Field-research in the Salafi Scene – Religious Radicalisation in the German prison environment 

Nina Käsehage is a historian and religious scientist who wrote her PhD about the Salafi Scene in Germany. In addition, she conducted interviews with jihadistic women among eight European countries and engaged herself honorary in family work, prevented the departure of 35 young adults who wanted to join Dschabhat Fatah asch-Schams (former Dschabhat an-Nusra).

This article is written  by Nina Käsehage.                                                             

This article aims to explain a part of my field-research in the Salafi Scene: the religious radicalisation in the German prison environment, illustrated by a short example of the group ‘Ansarul Aseer’ (Helpers of the imprisoned). From 2012 to 2016 I conducted in total 175 interviews in Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, France, Great Britain and Turkey with Salafi actors and preachers for my PhD-project about the Salafi Scene in Germany and Europe.

Since 2012, the religious radicalisation related to the attempt of radical Muslims to convince other imprisoned persons to follow the so called ‘real’ Islam, was hardly recognised or even avoided by prison or intelligence authorities.

With the rising interest for Muslims and Non-Muslims to join Salafistic organisations in Germany, a growing recruitment in German prison environments started too, because the prison was seen as a ‘new market’ for the radical ideas.

* In the year 2012, the author tried to connect prison authorities and security authorities with a focus on radical Islam to explain this growing threat of radical recruitment in German prisons. Unfortunately, this problem wasn´t regarded as a threat and the author wasn´t able to train those persons in this topic.

Ansarul Aseer

Ansarul Aseer, a salafistic-jihadistic group, focussed on the help for imprisoned Muslims, whom they regarded as ‘victims’ of the marrow political system of the Federal Republic of Germany. Beside this focus, they try to convince young non-Muslim prisoners to convert to Islam and to follow the group’s radical interpretation of it. One of the main responsible´s of Ansarul Aseer is Bernhard Falk, a former member of a left-wing radical movement called the ‘Antiimperialistische Zelle’, who converted himself in prison to Islam and supports the ideas of Al-Qaida. Falk never really left the ideas of anti-imperialism behind him, but integrated those ideas from his former life in the left-wing environment in his ‘help’-organisation for the imprisoned Muslims by calling all Muslims to a fight against the Taghut (Götzendiener), whom he identified mainly in the German government. He blames the German government, to hide its ‘real’ goal, the capitalism, for Falk the origin of selfish and untrue systems, behind the democracy.

Strategy

The strategy of Ansarul Aseer includes three main issues: Visiting prisoners and trials against salafistic defendants, the financial support of the imprisoned Muslims and their families and the organisation of protest rallies for imprisoned ‘sisters’ and ‘brothers’ like the Salafistic member Safia S. and the Salafistic preacher Abu Adam alias Sven Lau.

Key arguments are the:

    •  Help for imprisoned ‚sisters‘ and ‚brothers‘;
    •  Fighting injustice against ‚Muslims‘;
    •  Transmission of left-wing radical thoughts on the Salafistic movement;
    •  Proposed merger of all Muslims under the umbrella of the Jihadistic part of the scene.


Recruitment-approaches

During their time in the prisons, many imprisoned feel alone and start to think about their sense of living. The interest in religion can increase in this kind of situation. This new interest in religion is instrumentalised by Ansarul Aseer and its dualistic worldview that divides the world and its inhabitants in ‘real’ believers and kuffar (infidels). Related to the fact that there are no means of escape from the influence of those recruiters, who use social media, letters and personal contact to get and stay in touch with their recruits, the ‘succeeding rate’ of this recruitment strategy is really high.

European connections

In addition, my research among Europe could identify very narrow ties between Ansarul Aseer and local as well as European jihadistic preachers and groups that support each other. For example, there existed great connections between Ansarul Aseer and preachers like Abu Ibrahim (Hasan Keskin), who supported the former jihadistic group ‘Millatu Ibrahim’ (since 2012 forbidden) and Abu Duyana (Said el-Emrani), a member of the salafistic-political/salafistic-jihadistic movement ‘Die Wahre Religion, The True Religion’, which was known for its propaganda for the Koran (‘Lies!’) in several European countries (forbidden in the year 2016). Those groups were supported or had branches in other European countries and their role models preached in other European countries, e.g. Abu Duyana in France by the group ‘Shabab Dawa’, as well.

Recommendations

Too often, there exists no religious alternative opinions for the imprisoned to gather information about the Islam as a religion without an extremist intention. To avoid this monocausal view and to withdraw the recruiters their recruiting ground, some of the following recommendations might be useful:

  • An enlargement of the staffing quotas for imams and social worker in the prisons;
  • A development of long-term partnership agreements with NGOs;
  • An establishment of continuous trainings for prison staff;
  • Monitoring of jihadistic preacher travel- and internet-activities among Europe.

In addition, it might be wise, if European prison authorities connect with each other and share their gathered information about those religious radical groups, their strategies and their responsibles. If we don´t connect across Europe in this manner, we will always be a step behind those radical actors and groups that work together in a transnational way.

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