In May 2012, German Salafists protested in the streets of Bonn and Solingen. The protests, which began after the Pro Nordrhein-Westfalen (Pro-NRW) citizens’ movement displayed pictures of the Prophet Muhammad, left 29 police officers injured, and resulted in the arrests of 108 Salafists.[1] The clashes between police and Salafists were unprecedented in Germany.

Concern over violent Salafists in Germany has featured prominently in domestic intelligence assessments since 2010.[2] According to the Federal Bureau for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV), violent Salafists are increasingly seeking to launch terrorist attacks in Germany, a country which after 9/11 mainly served as a logistics hub for foreign battlefields. In light of recent Salafist-inspired plots,[3] this article provides details on the country’s general approach to counterradicalization, and identifies some of the problems with coordinating counterradicalization programs at the federal level. It also offers insight on specific outreach and trust-building initiatives between the German authorities and the Salafist community.

The German Approach to Countering Salafi-Jihadi Activities
In contrast to the United Kingdom’s prior approach, representatives of the German state generally refuse to work with Islamist groups. Counterradicalization initiatives in Germany have been directed against all forms of radical Islamism, including both political and violent Salafists. Politicians and security services emphasize the need to distinguish between political Salafists—the majority of Salafist structures in Germany that mostly reject violence—and a small jihadist minority advocating violence in pursuit of Salafist goals.[4] Government officials also warn that these boundaries can be blurred as both violent and non-violent Salafists share the same ideological foundation. In other words, political da`wa (missionary) activities used to recruit followers and gain influence may serve as a dangerous breeding ground for violent Salafist radicalization.[5] In one example, the man who killed two U.S. troops at Frankfurt airport in March 2011—the first deadly jihadist terrorist attack on German soil—had established ties with radical Salafists through Facebook contacts and online media sharing sites like DawaFFM.[6]

Yet in contrast to the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Denmark, all of which initiated concerted counterradicalization programs in response to the terrorist attacks in Spain and the United Kingdom and the Prophet Muhammad cartoon riots in 2004 and 2005, Germany got off to a later start and also still does not have a national counterradicalization strategy.[7] Apart from an increasingly dynamic Salafist scene, critics note that a national strategy is all the more necessary in view of Germany’s unique federal structure.[8] Due to various restraints on federal executive power,[9] Germany’s 16 states, and their respective 16 interior ministries and domestic intelligence services, have autonomy vis-à-vis the Federal Ministry of the Interior (Bundesministerium des Inneren, BMI). In other words, counterradicalization programs are decided and implemented by the individual states and therefore differ from state to state. While counterradicalization is considered a mostly local, grassroots effort in neighboring countries as well—allowing programs to be tailored to specific regional or local contexts and be administered by those who know their communities best—Germany’s complex federal structure raises the question in how far program outcomes and experiences are communicated and shared beyond regional jurisdictions, as is also noted in a recent report by the German Islam Conference (Deutsche Islam Konferenz, DIK).[10]

Moreover, Germany’s 16 states have differed about the scope, objective, and timing of initiatives, such as whether domestic intelligence services—as opposed to migration and refugee offices—should be in charge of phone help lines and awareness programs or whether programs to exit extremist circles constitute a viable option. The state of Hamburg provides tangible assistance in the form of apartment rentals, vocational training, and job placement services to those who are looking to leave extremist circles. In some states, awareness outreach may only entail Muslim communities whereas in others they also include public schools, sports clubs, or state agencies (such as immigration services and prisons).[11] Berlin’s intelligence service uses theological arguments to counter extremist interpretations of the Qur’an, while other states will not engage in any theological debates.[12] In Brandenburg, the intelligence service in 2010 began convening “regional security dialogues” to educate the public on Islamist radicalization and extremism.[13] Other states got an early start: “Contact scouts” of the Hamburg police started meeting with imams as early as 2001 and have cultivated their network since.[14]

In view of this patchwork of state initiatives, the interior ministries of the 16 states have attempted to facilitate the nationwide coordination of counterradicalization programs and policies. Islamist extremism and, more recently, its Salafist tenets feature prominently on the agenda of the so-called Interior Minister Conference, which periodically brings together the interior ministers of all 16 states and the federal government.[15] Coordination, however, remains politicized. For example, the Chemnitz declaration of 2009, stressing the need for exit programs, was only supported by the conservative-governed states.[16] At the most recent June 2012 meeting, conservative interior ministers called for Muslims to take a greater stance against violent Salafists.[17] Federal and state governments are also working together as part of a BMI-led working group called the “prevention of Islamist extremism and terrorism.”[18]

Representing state and federal security services at the more tactical level, the Joint Counterterrorism Center (Gemeinsames Terror-Abwehr Zentrum, GTAZ) added a new working group dealing exclusively with counterradicalization in December 2009. It is specifically tasked with amassing federal and state counterradicalization initiatives, sharing experiences and best practices, and developing new policies.[19] Mostly serving as an exchange forum, it is the closest the law enforcement and domestic intelligence services of the federal government and the 16 states have come to coordinating their various counterradicalization programs.[20]

Dialogue and Trust-Building Initiatives
German authorities have reached out to Muslim organizations and communities as part of various dialogue and trust-building initiatives. Some of these initiatives include:

The Prevention and Cooperation Clearing Point
To provide a comprehensive overview of past, ongoing, as well as future local projects involving state and Muslim institutions across Germany, the Prevention and Cooperation Clearing Point (Clearingstelle Präventionskooperation, CLS) was established in March 2008 at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, BAMF). There are many examples of cooperative or educational projects.[21]

Members of the police coach soccer clubs and offer bicycle training courses in Muslim and high-immigration neighborhoods. Law enforcement units seek to improve their intercultural communication skills in Berlin, Stuttgart, and Essen. In Düsseldorf, Muslim associations and police jointly developed a framework for “dialogue, peace and integration.” The Recklinghausen police have identified Muslim leaders who can assist them in crisis situations. The CLS also maintains a public database of some 300 contacts representing Muslim communities and the German state. Anyone with an idea for a new project can access the database to contact relevant parties, and ask the CLS for support.[22] A closer look at the inventory of 300 names in the database, however, shows that more than 70% represent state agencies, suggesting that the network—which is supposed to expand further—is in particular need of additional Muslim contacts.[23]

Supporting Vulnerable Individuals: Nationwide Phone Hotlines
Since July 2010, the BfV has been running the nationwide HATIF phone hotline, designed to help individuals break with their violent jihadist environment. HATIF is the Arabic word for phone and the German acronym stands for “leaving terrorism and Islamist fanaticism.” Apart from individual consultations, exit program support may include filing paperwork with other bureaucracies, protecting against threats from relatives and supporters of the jihadist scene, schooling or vocational training placements, and housing and financial aid. It is not clear how many people, if any, have taken advantage of the program. Various states have voiced considerable criticism over whether domestic intelligence services, whose mandates focus on intelligence collection, should or can play a role with regard to these exit programs.[24]

In light of these reservations, it is important to note that the BAMF began offering a second crisis hotline, called Counseling Center Radicalization (Beratungsstelle Radikalisierung), in January 2012.[25] Similar to the HATIF service run by the BfV, this help line encourages family members, friends, relatives, and teachers to come forward about friends or relatives who have recently become radicalized. Perhaps not coincidentally, this was one of the first projects resulting from the new BMI-led Security Partnership Initiative between state and Muslim institutions created in June 2011.

The German Islam Conference
Since Germany’s 17 interior ministries refuse to work with Islamist groups, they have instead opted to create a permanent forum between moderate Muslim institutions and the German state. The periodical meetings of the DIK are attended by five Muslim organizations, representatives from federal, state, and local governments, and individuals.[26] Designed to improve Muslim integration in Germany, the conference was first initiated in 2006 and continued by the second Angela Merkel coalition government in 2009, albeit with a slightly different composition and more “actionable” agenda. For example, the second conference included more local representatives from cities and municipalities but excluded one of the four major German Muslim organizations: the Central Council of Muslims in Germany. This group declined to participate, citing the lack of clear conference objectives, insufficient Muslim representation, as well as the sidelining of discussion topics such as hostility toward Islam in Germany.[27]

The Security Partnership Initiative
DIK’s agenda is broad and only deals with radicalization prevention as one of many topics. In addition, discussions center on instituting Islamic religion classes in public schools, the education and training of imams, German society and values, and “Islamophobia.” To ensure a sufficient focus on counterradicalization, the BMI created the “Security Partnership Initiative – Together with Muslims for Security” (Initiative Sicherheitspartnerschaft – Gemeinsam mit Muslimen für Sicherheit) in June 2011, an alliance between various federal and state security services and six Muslim organizations.[28] In contrast to the DIK, it is not a permanent institution, and its membership can change depending on the nature of the project at hand. Its exclusive focus is to prevent Islamist violence with the help of Muslim communities. Community involvement is considered instrumental as community members are often the first to notice radicalization signs and are also better equipped to counter these trends by means of their religious and cultural expertise. The working group “trust” is afforded a key role as part of the initiative. It is much smaller in size, bringing together only a few select security services, in addition to the Central Council of Muslims in Germany and the Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs. While trust building initiatives are generally drawn up behind closed doors, one of the group’s best known projects involves the recent creation of the Counseling Center Radicalization at the BAMF.

Security partnership membership, however, has declined significantly. Four of the six participating Muslim associations quit the Security Partnership Initiative in late August 2012 over a controversy involving the “Missing” poster campaign.[29] The posters, intended for Muslim neighborhoods in Berlin, Hamburg and Bonn, tell the fictional story of parents who have lost their children to religious fanatics and terrorist groups. They are designed to encourage those with similar experiences to call the BAMF counterradicalization hotline. Opposed to the campaign, Muslim organizations complained that their feedback and critiques were not heard due to the unilateral agenda-setting and decision-making of Interior Ministry officials. The latter responded that their feedback was not only invited but that the posters were approved by the six Muslim associations before going public.[30] As of January 2013, the Security Partnership Initiative lists the Alevi Community in Germany as their only Muslim partner.

Keeping a Close Watch: Raids, Bans, and Deportations
The assumed connection between political Salafist organizations and Salafist-inspired radicalization has also led to the closure of several community centers and mosques since 2001. Moreover, in mid-June 2012, the first Salafist association, Millatu Ibrahim, was proscribed after authorities raided 80 Salafist meeting places in seven different states simultaneously. According to the BMI, Millatu Ibrahim called on Muslims to actively fight Germany’s constitutional order, praised the violent May 2012 clashes in Solingen and Bonn in various online videos, and encouraged additional violent acts.[31] In response to the ban, Millatu Ibrahim leader Denis Cuspert declared Germany a battle zone and called for jihad on German soil.[32]

Another Salafist association, the Invitation to Paradise (Einladung zum Paradies e.V.), was subject to a 2010 BMI investigation that included raids at various locations in Lower Saxony and North Rhine Westphalia. Considered an influential platform for spreading Salafist ideology via seminars, preachers, literature, social media, and online videos, the raids led to the association’s voluntary dissolution in August. Pierre Vogel, the most prominent preacher associated with this organization, has since left for Egypt. While these closures and bans enable security services to target association finances, they are also controversial because it becomes harder to gather intelligence on extremist Salafists. Critics also argue that this does not address the root of the problem, as most extremists do not even organize or might simply decide to join foreign outlets. In addition, their videos are still available on YouTube and similar websites.[33]

In June, the BMI also initiated proscription proceedings for DawaFFM, an online sharing site for Salafist videos and literature—of both political and violent nature—and networking.[34] In addition, the BMI is spearheading an effort to prohibit The True Religion (Die Wahre Religion), an internet platform seeking to “expand da`wa activities in Germany” by means of information media, workshops and seminars.[35]

The 16 states have initiated deportations of foreign Salafist extremists whenever possible. They have also confiscated passports, or required regular check-ins with the police, to prevent German citizens suspected of violent Salafist tendencies from leaving for foreign terrorist camps.[36] According to the BfV, at least 70 individuals “with a German connection”[37] have trained in Islamist terrorist camps since the early 1990s. German officials fear that an additional 185 extremists might either have obtained or still seek paramilitary training.

The Road Ahead
It is difficult to assess the effectiveness of Germany’s various local, state, and federal counterradicalization measures and initiatives because many of them have only been operational for a few years. Yet Germany’s federal structure surely complicates coordination of and information-sharing on counterradicalization programs. It is not clear in how far the GTAZ forum is sufficient in providing for a coordinated approach among security services. The forum also does not account for non-GTAZ agencies/programs involved in counterradicalization efforts. These are supposed to be tracked by the BAMF-led CLS, which is looking to better coordinate and network activities involving state and non-state actors, including Muslim communities and mosques. Nevertheless, it is also not clear how and why listed CLS projects were or are successful, or in how far Germany’s Muslims are represented by the Muslim contacts in the CLS database.

While the overall abundance of projects is laudable, Germany still does not have a national strategy that addresses counterradicalization efforts. Even though Germany does not have a tradition of issuing security strategies, a strategic framework would not only be useful to boost coordination, but it would also help ensure that the best counterradicalization practices can be identified, cultivated, and shared across local and state borders.

Dr. Dorle Hellmuth is Assistant Professor of Politics at The Catholic University of America. At CUA, she teaches courses on European Politics, Homeland Security, Counterterrorism, Transatlantic Security, and Comparative Politics. She is a fellow at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Hellmuth also held an appointment as a research fellow at the National War College/National Defense University for more than five years.

[1] Florian Flade and Martin Lutz, “Das unheimliche Netz der Salafisten,” Die Welt, June 6, 2012; Charles Hawley, “Salafists and Right-Wing Populists Battle in Bonn,” Spiegel Online, July 5, 2012. The far-right Pro NRW party is only active in North Rhine Westphalia and registered 2,100 members in 2011. The Pro NRW had collected some 400 drawings as part of a cartoon contest designed to critique Islam and display the “winning” and most provocative pictures in front of mosques and other Muslim venues. The cartoon contest, scheduled ahead of state elections in North Rhine Westphalia in the hopes that it would boost the Pro NRW’s votes, was initially canceled by state authorities but subsequently re-authorized by the courts. Major German Muslim organizations, such as the Central Council of Muslims, condemned the subsequent violence. In October 2012, a district court in Bonn found one of the Salafist protesters, a Turkish citizen born and raised in Germany, guilty of seriously injuring two policemen, sentencing him to six years in prison. Due to the severity of his jail term, the man will likely be deported to Turkey before the end of his sentence. See “Salafist für Messerangriff auf Polizisten verurteilt,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, October 20, 2012.

[2] “Verfassungsschutzbericht 2011,” Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, June 2012. The report distinguishes between Salafists, al-Qa`ida and franchises, and regional jihadist groups.

[3] For further information, see also Sajjan M. Gohel, “Germany Increasingly a Center for Terrorism in Europe,” CTC Sentinel 4:8 (2011).

[4] The BfV estimates that Germany is home to some 3,800 Salafists. About 150 of them are considered violent. Critics note the numbers of Salafists residing in Germany could be as high as 10,000. See “Koran Study,” Economist, April 21, 2012.

[5] See, for example, Hunert Gude, Souad Mekhennet, and Christoph Scheuermann, “The Missionary Zeal of Germany’s Salafists,” Spiegel Online, April 24, 2012.

[6] Matthias Bartsch, Matthias Gebauer and Yassin Musharbash, “The Radical Islamist Roots of the Frankfurt Attack,” Spiegel Online, March 3, 2011.

[7] On national counterradicalization strategies in other European countries, see James Brandon and Lorenzo Vidino, “European Experiences in Counterradicalization,” CTC Sentinel 5:6 (2012).

[8] See, for example, Uwe Schünemann, “Die dschihadistische Herausforderung,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August 18, 2010.

[9] To eradicate centralized Nazi structures for all time, the Constitutional Council in 1948 combined executive power-sharing with the territorial fragmentation of powers to the Länder.

[10] “Präventionsarbeit mit Jugendlichen,” Deutsche Islam Konferenz, April 19, 2012, p. 3.

[11] Frank Pergande, “Reiseziel Pakistan,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, December 8, 2009.

[12] “Radikale Entlarven,” Tageszeitung, February 10, 2011.

[13] Astrid Geisler, “Wie Bin Laden nach Prenzlau kam,” Tageszeitung, July 5, 2010.

[14] Peter Carstens, “Auf einen Tee mit dem Imam,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, June 25, 2011.

[15] States take turns in presiding over the conference. While the IMK-meetings are also attended by the federal interior minister, he lacks veto power.

[16] Daniel Schultz, “Mit Broschüren gegen Terrorismus,” Tageszeitung, October 21, 2009.

[17] Thomas Steinmann, “Muslime sollen Salafisten isolieren,” Financial Times Deutschland, June 1, 2012.

[18] “Zusammen in Deutschland,” Bundesministerium des Inneren, March 20, 2009.

[19] “Abwehr im Innern,” Spiegel, November 30, 2009.

[20] In November 2012, the BfV and the Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation (Bundeskriminalamt, BKA) further announced the creation of the Joint Counter Extremism and Terrorism Center (Gemeinsames Extremismus und Terrorismusabwehrzentrum). The GETZ will focus on the analysis of and information-sharing on foreign, left- and right-wing versions of extremism and terrorism, as well as espionage and proliferation.

[21] For a list of 72 sample projects, see “Clearingstelle: Suche nach Projekten,” Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, available at

[22] For example, in 2011 the CLS was responsible for coordinating 45 projects with a combined yearly budget of one million euros. See Martin Lutz, “Sicherheitspakt mit Muslimen,” Die Welt, June 25, 2011. The CLS further helps educate security services, provides experts for dialogue events, and distributes information.

[23] “Clearingstelle: Suche nach Ansprechpartnern,” Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, available at

[24] Markus Wehner, “Alle aussteigen, bitte!” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, July 25, 2010.

[25] “Regierung startet Beratungsnetz,” Tageszeitung, February 2, 2012.

[26] The Deutsche Islam Konferenz is located at The five organizations include: Alevi Community in Germany, Islamic Community of the Bosnians in Germany, Association of Islamic Cultural Centers, Central Council of the Moroccans in Germany, and the Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs. In addition, the secular association of Turkish migrants, the Turkish Community of Germany, has joined the conference. Similar arrangements also exist at the state level, as exemplified by the Berlin “Islam Forum.” See “Islamismus: Prävention und Deradikalisierung,” Senatsverwaltung für Inneres und Sport, Berliner Verfassungsschutz, November 22, 2010; “Wir versuchen, die Imame überall einzubeziehen,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, July 2, 2011.

[27] “Islamkonferenz mit neuen Mitgliedern,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, March 5, 2010; Olivia Schoeller, “Zentralrat boykottiert Islamkonferenz,” Berliner Zeitung, May 14, 2010.

[28] For details, see

[29] The four organizations include the Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, the Association of Islamic Culture Centers, the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, and the Islamic Community of the Bosnians in Germany. See “Muslimische Verbände wenden sich von Friedrich ab,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, August, 31, 2012.

[30] “Bundesinnenminister hält an Initiative fest,” Initiative Sicherheitspartnerschaft, August 31, 2012.

[31] “Salafisten: Razzia und Vereinsverbot,” Bundesministerium des Inneren, June 14, 2012.

[32] Florian Flade, Kristian Frigelj, and Martin Lutz, “Das Ende des Solinger Kalifats,” Die Welt, June 15, 2012; “Salafisten drohen mit Anschlägen,”, September 3, 2012.

[33] Frank Jansen, “Krieg Im heiligen,” Der Tagesspiegel, July 1, 2012.

[34] Flade et al., “Das Ende des Solinger Kalifats.”

[35] “Verfassungsschutzbericht 2011,” p. 219.

[36] Wehner; Gude et al.; “Terrorverdächtiger reiste ungehindert aus,” Der Tagesspiegel, September 14, 2011.

[37] Individuals with a German connection are those who have lived or are currently residing in Germany, German citizens with migratory backgrounds, and Muslim converts. See “Verfassungsschutzbericht 2011,” p. 197.

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