Armed Hamas members gather to pay tribute to those who died after a tunnel collapsed in the Gaza Strip. (Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)

Hamas’s well-established presence In Germany

German authorities raid 90 properties linked to Islamist group, but security experts reveal hundreds of Hamas supporters remain scattered across the country

The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas has a “well-documented” presence in Germany, despite hundreds of its supporters having been under surveillance for several years, counter-terrorism experts have revealed.

Jannis Jost, research associate at the Center for the Research on Terrorism and Radicalization in the German city of Kiel, told The Media Line that Germany’s intelligence and domestic security agencies have been “monitoring Hamas supporters in the country for more than a decade.

“The reported number of [Hamas] supporters fluctuates around 300 since at least 2007,” Jost noted. “The problem is that these individuals of course don’t operate under the name ‘Hamas,’ instead they found other inconspicuous-sounding organizations.” He noted that evidence of financial, institutional or propaganda connections to Hamas have repeatedly been discovered in a number of charitable bodies.

Jost underlined that, upon finding proof, such groups are then disbanded. He noted this was the case “in 2002 with the organization ‘al-Aqsa e.V.’, and in 2005 with ‘YATIM-Kinderhilfe e.V.’ (YATIM Children Relief).”

His statements come just as Berlin announced it had conducted a widescale raid on properties across the country that were found to be linked to Hamas. According to the German authorities, two faux humanitarian organizations—WorldWide Resistance-Help and Ansaar International—are believed to have collected funds for the Islamist group, which rules the Gaza Strip and is currently on the European Union’s terrorism blacklist. Both organizations claimed to be collecting donations for Palestinians in Gaza, as well as for people in Syria and Somalia.

“Whoever supports Hamas under the guise of humanitarian aid disregards fundamental values of our constitution and discredits the commitment of many aid organizations,” German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer was quoted by local outlets as saying.

Interestingly, Jost underlined that one of the reasons that Hamas continues to reappear in Germany periodically is because of the country’s unique political and legal systems, which were formed as a result of “lessons learned from Nazi Germany and the failure of the Weimar Republic.”

“These lessons were somewhat contradictory: ensure freedom and civil liberties at all costs, but be aware that they can be exploited to actually undermine freedom and democracy,” he said. To Jost this means that “individually responsible members can be prosecuted in court, but only extremist actions are liable to prosecution. Extremist thoughts and sympathies are not. This is a game of whack-a-mole — a marathon rather than a sprint,” he concluded.

Similarly, Benjamin Weinthal, a research fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies institute, agreed that the massive raids were unsurprising.

“This raid is long overdue,” Weinthal asserted to The Media Line. “Germany has a very lax policy toward Islamic jihadi organizations in the country. The next step in my view should be to outlaw the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).”

He noted that PFLP supporters appeared on a Marxist voting list during the last elections in Germany, adding that “one hopes this crackdown on Hamas will accelerate Germany’s crackdown on Shiite Jihadism, like Hezbollah or the PFLP.”

Likewise, Dr. Dan Schueftan, head of the International Graduate Program in National Security at the University of Haifa, told The Media Line that Germany’s ongoing issues with combating jihadism are linked to the strong presence of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, some of whom also support Hamas.

“I think it’s very important that [the German authorities] are sweeping the country for that, not only because it helps fight Hamas, which is recognized in Europe as a terrorist organization, unlike [parts of] Hezbollah,” Shueftan asserted, referring to the Lebanese Shiite group.

So far, the EU has designated the group’s military wing only as a terrorist entity, but its political wing is legally allowed to operate everywhere; aside from the UK, which recently banned Hezbollah in its entirety.

According to Schueftan, many Islamist groups are operating in Europe under the guise of being purely religious or humanitarian in scope. “Democratic countries are reluctant to interfere with religious organizations, but when we speak about the Muslim Brotherhood, this is not a religious organization—[though] it pretends to be one—it is a political and potentially a terrorist organization,” he argued.

“In terms of counter-terrorism and police actions, the Europeans are doing much, much more today than in the past,” Schueftan stressed, but need to understand that “whereas some of the people who come to Germany from the Middle East are benign, others must be treated with extreme suspicion. This is something they have not yet learned.”

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