May 29, 2019

GERMANY: German Police Carried Out Raids At Apartments In 11 Cities, As Part Of An Operation Targeting Organized Crime. Seven Muslim Men Accused Of Forming A "Shariah Police" On Trial.

Deutsche Welle News (DW), Germany
written by Staff writer, AP writer
Wednesday May 22, 2019

Heavily armed police have carried out a series of coordinated raids on the homes of members of the "Al-Salam-313" group. The targets are suspected of people smuggling as well as dealing in narcotics.

German police carried out early-morning raids at apartments in 11 cities on Wednesday as part of an operation targeting organized crime.

Hundreds of officers were involved in the raids in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, focusing on the Cologne area and the Ruhr Valley.

A spokeswoman for police in the city of Essen, Sylvia Czapiewski, said authorities targeted the homes of 34 suspects.

"We have been carrying out an investigation into a large group of people for some considerable time," she said.

Those targeted were suspected of involvement in people smuggling, as well as trading in weapons, narcotics and false IDs. One person was arrested.

North Rhine-Westphalia Interior Minister Herbert Reul told journalists that the seized evidence must be examined to determine whether more arrests would be made.

Muhammad's warriors

The targets are members of the "Al-Salam-313" gang, according to a report in the German daily Bild. They refer to themselves as "Warriors of Muhammad" and the number 313 has a religious connotation.

The gang members are part of the Shiite denomination who believe that the hidden Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi will return to Earth with 313 companions. The term Mahdi means Redeemer, which therefore means that he is regarded as similar to a messiah in Islam.

"This is why they refer to themselves as Muhammad's companions or warriors," said one of the investigators.

In addition to dealing in narcotics and weapons, the gang members are suspected of having supported militias back in Iraq with the profits from their various activities.
Deutsche Welle News (DW), Germany
written by Staff writer, AFP writer
Monday May 20, 2019

Seven men accused of forming a "Shariah Police" brigade in western Germany have gone on trial. The group allegedly patrolled the streets of Wuppertal in orange vests, telling people to abstain from music and alcohol.

The retrial of seven alleged members of a self-proclaimed "Shariah Police" vigilante group began in the western city of Wuppertal on Monday.

The men were cleared of wrongdoing in 2016, but the case is now being heard again following a higher court's decision last year to overturn the acquittal.

The defendants allegedly patrolled the streets of Wuppertal in 2014 dressed in orange vests that were emblazoned with the words "Shariah Police."

They're also accused of handing out flyers to Muslims proclaiming a "Shariah Controlled Zone" and warning them to abstain from drugs, alcohol, gambling, visiting brothels, listening to music, and pornography.

The men have been charged with violating a ban on the wearing of uniforms or with being an accessory and could face up to two years in prison if found guilty.

Court documents describe them as members of the "Salafist scene" and allege that one of their main aims was to replace Germany's democratic legal system with Shariah law.

Read more: Salafism in Germany: What you need to know

Second trial five years later

During the first trial in 2016, judges at the Wuppertal District Court ruled there was no reason to punish the men over the uniforms as there was no proof to suggest they had intended to break the law.

In January 2018, the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe criticized the lower court's finding and ordered a retrial.

Potential for intimidation

Mathias Rohe, a lawyer and scholar of Islam, said the court was right in ordering a retrial because of the potential for both Muslims and non-Muslims to feel intimidated by the group.

Given the case concerns Islamic law, "of course the country's Muslim population would be the first to be affected," Rohe said.

Rohe told DW that the self-made vests led some to believe the group had been playing a harmless joke.

"But it is also true that it could have an intimidating effect on parts of the population at a time when violent Islamist extremism is also manifesting itself in Germany," Rohe said.

Released ringleader to testify

Wuppertal's Shariah patrol sparked controversy in Germany in September 2014 when news about the group first broke. At the time, alleged ringleader Sven Lau expressed regret, conceding in a video message that "perhaps the name was provocative. Perhaps it was also a mistake on our part."

Proceedings against Lau have been suspended and he is expected to appear as a witness in the Wuppertal case on Friday. He was released from prison last week after serving two-thirds of a 5 1/2 year sentence for supporting terrorist acts.

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