abou-Nagie, who attended the Read! campaign’s launch in Manchester in September 2014 and has made several appearances across the UK since.

The Cologne-based cleric founded DWR with Islamist Pierre Vogel and has been labelled a hate preacher in Germany, being previously investigated on allegations of disturbing the peace, encouraging criminal acts and incitement to murder.

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A person distributing translations of the Quran as part of the banned Die Wahre Religion group's Lies! campaign in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in 2015 (Getty)

Mr Abou-Nagie has called for gay people to be executed to “protect Muslims”, as well as saying “disbelievers” will burn in hell, according to Die Tageszeitung.

The 52-year-old, who has also been convicted of welfare fraud and misusing charitable donations in Germany, is currently believed to be in Malaysia preparing for the launch of Lies! latest branch in the country.

“We are no terrorists,” he said in a video message posted last month, accusing German politicians seeking to shut his movement down of attempting to “eliminate” religious freedom. Condemnations of Isis and other terrorist groups were absent from his speech.

Mr Abou-Nagie could not be reached for comment.

Read! regularly broadcasts its activities, showing members handing out Quran translations, “converting” passers-by to Islam and debating the religion in busy shopping areas across the UK.

The Home Office declined to comment on whether it was considering proscribing the group under the Terrorism Act 2000, which is used to ban groups that commit, prepare for, promote, encourage or glorify acts of terrorism.

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Members of the Read! group including German founder Ibrahim Abou-Nagie handing out Qurans in Oxford Street, London (Facebook)

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police told The Independent that unless the legal step was taken, police were powerless to arrest DWR supporters or stop their events in London.

“It’s not a proscribed organisation, so if an individual did commit an offence it would be as an individual,” a spokesperson said.

“It’s not an offence to be a member of the group at the moment in this country.”

British security services encountered similar problems with Al-Muhajiroun, a banned British jihadi organisation also known for handing out extremist material in UK high streets that underwent several name changes in attempts to evade authorities.

Under the leadership of Anjem Choudary, since jailed for encouraging support for Isis, affiliates were started around Europe, including the now outlawed Millatu Ibrahim organisation in Germany.

Usama Hasan, the head of Islamic Studies at counter-extremism group the Quilliam Foundation, said the methods used by DWR were “almost identical”.

“These extremist groups do believe it’s a religious group to carry out this proselytisation [conversions], known as dawah in Islam,” he added.

“I’ve never seen groups like this hand out Qurans before. They know that a lot of ordinary Muslims who may not know who this group is may support them until they find out what their real agenda is.

“They often use tactics like this to bring people on to their side.”

Mr Hasan said that DWR’s links to 140 Isis fighters showed they were “clearly not a peaceful” organisation but that the Home Office will need to confirm a “rigorous legal basis” before banning its British affiliate.

Following a German newspaper report on links between the Lies! project and Isis fighters, the UK group accused the media of “trying to destroy” Islam in a social media post.

The Read Quran Project UK Facebook page described itself as “a non-profitable organisation) presenting The Truth, The Quran (a beautiful translation in their own language) to non-Muslims”.

Hours after raids on 190 mosques, offices and homes linked to DWR in in 10 cities and states including Berlin, Hamburg, Bremen, Bavaria and North Rhein-Westphalia in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the page was removed.

DWR has been declared “unconstitutional” under the same law that bans neo-Nazi organisations and symbols in Germany, forbidding its existence, symbols, campaigns and online videos and materials.

It started in 2005 and claims to spread Islam in Germany “in a modern form and with the help of new media”, denying connections to Isis.

A statement denied responsibility for radicalising young people in Germany, accusing the media and politicians of fuelling far-right attacks with depictions of “evil Muslims and refugees”.

DWR called the prohibition “insanity” before its official website was taken down. But its videos continue to be spread on Facebook and by new social media and YouTube accounts under the name “Al Quran Foundation” or simply "Al Quran".

Its latest video appeared under the title: "Today the 'Salafists', tomorrow all Muslims."