WSJ, By ANTON TROIANOVSKI And RUTH BENDER, Nov. 29, 2015:
BERLIN—The Paris attacks have raised fears of terrorists slipping into Europe by posing as refugees. But in Germany, the top migrant destination, security officials have another worry: Local extremists will recruit the newcomers to join the Islamist cause once they arrive.
German authorities warn that migrants seeking out Arabic-language mosques in search of the familiar are increasingly ending up at those attended by Islamist radicals. In interviews, security officials from Berlin to the southwest German state of Saarland said they have registered a sharp rise in the number of asylum-seekers attending mosques they believed attracted extremists.
Federal officials said they have counted more than 100 cases in which Islamists known to them have tried to establish contact with refugees. According to state and local agencies across the country, Islamists have offered migrants rides, food, shelter and translation help. In some cases, they have invited them to soccer games and grill parties, or brought them copies of the Quran and conservative Muslim clothing.
“They start by saying, ‘We will help you live your faith,’ ” said Torsten Voss, the head of the German domestic intelligence agency’s Hamburg branch. “The Islamist area comes later—that is, of course, their goal.”
Security officials across Germany describe the potential radicalization of migrants, still entering the country by the thousands every day, as a challenge that adds to Europe’s existing security threats. With Germany expecting to take in roughly one million asylum-seekers from the Middle East and elsewhere this year, authorities are scrambling to prevent new pockets of radicalism from forming.
Intelligence services say they have no evidence of successful recruitment efforts, pointing to the risk as a long-term problem.
Many politicians and migrant advocates argue that refugees fleeing Islamic State and religious conflict generally have no interest in extremism. Still, others, including Jewish organizations, warn that many of the migrants are coming from places where radical views are common.
“Many of the refugees hail from societies in which anti-Semitism and enmity of Israel are propagated,” Josef Schuster, president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, said last week, urging that new arrivals be well-integrated and arguing that Germany’s capacity for doing so was limited.
Germany—the European Union’s most populous country—hasn’t experienced a major Islamist terror attack in recent years, though it is home to one of Europe’s largest Muslim populations. Part of the reason, security officials say, is that most of Germany’s Muslims have roots in relatively secular Turkey rather than the Arab world.
But many of the migrants arriving now are from Syria and other Arab countries and are seeking out Arabic-speaking mosques—some of which have ties to extremists, security officials say.
Berlin authorities describe the Ibrahim Al Khalil mosque, inside a ramshackle, two-story brick warehouse in an industrial section of the German capital, as a key meeting point in the city for fundamentalist and potentially militant Muslims. On Friday, many recently arrived migrants were among the several hundreds who gathered for weekly prayers.
Many of the migrants there said they were there simply out of convenience. One Syrian man, who said at least 40 people in his refugee shelter rode the subway to Al Khalil every Friday, said he had discovered it via a smartphone app listing nearby mosques.
“We come here to do our Islamic duty,” said another Syrian, 27-year-old Ali Kafri.Referring to fundamentalist movements, he added: “We don’t care if it’s a Salafi or a Muslim Brotherhood mosque.”
The chairman of the Al Khalil mosque in Berlin, Adnouf Nazir, rejected the authorities’ claim that his congregation had ties to extremism.
“We want to live in peace,” Mr. Nazir said. “It can be that some people have other thoughts, but that doesn’t mean that we are responsible for this.”
Still, a Berlin security official said the authorities were registering with alarm the rising numbers of refugees at the Al Khalil mosque, as well as two others in Berlin that are seen as meeting points for fundamentalist Muslims.
The city distributed a 16-page pamphlet to migrant-shelter workers earlier this month flagging those three mosques and alerting aid workers to the risk.
Islamists may “take advantage of the refugees’ emotional situation to influence especially young people ideologically, to build ties to them ideologically, and in the worst case to incite them to acts of violence,” the pamphlet says.
Security officials said that because fundamentalist Muslims approaching or recruiting migrants generally aren’t breaking any laws, the best they can do is to keep a close watch on extremist networks and to ask workers at shelters to be on the lookout.
Many of the groups identified by security officials as fundamentalist say they have only religious and humanitarian motives in helping refugees.
Despite evidence that at least two Paris attackers entered Europe by blending in with the flood of refugees arriving on Greece’s shores, security officials played down the possibility of Islamic State fighters traveling along the well-trodden migrant route and into Germany. They argued that radicalized EU citizens could enter more easily through an airport.
“If I’m planning an attack on Europe, I would choose the more secure and simpler path,” said Helmut Albert, the top domestic intelligence official in the state of Saarland. “I would find people from Western Europe with clean papers who are probably not known to the security agencies. I would train them, and I would send them to conduct the attack.”
In Saarland, on the French border, intelligence officials have long had an eye on several mosques they say attract followers of the fundamentalist Islamic strain known as Salafism. Officials noticed in early September that newly arrived migrants were increasingly frequenting those mosques, Mr. Albert said.
Mr. Albert said that migrants now attend Friday prayers at those places of worship in numbers ranging from 50 to 200 per mosque—sometimes accounting for half the faithful in attendance. The migrants appeared to be going to those mosques simply to hear sermons in Arabic and talk to Arabic-speaking locals, he said. But in the long run, he said he worried they might become susceptible to the more fundamentalist ideology of other worshipers.
“We’re watching to see whether, over time, the refugees start going there not only because the sermons are in Arabic but because they’ve joined the movement,” Mr. Albert said in an interview.
The wave of migration is exacerbating a problem that has vexed German security officials for years: how to deal with fundamentalist Muslim preachers who they suspect play a role in radicalizing youths but don’t appear to be breaking laws in doing so.
One of the most prominent of such preachers, a German convert to Islam named Pierre Vogel, published a how-to guide on Facebook in September on reaching out to migrants to help them in their worship, though it makes no suggestion of drawing them into extremism. The Salafist preacher urged his followers to bring gifts and a compass to help Muslim asylum-seekers pray in the direction of Mecca.
The human tide coming to Germany has created an opportunity for good deeds—known in Islamic tradition as hasanat—that would be rewarded after death, he said in a video posted online.
“We have the gold rush, like in America in the time of gold when one found the gold mines,” Mr. Vogel said in the video. “One can now get gold mines of hasanat.” Mr. Vogel, who has said he rejects violence in the name of Islam, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Some 70% of the migrants arriving in Germany are believed to be Muslims, according to a spokeswoman for the federal domestic intelligence service. A top German expert on Islamic radicalization, Claudia Dantschke, said she was increasingly getting queries from local officials on which mosques to recommend to migrants and which ones to avoid.
“These people don’t arrive here ready to be radicalized,” said Ms. Dantschke, who runs a counseling program for radicalized Muslims. She added that refugees needed to be quickly given a chance to integrate into German society. “We are responsible as to whether or not they ever become open to radicalization.”
— Mohammad Nour Alakraa contributed to this article.