In Germany, Harder Line Looms; Bavarian Probes Into Muslim Groups May Foretell Deeper Scrutiny

    MUNICH, Germany — Local officials have started taking steps against one of the historic centers of Islamism in the West, after years of tolerating and even supporting it. At the center of attention is the Islamic Community of Germany, which has its headquarters in a Munich mosque that also has been a key base for the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was founded in 1920s Egypt as a reform movement to Islamicize society but since then has spawned a host of radical organizations. Now, attorneys in the state of Bavaria have launched two separate investigations. One is aimed at determining whether the Islamic Community of Germany misappropriated state funds, a move that could force the group to pay back more than _700,000 ($868,070) to the state. Prosecutors also are investigating an allegedly related organization that runs a nearby school. Officials denied an education license to the school just as the school year was about to start, a move confirmed by courts last week. The actions in Bavaria could signal that Germany will take a harder line nationally against Islamist organizations. One of the driving figures behind the moves is G_nther Beckstein, the Bavarian interior minister who is widely expected to become Germany’s interior minister after national elections on Sept. 18. Mr. Beckstein believes that the Islamic Community of Germany’s allegedly ideological links with the Muslim Brotherhood make it an undemocratic force. Taking Aim “The Islamic Community of Germany is a group that is against the constitution,” Mr. Beckstein said in an interview. “It is justified that the state not support such organizations.” For decades, the Munich mosque and its related organizations have been cornerstones of the Muslim Brotherhood network that gradually spanned Europe. In early July, The Wall Street Journal published a front-page article detailing the history of the Islamic Center of Munich, which was founded in the late 1950s by a group of ex-German World War II soldiers and exiled leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. The center’s legal successor is the Islamic Community of Germany, which is still based in the mosque although most of its operations have moved to Cologne. For almost a decade, domestic intelligence had observed and published warnings about the group’s allegedly radical ideology. Public officials, however, continued to deal with the organization, financing its private school with _340,000 a year. The organization maintained nonprofit status, which allowed donors to write off their contributions. “It was always a thorn in our side that extremist organizations were obtaining public money,” said Michael Feiler, spokesman for the Bavarian branch of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a domestic intelligence agency that tracks groups believed to threaten Germany’s democratic order. In the late 1990s, the Islamic Community of Germany began to attract unwanted attention: A man sentenced for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center had been a regular at the Munich mosque and, later, a high-ranking al Qaeda suspect who had contact with mosque members was arrested nearby. In 1998, the group was put on the domestic intelligence agency’s watch list. The next year, the Islamic Community of Germany lost its nonprofit status because of sloppy bookkeeping, Bavarian state officials say. Although the matter is still in court, donations to the group are no longer tax-deductible. That led to the current investigation. Officials say the Islamic Community of Germany deliberately misled state education officials by failing to tell them about its loss of nonprofit status. From 1999 onward, the Islamic Community continued to receive roughly _340,000 a year to run the school, which last year had seven teachers and 111 pupils. Officials say the group may have to pay back some of the money it received from 1999, when it lost nonprofit status, to 2003, when a new organization took over the school. Ibrahim El-Zayat, the head of the Islamic Community of Germany, didn’t respond to requests for comment. In a previous interview, Mr. El-Zayat denied bookkeeping irregularities at his organization. The Islamic Community of Germany’s direct involvement with the school ended in 2003, when a group called the German-Islamic Educational Enterprise was founded to run the school. It obtained nonprofit status and received roughly the same amount of state support to run the school, officials say. Now, state prosecutors are investigating whether the new group may have forged the signatures of members who weren’t present at its founding. German-Islamic Educational Enterprise couldn’t be reached for comment. Local officials denied the school a license for the current school year because they say it is a dummy organization set up to disguise links to the Islamic Community of Germany. “We are afraid that the group running the school, which belongs to the Islamic Community of Germany, is using the school to spread Islamist ideology,” said Thomas Huber, spokesman for the district government of Upper Bavaria. He said the district hadn’t analyzed the school’s textbooks but that the alleged links to the Islamic Community of Germany were enough to deny the school its license. The group running the school has denied a direct link to the Islamic Community of Germany. Its members couldn’t be reached for comment but have said in local media reports that any links were informal. Sealed registration documents reviewed by the Journal show that most of the school group’s founding members had been members of organizations allied with the Islamic Community of Germany or are active in its mosques. Parents say the maneuvering between the government and the organization is hurting their children. Hisham Awwad, spokesman for the German-Islamic School Parent Committee, said the school wasn’t spreading Islamist ideology. “I don’t know anything about links to the Islamic Community of Germany,” said Mr. Awwad, a German citizen who emigrated from Egypt. “All we parents want is a way for our children to learn some of our Arabic heritage. We have no interest in radicalism, and I never noticed anything radical.” Mr. Awwad and other parents say they want to form their own nonprofit organization to run the school. Last Tuesday, a court denied the parents’ attempts to prevent implementation of the decision denying the school a license. Although the parents have other legal channels, their children will attend other schools this year.

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