In Austria, a new report from the Federal Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt) revealed that 34,070 illegal immigrants arrived in Austria in 2014, a 24% jump over 2013. Most of the migrants came from Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Eritrea and Kosovo. More than half, roughly 20,750 of the migrants, hired smugglers to bring them to Austria; the remainder arrived on their own. More than two-thirds of the migrants arrived from Italy (51.6%) and Hungary (34.4%).
On April 7, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz called on the European Union to launch a military operation against the Islamic State. He also called for a crackdown on so-called foreign fighters in Europe. Kurz said: “We are a militarily neutral country, but in terms of the Islamic State, our position is clear: Humanitarian aid for the victims is necessary, but much more needs to be done.”
Also in April, a 17-year-old girl whose parents sent her to an Asian Muslim country to be married against her will was returned to Austria after she managed to alert the Austrian foreign ministry about her plight. Because of loopholes in the law, the girl’s parents, Muslim immigrants still living in Austria, were not punished.
As a future deterrent, Austrian Justice Minister Wolfgang Brandstätter said the government would ask Parliament to approve an amendment to Section 106a of the Austrian criminal code to stipulate that anyone convicted of coercing someone into marriage could face up to five years in prison. Some 200 Austrian women and girls are subjected to a forced marriage each year.
Meanwhile, a “tolerance survey” found that 65% of Austrians are opposed to a family member converting to Islam, and 64% are opposed to the building of a mosque in their neighborhood.
In Britain, Irfan Chishti, an imam from the Rochdale Council of Mosques, warned that the reach of the Islamic State is spreading “far and fast” throughout the British Muslim community. “No one is immune to it, he said. “The tentacles of ISIS really are spreading so quickly, not just into homes but into palms, via the internet on phones.”
On April 5, the Sunday Times reported as many as 100 Islamist teachers and teaching assistants could face lifetime bans from working in schools as a result of an investigation into their alleged links to the so-called Trojan Horse scandal. The paper revealed that the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL), the profession’s watchdog that can ban teachers from classrooms, was considering possible disciplinary cases against current and former staff members at schools in Birmingham, where hardline Islamists were attempting to take control of state schools.
In London, a court ruled that a Libyan immigrant, convicted of more than 70 criminal offenses, would be allowed to remain in the UK because he is an alcoholic. The 53-year-old man, who first came to Britain to study aeronautical engineering in 1981, successfully argued that he would face physical punishment and imprisonment in his homeland, where alcohol consumption is illegal. Judge Jonathan Perkins ruled that returning the man to Libya would “expose him to a risk of ill-treatment” and “interfere disproportionately with his private and family life.”
In Birmingham, Mohammed Waqar, 23, and Mohammed Siddique, 60, pleaded not guilty to charges that they had beaten a ten-year-old boy at the Jamia Mosque in Sparkbrook for wrongly reciting the Koran. The two men face up to ten years in prison for the offense of cruelty to a person under 16.
More news about Islam in Britain during April 2015 can be found here.
In Bulgaria, public prosecutors pressed charges against eight Islamists for carrying out subversive activities. All of the defendants were accused of being members of an Islamic extremist group that spread Islamist propaganda, including calls for the establishment of Islamic Sharia law in Bulgaria. The move is part of a broader crackdown on Islamic extremism in the country, where Muslims make up approximately 10% of the total population.
In Denmark, a 23-year-old man from Copenhagen had his passport confiscated after he was suspected of attempting to join the Islamic State in Syria. It was the first use of a new law that came into effect on March 1 that gives police the right to confiscate passports and impose travel bans on Danish citizens suspected of planning to travel to Syria or Iraq to fight.
At least 115 Danes have become foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq since Syria’s civil war broke out in 2011, 19 of whom have been killed, according to the Danish Security and Intelligence Service PET.
In France, Prime Minister Manuel Valls revealed that more than 1,550 French citizens or residents are involved in terrorist networks in Syria and Iraq. The figures have almost tripled since January 2014.
Addressing the National Assembly on April 13, Valls said that a controversial new law aimed at increasing the powers of French intelligence services was needed to prevent another Charlie Hebdo-style of attack in France. The law allows the intelligence services to carry out surveillance activities without first obtaining a judge’s authorization. Valls refuted the idea that the law is the equivalent to a French “Patriot Act.”
An opinion poll published on April 13 found that nearly two-thirds (63%) of French citizens were in favor of restricting civil liberties in order to combat terrorism. Only 33% said they were opposed to having their freedoms reduced, although this number increased significantly among younger respondents.
On April 27, the Justice Ministry said that French police are investigating 125 terrorism cases connected to the conflict in Syria. Most of the cases involve people hoping to help the Islamic State. Of the 166 people who have been taken in for questioning, 113 have been jailed and are awaiting trial. Justice Minister Christiane Taubira told Le Parisien newspaper that 39 cases have been opened, and 35 people charged, since the beginning of 2015.
On April 22, French police arrested Sid Ahmed Ghlam, a 24-year-old Algerian computer science student who was suspected of planning an attack on Christian churches in Villejuif, a suburb south of Paris. He was arrested after apparently shooting himself by accident. Police found three Kalashnikov assault rifles, handguns, ammunition and bulletproof vests, as well as documents linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State, in his car and home. Police said Ghlam had expressed a desire to join the Islamic State in Syria.
On April 8, hackers claiming to belong to the Islamic State attacked TV5Monde, a French television network, and knocked it off the air globally. The network broadcasts in more than 200 countries. “We are no longer able to broadcast any of our channels. Our websites and social media sites are no longer under our control and are all displaying claims of responsibility by Islamic State,” the broadcaster’s director general Yves Bigot said. The hackers accused French President François Hollande of having committed “an unforgivable mistake” by joining a US-led military coalition carrying out air strikes against IS positions in Iraq and Syria.
On April 4, the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, called for the number of mosques in France to be doubled over the next two years. Speaking at a gathering of French Islamic organisations in the Paris suburb of Le Bourget, Boubakeur said that 2,200 mosques are “not enough” for the “seven million Muslims living in France.”
On April 15, a 21-year-old Muslim was arrested after destroying more than 200 gravestones at a Catholic cemetery in Saint-Roch de Castres, a town near Toulouse in southern France. Police said the man was sent to the hospital because he was in a “delusional state and unable to communicate.”
Meanwhile, a 15-year-old Muslim girl in the northeastern town of Charleville-Mezieres wasbanned from class twice for wearing a long black skirt, which the head teacher considered to be a religious symbol and a violation of France’s secularism laws.
In Germany, Dutch politician Geert Wilders addressed a rally of the German grassroots anti-Islamization movement known as PEGIDA in the eastern city of Dresden on April 13. Wilders said that there is “nothing wrong with being proud German patriots. There is nothing wrong with wanting Germany to remain free and democratic. There is nothing wrong with preserving our own Judeo-Christian civilization. That is our duty.” He added:
“Most of the politicians, media, churches and academics are looking away from the threat of Islamization. They are afraid. But you are not.
“We hate no one. We fight for our freedom and hence we object to totalitarian Islam, but we do not hate Muslims. Neither do we hate our political opponents who are protesting here in Dresden against us. I am happy that we in Germany and the Netherlands are allowed to demonstrate against each other. Without violence. Without hatred.”
Geert Wilders addresses a rally of PEGIDA supporters in Dresden, Germany, on April 13, 2015. (Image source: RT video screenshot)
On April 8, Federal Police Chief Dieter Romann revealed that more than 57,000 people had tried to enter the country illegally in 2014, a 75% jump in comparison to 2013. In addition, police arrested 27,000 people who had managed to enter the country and were living there illegally, a 40% jump. Most of the illegal immigrants were from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Kosovo, Serbia, Somalia and Syria.
On April 22, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a center-right think tank based in Berlin, announced the launch of the “Muslimisches Forum Deutschland.” The new forum aims to promote the voices of liberal Muslims in order to counter-balance the influence of conservative Muslim groups in Germany.
On April 30, police in Oberursel, a town near Frankfurt, foiled an alleged Islamic terror attack on a professional cycling race. Authorities detained a 35-year-old Turkish-German man and his 34-year-old Turkish wife. Police were alerted after the man attempted to purchase large amounts of bomb-making materials under a false name. Police said the couple was active in Frankfurt’s Salafist community and were supporters of al-Qaeda.
In Greece, Chatitze Molla Sali, 65-year-old Muslim widow in north-eastern province of Thrace has taken an inheritance dispute to the European Court of Human Rights. After the woman’s husband died in 2008, she was to receive his estate, but his family disputed the inheritance based on Islamic Sharia law.
Although Sali’s won her case in a civil court, Greece’s Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that matters of inheritance involving members of the Muslim minority must be settled by a mufti (Islamic scholar), in accordance with the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which allows minority communities in Greece and Turkey to live according to their existing religious customs.
The Greek government is apparently wary of abandoning the Lausanne Treaty for fear of retaliation against the Greek community in Turkey. Sali said: “I was overwhelmed. But I decided to fight and take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights. I’m a Greek citizen and Europe must uphold my rights.”
In Hungary, plans emerged for the construction of a mega-mosque in Budapest. A YouTube video posted by the Turkish government’s Religious Affairs Directorate, the Diyanet, shows an architectural rendition of a sprawling complex that includes a mosque with four towering minarets, a cultural center, a guest house and extensive gardens.
Also in April, controversy erupted over the Hungarian edition of French author Michel Houellebecq’s new novel “Submission,” which has a candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood winning the French presidential elections and introducing Islamic Sharia law in the country. While the cover of the French edition has no images whatsoever, the Hungarian cover shows an image of Mona Lisa covered in an Islamic veil. The French newspaper L’Obs claimed that it is a manifestation of “Islamophobia.”
In Italy, supporters of the Islamic State posted photographs of well-known landmarks in Rome other Italian cities. The pictures included small pieces of paper that included the logo of the Islamic State along with threatening notes. One read: “We are on your streets, we are locating targets.” Another read: “We are waiting for zero hour.”
On April 24, police arrested 10 members of a jihadist cell that was accused of planning terror attacks in Italy, including a possible assassination attempt against the Pope. The cell, comprised of Pakistanis and Afghans, was operating from the island of Sardinia. Among those detained was Sultan Wali Khan, the head of the Islamic community of Olbia, a city in northeastern Sardinia. Police said intelligence intercepts indicated that Khan had been in regular contact with two Pakistani suicide bombers who were believed to have made their way to Rome. At least eight members of the cell remain at large.
Meanwhile, police in Sicily arrested 15 Muslim immigrants from the Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal for allegedly throwing 12 fellow passengers into the Mediterranean Sea during a voyage from Libya to Italy on the night of April 14. The victims were murdered because they were Christians. The men are being charged with homicide “aggravated by religious hatred.”
In the Netherlands, a group of Muslim parents are suing the Dutch government for failing to prevent their children from travelling to Syria to join the Islamic State. The lawsuit is being initiated by Mohamed Nidalha, a Moroccan immigrant living in Leiden, whose Dutch-born son Reda is now in the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State.
In an interview with Radio West, Nidalha said he went to the police asking for help, but they told him they could do nothing because Reda, who is now 20 years old, was an adult when he decided to travel to Syria last summer.
According to Nidalha, Reda was radicalized through the Internet, where he came into contact with jihadist recruiter aptly named Abu Jihad. In a phone call, Reda told his sister that he travelled to Syria to “help small children and raped women.”
Nidalha said he decided to file the lawsuit after Turkish police arrested a 27-year-old Dutch woman from Leiden in early April who was allegedly attempting to travel to Syria. Turkish authorities said the woman, identified only as Monique S., was arrested at a hotel in Antalya, where she was waiting to be taken to Syria. Based on an Interpol arrest warrant, Turkey sent the woman back to the Netherlands. According to Nidalha, there is a double standard at play because Monique was returned to the Netherlands but Reda was not.
Meanwhile, a 23-year-old jihadist from Amsterdam named Omar H. was reportedly killed on the battlefield in northern Syria. He had slipped out of the Netherlands in late 2014. The Islamic State congratulated Omar’s parents over the death of their son. Another Dutch jihadi said: “Omar has become a martyr, just like he had hoped. It sounds cruel, but I am glad for him and his family.”
In Norway, the Dagbladet newspaper on April 23 reported that an Islamic State fighter who was filmed beheading a man in the Syrian city of Raqqa is a Norwegian who goes by the name Abu Shahrazaad al-Narwegi (Arabic for the Norwegian). The victim was a former Sharia judge who had tried to escape from the Islamic State and settle in Qatar. Norwegian police estimatethat more than 140 Norwegians have joined the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
In Spain, police in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia arrested eleven members of a jihadist cell that was planning to behead a random person in Barcelona. The cell, which prosecutors say was actively recruiting jihadists for the Islamic State, is also accused of planning to bomb public and private buildings in Catalonia, including a Jewish bookstore in Barcelona.
The cell — known as the Islamic Brotherhood for the Preaching of Jihad — was broken up on April 8, when more than 350 police officers conducted seven raids in five Catalan municipalities. According to police, the cell’s primary objective was to show that terrorist attacks such as those perpetrated by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria could be carried out in the West.
In Switzerland, a 25-year-old man became the first suspected Swiss jihadist to be prevented from travelling abroad when he was arrested at Zurich airport on April 7 before boarding a flight to Turkey. The individual, whose identity has not been made public, was released on April 20. He has been banned from travelling and has had his passport and ID confiscated.
According to the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service, there have been 55 known cases of people leaving Switzerland between 2001 and September 2014 to fight in jihadist conflicts — including 35 just since May 2013. Of the total, 31 went to Iraq or Syria, while 24 went to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.
On April 18, a 21-year-old Swiss-Turkish jihadist who was holding his wife and child “hostage” in Syria released them near the town of Reyhanli, on the Syrian-Turkish border. The woman, a German national who converted to Islam, followed the man to Turkey in October 2014 thinking that the couple would be vacationing there. Once in Turkey, however, the husband took the woman to the Idlib region of Syria and held here there against her will. The child was born in March.
The woman’s plight came to light in early March, when Swiss public television’s Rundschau news program aired an audio clip from the woman saying: “I want to go home. Please help me.”
The Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office said the man, who has had a Swiss passport since 1995, joined the al-Nusra Front, a branch of al-Qaeda operating in Syria and Lebanon. In a social media message, he wrote: “I’ve come here [to Syria] to behead infidels. I am ready. At some point we’ll be in Switzerland.”
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.