German police raid Islamic centre over alleged ties to Iran, Hezbollah

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German police conduct a raid at the Islamic Centre of Hamburg in the northern port city on November 16, 2023, due to allegations that it supports Iran and the armed group Hezbollah [Fabian Bimmer/Reuters]

Police target 54 sites in seven states. Minister says, ‘We are acting against Islamists, not against a religion or another state.’

Police in Germany have conducted raids at 54 sites across the country as part of an investigation into an Islamic centre for alleged links to Iran and the Tehran-backed group Hezbollah.

The Ministry of the Interior said Thursday’s operation primarily targeted the Islamic Centre of Hamburg (IZH) as well as five affiliate groups as hundreds of police conducted raids in seven German states.

“I want to make clear that we are acting against Islamists, not against a religion or another state,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said.

“We have the Islamist scene in our sights,” she said.

“Especially now, when many Jews feel particularly threatened, we do not tolerate Islamist propaganda or anti-Semitic and anti-Israel hate speech,” she added.

The raids were carried out as Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities around the world say they are experiencing an uptick in discrimination and intimidation as the war between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas intensifies.

Faeser said the IZH has long been monitored by the domestic intelligence agency. The ministry said the centre supported the “revolutionary concept” championed by Iran’s supreme leader, which may be a violation of Germany’s constitutional order.

No arrests were made, and the government said the raids were focused on gathering evidence for its investigation into support for Hezbollah.

Last month, the IZH said it “condemns every form of violence and extremism and has always advocated peace, tolerance and interreligious dialogue”.

The IZH runs a mosque in Hamburg. The ministry said intelligence indicates it exerts significant influence or full control over some other mosques and groups.

Germany banned Hezbollah in 2020. Any symbols of the group are banned, and its assets were confiscated. This month, the government announced a complete ban of Hamas activities. It considers both “terrorist” organisations.

The German branch of Samidoun, known as the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, was also banned with Faeser saying it “supports and glorifies” groups including Hamas.

Hezbollah, which has ties to Hamas and receives weapons from Iran, has been exchanging fire with Israeli forces at the Lebanese-Israeli border since the war broke out on October 7.

German authorities have prohibited many pro-Palestinian demonstrations in what they said are efforts to prevent public anti-Semitism and curb disorder.

Supporters of Palestine said they feel blocked from publicly expressing support or concern for people in Gaza without risking arrest, their jobs or immigration status.

While the authorities have said they are addressing anxieties about rising anti-Semitism, some of their actions have been criticised for penalising solidarity with Palestinians, and activists critical of Israel’s war in Gaza have described an increasingly restrictive atmosphere.

Football players have been fired for social media posts about the conflict. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier recently drew criticism when he stated that German Arabs should take steps to distance themselves from Hamas.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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