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The Answer

Posté le lundi 3 novembre 2014 par Letel

Islamist preacher Sven Lau talks during a rally in July in Hamburg, Germany.

Islamist preacher Sven Lau talks during a rally in July in Hamburg, Germany

“He said to me, ‘I believe this life is a test and that after this life, there will be either hell or paradise,’ ” said Mr. Lau in an online video that described his conversion to Islam. “I finally had the answer to all my questions.”

WUPPERTAL, Germany—Fundamentalist Islamic preacher Sven Lau claims he has a simple test to separate undercover officers from passersby. He gives them the finger. If they don’t respond, he said, “they’re intelligence agents.”

German authorities have spent at least eight years monitoring Mr. Lau, a 34-year-old ex-firefighter from a Catholic family who now practices a strict form of Islam known as Salafism.

Officials say Mr. Lau is one of the most prominent Islamic preachers in Germany, with a charismatic message that lures young Germans into radical Muslim circles. The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency called Mr. Lau one of the country’s “best-known propagandists.” Authorities allege Mr. Lau inspired some of his followers to join Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq, and fear they will eventually spawn terror attacks in Germany and the West.

Mr. Lau, who has delivered sermons to hundreds of listeners at town squares across Germany, denies the allegation. Despite wiretaps and searches of his home and computers by authorities, he remains free. He denied any ties to terrorism or the extremist group Islamic State—“I’m not pro-IS,” he said—and described his past trips to Syria as humanitarian work.

The standoff between Mr. Lau and German security agents illustrates the difficulty of drawing a clear line between opinion and sedition at a time when European authorities face growing numbers of disaffected Muslims, some of them taking on radical views. Security officials say they monitor a wide range of Islamist proselytizing but only a small minority pass the threshold for prosecution on charges of supporting terrorism.

German authorities, who say they still watch Mr. Lau, acknowledge he seems to have found a safety zone.

“He continues to radicalize young people and creates fertile soil for future violence,” said Burkhard Freier, the domestic intelligence chief in Mr. Lau’s home state of North-Rhine Westphalia. “To prove this under the rule of law with means that will stand up in court is, well, difficult.”

In February, German authorities arrested Mr. Lau after he returned from Syria on suspicion of recruiting for a foreign armed force and preparing a “serious act of violent subversion.” They described him as an “ideological connecting link of well-known, superregional Salafist networks.”

Prosecutors in Stuttgart alleged that Mr. Lau and a companion incited a 37-year-old German to join jihadist troops in a trip to Syria last fall.

Authorities also alleged Mr. Lau helped raise money for an ambulance and persuaded two men to drive it, along with thousands of euros, to Syria in February—destined for a jihadist group.

Mr. Lau denies the allegations. He also denies supporting jihadists, preparing violent acts or encouraging other Germans to join militants. His lawyer, Mutlu Günal, said wiretapped phone conversations of his client by German authorities showed “the money was meant for a hospital in Aleppo.” Mr. Günal and court officials declined to release records of the conversations.

Mr. Lau’s alleged companion will go on trial on Wednesday in a separate case. Federal prosecutors allege the man, Ismail Issa, traveled to Syria in August 2013 to support Islamist militants and returned two months later to pick up cash and medical and military supplies for the fighters. Mr. Issa’s lawyer declined to comment.

In May, after keeping Mr. Lau in jail three months, authorities dropped the charges and released him. The evidence, the Stuttgart prosecutor said, didn’t meet the requirements for a criminal trial after a German court decision raised the bar for terrorism convictions. Security officials said last month that Mr. Lau was still under investigation for terrorism-related crimes.

“They’re not going to find anything,” Mr. Lau said in an interview outside the new fundamentalist mosque he now frequents here. “There is nothing.”

In the continuing public relations battle with authorities, Mr. Lau’s arrest greatly boosted his profile among Islamic fundamentalists and yielded a YouTube video with Pierre Vogel, another radical Islamic preacher. “These kinds of episodes, where someone is wrongly locked up—wrongly!—are clear signs of who is on the true path,” Mr. Vogel says to Mr. Lau in the video.

Now married with five children, Mr. Lau said he was a 18-year-old gambler and pot smoker living in the industrial Rhineland town of Mönchengladbach when he met a Turkish man enrolled in his mechanic’s apprenticeship course.

“He said to me, ‘I believe this life is a test and that after this life, there will be either hell or paradise,’ ” said Mr. Lau in an online video that described his conversion to Islam. “I finally had the answer to all my questions.”

Four years after his conversion, Mr. Lau said, he got to know Arab friends who introduced him to Salafism, a more fundamentalist form of Islam.

For a time, he continued running, his secular passion. In 2006, the year the German domestic intelligence agency said it first started keeping tabs on him, Mr. Lau finished second in local championships, running the 800-meter race in two minutes, six seconds. But he stopped eating the red wine cake his coach, Hans Ercklentz, brought to running meets, and slipped a book about Islam into the coach’s mailbox.

Sven Lau speaks in front of a train station in Bremen, Germany in June.
Sven Lau speaks in front of a train station in Bremen, Germany in June

Another runner who worked out with Mr. Lau, Harald Moll, said it appeared the young man found purpose in his new religion. He would pray in the locker room before and after practice. Mr. Lau tried to persuade Mr. Moll, now 52 years old, to convert to Islam. And after his wife died, Mr. Moll said, Mr. Lau offered to find him a Moroccan bride. Mr. Lau denied that.

Around 2008 or 2009, Mr. Moll said, Mr. Lau quit training with the local running club. By 2010, Mr. Lau was a leader of a Salafi organization called Invitation to Paradise that the government sought to ban. Mr. Lau shut it down first.

Mr. Moll said he regretted he didn’t do more to counter Mr. Lau’s drift toward radicalism. “You ask yourself: ‘Did I do something wrong?’ ” Mr. Moll said.

Mr. Lau gained broader notoriety with provocative stunts. In early May 2011, for example, he tried to help stage a public memorial service for Osama bin Laden after his killing. The same month he entered a team of Salafi runners in two benefit races in Mönchengladbach and won both, a local newspaper reported.

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency known as the Verfassungsschutz, said Mr. Lau grew more extreme in 2013, after about a year in Egypt studying Arabic and Islam, and then joining aid efforts in Syria.

In a video posted online in May 2013, Mr. Lau calls on viewers to help imprisoned fellow Muslims: “Every Muslim is better than the bestkuffar,” the Arabic word for nonbeliever, he said. “Every Muslim, all included.”

Hundreds have attended Mr. Lau’s public sermons, which tell of discrimination against Muslims in Germany, as well as their suffering in Syria. A March 23 rally in Mannheim for Mr. Lau after his arrest drew 400 people, according to local news reports.

In video footage of the event, two people in the crowd waved flags of the group now known as Islamic State.

The civil war in Syria raised the stakes for Mr. Lau. He and Mr. Vogel, another German convert to Islam, helped lead a campaign to collect donations they said would aid war victims. Mr. Lau said he traveled to Syria three times since the war began to deliver assistance and visit friends. Now, he said, he has decided he can do more good staying in Germany to preach.

In September, a fundamentalist mosque posted a video of Mr. Lau and other men patrolling the streets of Wuppertal and telling young men to avoid drugs and gambling. In photos posted online, the men wear bright orange vests saying “Shariah Police.” Shariah is the religious code based on the Quran and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.

The video drew broad outrage and condemnation, including from Chancellor Angela Merkel . Mr. Lau later said the patrol was staged for the camera and wasn’t an effort to claim police powers.

Mr. Freier, the state intelligence chief, said Mr. Lau “tries to go right up to the line of what is legal.”

 German officials see a rise in homegrown Islamic extremism, among immigrants as well as ethnic Germans. Domestic intelligence officials say Salafis now make up the country’s fastest-growing Islamist movement: More than 6,300 compared with 4,500 in 2012.

While most are peaceful, German intelligence officials said, nearly all the Islamist terrorist networks found in Germany had ties to Salafis.

More than 450 German residents have traveled to Syria to join or support Islamic militants, security officials said, making Germany one of Europe’s biggest sources of foreign fighters in the Middle East, along with France, the U.K., and Belgium.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said these travelers threaten domestic security because many will return home more radical and inured to violence. Officials said at least seven German nationals or residents have carried out suicide attacks in Syria and Iraq. In October, Islamic State released a propaganda video showing a German speaker rail against Ms. Merkel and call on Muslims in Europe to join the fight.

Mr. Lau said he knows people who have fought in Syria, and he no longer would advise anyone to travel there. He also acknowledged the psychological impact of visiting a war zone.

“At some point, you get used to all the bombing,” Mr. Lau said in July during the first of two interviews with The Wall Street Journal. “After I got back, I even missed it somewhat, this feeling, I don’t know, of freedom and inner bliss.”

German officials have struggled to find a legal basis for controlling travel to Syria or to prosecute suspected supporters of Islamic militants when they return. Authorities have withdrawn German passports, but they can’t take away national ID cards—all that is needed for Germans to enter Turkey, the easiest entry point for Syria. So far, only a handful of more than 100 people who have returned to Germany from Syria face criminal prosecution.

“All this puts the spotlight on a legal situation that at the moment is not enough to prevent actors from going to Syria as combatants or supporting Syrian militants,” said Michael Kiefer of the Institute for Islamic Theology at Osnabrück University in northwest Germany.

Authorities are scrambling to adapt. Mr. de Maizière, the interior minister, said last month the government was considering measures to limit validity of German ID cards of suspected militant supporters to Germany’s national borders.

German police arrested at least four suspected supporters of Islamic State in October.

Prosecutors also said they were investigating a network that had delivered 7,500 boots, 6,000 military parkas and 100 military shirts to the Islamist militia Ahrar al-Sham.

In fighting terrorism, Germany has to contend with a decentralized security structure formed in the postwar years to prevent a return of the powerful Nazi secret police.

Two organizations—the police and an intelligence agency called the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, or Verfassungsschutz—assume roles carried out by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the U.S. Critics said poor coordination between the two agencies contributed to Germany’s failure to detect the Hamburg-based hijackers before the 9/11 attacks.

Germany has acknowledged some of the criticism and has tried to strengthen its counterterrorism efforts. The bulk of the surveillance work, however, still falls to the Verfassungsschutz, which has to keep tabs on all groups deemed a threat to Germany.

The agency’s regional chief in Hamburg, Torsten Voss, said he might reduce his observation of right-wing and left-wing extremists to free up more resources. Still, he said, his 150 employees aren’t enough for comprehensive surveillance.

“I can’t monitor the phones or monitor the emails of everyone who wants to leave because I don’t have the resources,” Mr. Voss said, referring to German residents who intend to fight in Syria or Iraq.

Mr. Lau preaches at the mosque Darul Arqam, on the second floor of a nondescript building in a strip of warehouses in Wuppertal. On a recent Friday afternoon, silent moments were occasionally interrupted by brass horn music from what mosque worshipers described as a Christian group renting space in the same building.

Mr. Lau played with his 3-year-old son in the courtyard and shook hands with young men filing in for prayers. Roughly 80 people—including some ethnic Germans among those mostly of Middle Eastern or North African heritage—squeezed into the gray-carpeted prayer room. Some wore traditional Muslim dress but most wore street clothes—skinny jeans, cargo pants and the like.

One person warmly greeted Mr. Lau as “Public Enemy No. 1,” the title of a recent German magazine profile.

A 15-year-old boy with pale blond hair and bright blue eyes said a German-born friend of Afghan heritage had inspired him to convert two months ago. He wasn’t sure he could ever tell his parents.

“He’s a good man,” another teenager said of Mr. Lau. “He’s a role model, so to speak.”

Anton Troianovski, WSJ

Letel @ 15:59
Catégorie(s): Arabica etPosts in English

Laisser un commentaire

3 réponses à “The Answer”

  • 3

    Chaque societe , et surtout l’occidentale arrive a produire ces extremistes qui ne sont au final que des provocateurs bien contents de vivre sous la protection de cette meme societe qu’ils veulent detruire …..

  • 2

    Regardez les images, elles sont pas mal.

  • 1

    He said to me

    Pour une fois j’ ai compris : Saïd m’ a dit hé.
    Pour le reste, je tente même pas.

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