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.
“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.
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.
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.
Timeline: The emergence of Isis
Timeline: The emergence of Isis
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (pictured here) forms an al-Qaeda splinter group in Iraq, al-Qa’eda in Iraq. Its brutality from the beginning alienates Iraqis and many al-Qaeda leaders.
Al-Zarqawi is killed in a U.S. strike. Al-Zarqawi’s successor, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, announces the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI).
Still al-Qaeda-linked ISI claims responsibility for suicide bombings that killed 155 in Baghdad, as well as attacks in August and October killing 240, as President Obama announces troop withdrawal from Iraq in March.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi becomes head of ISI, at lowest ebb of Islamist militancy in Iraq, which sees last U.S. combat brigade depart.
In Syria, protests (pictured here starting in Daree) have morphed into what president Assad labelled a “real war” with emergence of a coalition of forces opposed to Assad’s regime. Syria group Jabhat al-Nusra are among rebel groups who refuse to join, denouncing it as a “conspiracy”. Bombings targeting Shia areas, killing more than 500 people, spark fears of new sectarian conflict. Sunni Muslims stage protests across country against what they see as increasingly marginalisation by Shia-led government.
Al-Baghdadi renames ISI as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or Isis, as the group absorbs Syrian al-Nusra, gaining a foothold in Syria. In response, al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri (Bin Laden’s successor) concerned about Isis’ expansion orders that Isis be dissolved and ISI operations should be confined to Iraq. This order is rejected by al-Baghdadi.
7/40 2014 - January
Isis fighters capture the Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, giving them base to launch slew of attacks further south.
8/40 2014 - June
Isis declares itself the Caliphate, calling itself Islamic State (IS). The group captures Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city; Tal Afar, just 93 miles from Syrian border; and the central Iraqi city of Tikrit. These advances sent shockwaves around the world.
9/40 2014 - June
Around the same time Isis releases a video calling for western Muslims to join the Caliphate and fight, prompting new evaluations of extremists groups social media understanding.
10/40 2014 - June
Isis take Baiji oil fields in Iraq - giving them access to huge amounts of possible revenue.
11/40 2014 - August
James Foley is executed by the group as concerns grow for second American prisoner, fellow reporter Steven Sotloff.
12/40 2014 - August
Obama authorises U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, helping to stall Isis’ along with action by Kurdish forces following the deaths of hundreds of Yazidi people on Mount Sinjar.
13/40 2014 - September
Isis release video showing Steven Sotloff’s murder prompting Western speculation his executioner is same man who killed Mr Foley.
14/40 2014 - September
Obama tells us that America “will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country”
15/40 2014 - September
Isis release a video appearing to show David Haines, who was captured by militants in Syria in 2013, wearing an orange jumpsuit and kneeling in the desert while he reads a pre-prepared script. It later shows what appears to be the aid worker's body.
16/40 2014 - September
Peshmerga fighters scrabble to hold positions in the Diyala province (a gateway to Baghdad) as Isis fighters continue to advance on Iraqi capital.
17/40 2014 - October
Aid worker Alan Henning is killed. Self-imposed media blackout refuses to show images of him in final moments, instead focuses upon humanitarian care.
18/40 2014 - October
Isis raise their flag in Kobani, which had been strongly defended by Kurdish troops. The victory goes against hopeful western analysis Isis had overextended itself, while alienating much of the Muslim population through the murder of Henning. Victory causes fresh waves of Kurdish refugees arriving in Turkey.
19/40 2014 - November
American hostage, who embarced values of Islam, Peter Kassig and 14 Syrian soldiers are shown meeting the same fate as other captives. But intelligence agencies will be poring over the apparently significant discrepancies between this and previous films.
20/40 2015 - February
Isis has released a video revealing the murder by burning to death of a Jordanian pilot held by the group since the end of December 2014.
21/40 2015 - February
Isis militants have released videos which appear to show the beheading of Japanese hostages Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto.
22/40 2015 - February
American aid worker, Kayla Mueller was the last American hostage known to be held by Isis. She died, according to her captors, in an airstrike by the Jordanian air force on the city of Raqqa in Syria, though US authorities disputed this.
23/40 2015 - February
Isis militants have posted a gruesome video online in which they force 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian hostages to kneel on a beach in Libya before beheading them. Egypt vowed to avenge the beheading and launched air strikes on Isis positions.
24/40 2015 - February
The British Isis militant suspected of appearing in videos showing the beheading of Western hostages has been named in reports as Mohammed Emwazi from London.
25/40 2015 - March
Isis triple suicide attack has killed more than 100 worshippers and hundreds of others were injured after the group members targeted two mosques in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa.
26/40 2015 - April
Iraqi forces have claimed victory over Isis in battle for Tikrit and raised the flag in the city.
27/40 2015 - April
Isis has claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan that killed at least 35 people queuing to collect their wages and injured 100 more.
28/40 2015 - April
Isis’ media arm released a 29-minute video purporting to show militants executing Ethiopian Christians captives. The footage bore the extremist group’s al-Furqan media logo and showed the destruction of churches and desecration of religious symbols. A masked fighter made a statement threatening Christians who did not convert to Islam or pay a special tax.
29/40 2015 - May
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Isis has been "incapacitated" by a spinal injuries sustained in a US air strike in Iraq. He is being treated in a hideout by two doctors from Isis’ stronghold of Mosul who are said to be "strong ideological supporters of the group".
30/40 2015 - May
Isis has also claimed responsibility for killing 300 of Yazidi captives, including women, children and elderly people in Iraq
31/40 2015 - May
Isis attack on Prophet Mohamed cartoon contest in Texas was its first action on US soil. Two gunmen were shot and killed after launching the attack at the exhibition. Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi have been named as the attackers at the Curtis Culwell Centre arena in Garland.
32/40 2015 - May
Isis’s deputy leader, Abu Alaa Afri, a former physics teacher who was thought to have taken charge of the deadly terrorist group, has been killed in a US-led coalition airstrike.
33/40 2015 - May
US special forces have killed a senior Isis leader named as Abu Sayyaf in an operation aiming to capture him and his wife in Syria.
34/40 2015 - May
Iran-backed militias are sent to Ramadi by the Iraqi government to fight Isis militants who completed their capture of the city. Government soldiers and civilians were reportedly massacred by extremists as they took control and the army fled. Charred bodies were left littering the city streets as troops clung on to trucks speeding away from the city. Ramadi is the latest government stronghold to fall to the so-called Islamic State, despite air strikes by a US-led international coalition aiming to stop its advance in Iraq and Syria.
35/40 2015 - May
Isis rounded up civilians trapped in Palmyra and forced them to watch 20 people being executed in the historic city’s ancient amphitheatre. The Unesco World Heritage site was overrun by militants, threatening the future of 2,000 year-old monuments and ruins. Thousands of Palmyra’s residents fled but many are still living within the city walls, while the UN human rights office in Geneva said it had received reports of Syrian government forces preventing people from leaving until they retreated from the city.
36/40 2015 - May
A group of Isis-affiliated fighters have captured a key airport in central Libya. The militants took control of the al-Qardabiya airbase in Sirte after a local militia tasked with defending the facility withdrew from their positions. Affiliates of Isis, already control large parts of Sirte, the birthplace of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and a former stronghold of his supporters.
37/40 2015 - June
The US Air Force has destroyed an Isis stronghold after an extremist let slip their location on social media. According the Air Force Times, General Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command, said that Airmen at Hulburt Field, Florida, used images shared by jihadists to track the location of their headquarters before destroying it in an airstrike.
38/40 2015 - June
Kurdish forces captured a key military base in a significant victory in Raqqa as well as town of Tell Abyad. YPG fighters, backed by US-led airstrikes and other rebels, consolidated their gains, when they seized the key town on the Syria-Turkey border. They are now just 30 miles to the north of Raqqa and have cut off a major supply route deep inside Isis-held territory.
39/40 2015 - June
Isis has released gruesome footage claiming to show the murder of more than a dozen men by drowning, decapitation and using a rocket-propelled grenade as it seeks to boost morale among its fanatical supporters.
40/40 2015 - June
Isis has begun carrying out its threat to destroy structures in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, blowing up at least two monuments at the Unesco-protected site as Syrian government troops made advances on the Islamist’s positions.
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."
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- Islamist extremism
- Metropolitan Police
- Islamic State