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For The Record  

FTR #518 Islamism in Europe

REALAUDIO

‘If you want to understand the structure of political Islam, you have to look at what happened in Munich . . . Munich is the origin of a network that now reaches around the world.’ This quote from German historian Stefan Meining sums up the focal point of this broadcast—the Islamic Center of Munich, a mosque which originated with former Muslim Nazi soldiers who had settled in that city after World War II. Although the Wall Street Journal article upon which the program is based fails to include a number of important details, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s fascist history and affiliations, the story of the Munich mosque chronicles the competition among the CIA, British and German intelligence for control of the Muslim ex-Nazi soldiers as tools in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. In so doing, the article sets forth the Nazi and fascist origins of the contemporary Islamist movement. Along with an article presented in FTR#519, the broadcast comprises a good overview of the development of the force that spawned Al Qaeda, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. As noted in the article, the ultimate victor in the subterranean political struggles around the Munich mosque during the Cold War was the Muslim Brotherhood.

Program Highlights Include: The career of Nazi Ostministerium official Gerhard von Mende: von Mende’s postwar work with his Muslim ex-Nazi soldiers on behalf of the German government; von Mende’s competition with the CIA for control of his Nazi Muslim veterans; the CIA’s stewardship of a former Nazi Muslim named Guacaoglu; von Mende’s stewardship of a former Nazi imam named Namangani; Namangani’s employment by the German government as an official imam (despite his previous service in a Waffen SS division); the CIA’s relationship with Muslim Brotherhood official Said Ramadan; the eventual succession of Bank al Taqwa official Ali Galeb Himmat to a dominant position within the Munich Islamic community.

1. Beginning the political history of the Munich mosque, the program highlights the role of ex-Nazi Muslim soldiers in Cold War politics that, in turn, nurtured contemporary Islamism. As will be seen, U.S., German and British intelligence vied with one another for control of these elements, as well as with the associated Muslim Brotherhood. Note that the article that comprises the entire broadcast does not mention the association of the Muslim Brotherhood with the Third Reich. The Nazi affiliations of Youssef Nada aren’t mentioned—neither are the Grand Mufti or Francois Genoud. This is an invaluable article, but does leave out some important information.

“ . . . The mosque’s history, however, tells a more tumultuous story. Buried in government and private archives are hundreds of documents that trace the battle to control the Islamic Center of Munich. Never before made public, the material shows how radical Islam established one of its first and most important beachheads in the West when a group of ex-Nazi soldiers decided to build a mosque.”

(“The Beachhead: How a Mosque for Ex-Nazis Became Center of Radical Islam; Documents Reveal Triumph by Muslim Brotherhood in Postwar Munich; A CIA Plan to Fight Soviets” by Ian Johnson; Wall Street Journal; 7/12/2005; p. A1.)

2. “The soldiers’ presence in Munich was part of a nearly forgotten subplot to World War II: the decision by tens of thousands of Muslims in the Soviet Red Army to switch sides and fight for Hitler. After the war, thousands sought refuge in West Germany, building one of the largest Muslim communities in 1950’s Europe. When the Cold War heated up, they were a coveted prize for their language skills and contacts back in the Soviet Union. For more than a decade, U.S. West German, Soviet and British intelligence agencies vied for control of them in the new battle of democracy versus communism.” (Idem.)

3. The element that emerged on top in the struggle was the Muslim Brotherhood. (For more about the Muslim Brotherhood, see—among other programs—FTR#’s 343, 455, 456, 473, 514. For information about the Bush administration’s links to the Muslim Brotherhood, see—among other programs—FTR#’s 356, 357, 454, 462, 464, 467, 514, 515.) Again, note that the article fails to mention the Muslim Brotherhood’s fascist nature, alliances and history. The article notes how anti-Communism nurtured Islamism and allowed it to become ascendent.

“Yet the victor wasn’t any of these Cold War combatants. Instead, it was a movement with an equally powerful ideology: the Muslim Brotherhood. Founded in 1920s Egypt as a social-reform movement, the Brotherhood became the fountainhead of political Islam, which calls for the Muslim religion to dominate all aspects of life. A powerful force for political change throughout the Muslim world, the Brotherhood also inspired some of the deadliest terrorist movements of the past quarter century, including Hamas and al Qaeda. The story of how the Brotherhood exported its creed to the heart of Europe highlights a recurring error by Western democracies. For decades, countries have tried to cut deals with political Islam — backing it in order to defeat another enemy, especially communism. Most famously, the U.S. and its allies built up mujahideen holy warriors in 1980s Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union — paving the way for the rise of Osama bin Laden, who quickly turned on his U.S. allies in the 1990s.”

(Idem.)

4. “Munich was a momentous early example of this dubious strategy. Documents and interviews show how the Muslim Brotherhood formed a working arrangement with U.S. intelligence organizations, outmaneuvering German agencies for control of the former Nazi soldiers and their mosque. But the U.S. lost its hold on the movement, and in short order conservative, arch-Catholic Bavaria had become host to a center of radical Islam. ‘If you want to understand the structure of political Islam, you have to look at what happened in Munich,’ says Stefan Meining, a Munich-based historian who is studying the Islamic center. ‘Munich is the origin of a network that now reaches around the world.’” (Idem.)

5. The program gives an overview of the Muslim Brotherhood:

“Political and social groups affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood now dominate organized Islamic life across a broad swath of Western Europe. These connections are frequently little known, even by the intelligence services and police agencies of these countries. While these groups renounce terrorism and officially advocate assimilation, the upshot of their message is that Europe’s Muslims — now representing between 5% and 10% of the continent’s population — need to be walled off from Western culture. This in turn has helped create fertile ground for violent ideas. Islamic terrorists have increasingly used Europe as a launching pad for their attacks, from the Sept. 11 assault on the U.S. to last year’s bombing of trains in Madrid.”

(Ibid.; pp. A1-A12.)

6. The Dramatis Personae:

“These current tensions are embedded in the events of half a century ago. Postwar Munich was a ruined city packed with Muslim emigres fleeing persecution. While the West tried to observe and control them as valuable pawns in the Cold War, they encountered formidable rivals seeking their own power bases in Europe’s burgeoning Muslim world. Over the next few decades, four men would try successively to control the Munich mosque: a brilliant professor of Turkic studies, an imam in Hitler’s SS, a charismatic Muslim writer with a world-wide following and a hard-nosed Muslim financier now under investigation for backing terrorism. Most favored some sort of accommodation with the West. But the victor had a bolder vision: a global Islam opposed to the ideals of secular democracy.”

(Ibid.; p. A12.)

7. One of the major players in the development of the Munich Islamic Center as an Islamist nexus is Gerhard von Mende—a former Third Reich political analyst and operative. A specialist in the Muslim ethnic nationalities of the former Soviet Union, von Mende transferred his expertise from the Third Reich to postwar German intelligence. In the latter regard, he found himself in competition with the CIA, which wooed some of his Turkic ex-Nazis and also worked with the Muslim Brotherhood elements in the Munich mosque.

“Gerhard von Mende’s interest in Muslims originated in 1919, when his father was murdered. The family had lived in Riga, part of a once- large German minority in Latvia. When the tiny land was invaded by the Red Army at the end of World War I, members of the bourgeoisie were rounded up and sent on a forced march. Mr. von Mende’s father, a banker, was pulled out of the line and shot dead. That awakened in the 14-year-old a loathing of things Russian. After fleeing with his mother and six siblings to Germany, he chose to study other people who were oppressed by Russian rule — the Muslims of Central Asia. A blizzard of papers and books brought him academic prominence. Linguistically gifted, he spoke fluent Russian, Latvian and French, as well as passable Turkish and Arabic. When he married a Norwegian, he picked up her native tongue as well.”

(Idem.)

8. “The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 put a premium on people like Mr. von Mende, who understood something about the lands that Germany’s blitzkrieg was overrunning. He kept his job at Berlin University but was seconded to the new Imperial Ministry for Occupied Eastern Territories — or Ostministerium — to head a department overseeing the Caucasus. Germany’s initial victories left it with staggering numbers of Soviet prisoners– five million in all. Due in part to the efforts of Mr. von Mende and the Ostministerium, Hitler agreed to free prisoners who would take up arms against the Soviets. The Nazis set up ‘Ostlegionen’ — Eastern Legions — made up primarily of non-Russian minorities eager to pay Moscow back for decades of oppression. Up to a million soldiers took up Hitler’s offer.” (Idem.)

9. Von Mendes’s position within the Nazi Ostministerium was an important one.

“As the war progressed, Mr. von Mende became one of the chief architects of the Nazi policy toward Soviet minorities. He was dubbed their ‘lord-protector,’ establishing national committees of Tatars, Turks, Georgians, Azerbaijanis and Armenians. Desperate for soldiers, the Nazis viewed these committees as little more than a way to keep their turncoat allies in the war. But for the people involved, they were like governments-in-exile, a taste of independence for which they were grateful to Mr. von Mende. Colleagues from this era describe Mr. von Mende as a well-dressed, regal man with a wry smile, who used his personal charm to win over the exiles — especially his favorites, the Turkic Muslims of Central Asia. He opened his home in Berlin to them for long dinners with the conversation flowing in Russian, Turkish and German. In the last months of the war, he cemented their loyalty through an act of bureaucratic genius: With Germany’s infrastructure bombed to a pulp, he managed to get thousands of ‘his’ Turks transferred to the western front — Greece, Italy, Denmark and Belgium — figuring it would be better if they ended up in British or American prisoner-of-war camps than Soviet. Those who fell into Soviet hands were shot as traitors.”

(Idem.)

10. “By the late 1940s, hundreds of Muslim ex-soldiers were stranded in the U.S. zone of occupation in Munich. Mr. von Mende, whose Nazi past left him with limited job prospects, decided to devote himself to looking out for them. That decision would prove beneficial — both for the Muslims and for Mr. von Mende. It was the beginning of the Cold War and Western intelligence agencies were desperate for anyone who could provide a glimpse behind the Iron Curtain. They needed people to analyze documents, broadcast anti-Soviet propaganda and recruit spies.” (Idem.)

11. Von Mende’s first postwar employer was British intelligence. After that, his primary employment was with the German government. In that capacity, he inevitably worked very closely with the Reinhard Gehlen outfit. Von Mende’s Third Reich endeavors would inevitably have put him in close contact with the Gehlen milieu as well.

“In October 1945, Mr. von Mende wrote a letter to a ‘Major Morrison’ in the British Army, according to a letter in his private papers that his family made available. He laid out the Ostministerium’s unique source of knowledge about the Soviet peoples. He explained who worked for it and in which POW or Displaced Persons camp they were being held. It was the beginning of his intelligence career. Mr. von Mende settled in the British-occupied sector of Germany, in the commercial center of Dusseldorf. Although he was no longer an academic, he called his office the ‘Eastern European Research Service.’ His staff was made up of ex-Ostministerium employees — basically a re-creation of the Nazi apparatus that oversaw the Muslims during the war. Funding came from British occupation forces initially, then a variety of West German agencies, including the national domestic intelligence agency and the German foreign ministry, according to foreign-ministry documents and Mr. von Mende’s private correspondence.”

(Idem.)

12. “Mr. von Mende spent enormous amounts of time helping the Muslims who used to work for him in the Ostministerium. He wrung money out of the West German bureaucracy for them to be fed, clothed and housed — conditions were appalling and even a decade after the war’s end many were still living in barracks. But at heart, his task was simple: keep tabs on the emigres and prevent them from falling into another country’s control. The main threat was the Soviet Union, which wanted to stop the emigres from making anti-communist propaganda. Some emigre leaders in West Germany were murdered. Many carried weapons in defense against KGB assassins.” (Idem.)

13. The CIA began to compete with von Mende’s German benefactors for the services of the ex-Nazi Muslim emigres.

“By 1956, a rival emerged to threaten Mr. von Mende’s control over the Muslim ex-soldiers of Munich: the American Committee for Liberation from Bolshevism, widely known as Amcomlib. Set up as a U.S. nongovernmental organization to run Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, Amcomlib was in fact a thinly disguised front for the Central Intelligence Agency. CIA funding lasted until 1971 when Congress cut Amcomlib’s ties to the intelligence agency. During the 1950s, the head of Amcomlib’s political organization was Isaac Patch, who is now 95 and living in retirement in New Hampshire. Reached by telephone, Mr. Patch defended Amcomlib’s strategy of using Muslims to fight the Soviets. ‘Islam was an important factor, no question about it,’ Mr. Patch said. ‘They were strong believers and strong anti-communists.’”

(Idem.)

14. One of the CIA’s ex-Nazi Muslims was Ibrahim Gacaoglu.

“Amcomlib forged ties with Ibrahim Gacaoglu, a former Nazi soldier from the Caucasus who, like Mr. von Mende, was looking after Muslim soldiers stranded in Germany. Mr. Gacaoglu controlled food packages from the U.S., which he doled out to his followers, according to his organization’s documents. Mr. Gacaoglu also did propaganda work for Radio Free Europe. In 1957, for example, he held a news conference with another former German political officer, Garip Sultan, who headed Radio Liberty’s Tatar service, according to documents and Mr. Sultan. The two decried Stalin’s abuses in Chechnya. Mr. Sultan, now 81 years old, said in an interview that he wrote Mr. Gacaoglu’s speeches and a pamphlet for him on the situation of Muslims.”

(Idem.)

15. “For Mr. von Mende and his colleagues, Mr. Gacaoglu’s CIA connections were a problem. West Germany and the U.S. were on the same side of the Cold War, but Mr. von Mende didn’t appreciate foreign agencies trying to influence German residents. As one informant had put it in a report to his boss: ‘Germany is a gate that no one controls because there doesn’t seem to be a gatekeeper. Everyone comes and does what he pleases.’ Mr. von Mende decided that Germany’s Muslims needed a leader he could trust. He turned to a friend from the war: Nurredin Nakibhodscha Namangani.” (Idem.)

16. Von Mende selected another Third Reich alumnus, Nurredin Nakobhodscha Namangani—a forrmer imam for a Waffen SS Division.

“Mr. Namangani had come from a long line of imams in his native land, modern-day Uzbekistan. But his religious service had mostly been in an unholy organization: Hitler’s infamous SS. According to an autobiographical sketch he gave German authorities, he had been arrested by Stalin’s security forces in 1941 and soon after liberated by the invading German army. He served as imam in various capacities, ending as imam for an SS division. He won some of Germany’s highest commendations, including the Iron Cross. Mr. Namangani arrived in Munich in 1956 to an uproar. Opponents such as Mr. Gacaoglu charged Mr. Namangani with having participated in wartime atrocities. Mr. Namangani’s unit reportedly helped put down the 1944 Warsaw uprising of Polish partisans against the Nazis, but any personal role in atrocities is not evident in German war records.”

(Idem.)

17. Ex-SS cleric Namangani became the chief imam of Germany’s Muslims, subsidized by the German government. Namangani launched the project to build the mosque.

“Mr. von Mende beat back the attacks, persuading the federal government in Bonn to accept Mr. Namangani as the ‘Hauptimam’ or ‘chief imam’ of Germany’s Muslims, on the West German payroll. In late 1958, Mr. Namangani came up with a plan to rally the ex- Muslim soldiers behind him: a ‘Mosque Construction Commission.’ At the time, Germany had only a couple of mosques. Munich’s mosque would be different: bigger and dedicated not to traders and visitors but to Germany’s first permanent Muslim population of any note.”

(Idem.)

18. “‘For 13 years, Muslims haven’t had a fixed place for their services and have had to hold them in various places,’ Mr. Namangani told the assembled 50 or so Muslims, including some Muslim students from the Middle East. Once, Muslims had been forced to hold services even in a brewery, other times in a museum, according to minutes of the mosque commission. Now, he told the group, Munich would be a center for Muslims and the Bavarian state government would certainly help out, according to the minutes.” (Idem.)

19. One of the people present at the inauguration of the mosque-building project was Muslim Brotherhood chief Said Ramadan.

“It was a big event, so big in fact that someone special was on hand: Said Ramadan, the Geneva-based secretary general of the World Islamic Congress, a group that wanted to unite Muslims around the world. The rest of those assembled donated 125 marks in total (about $275 in today’s money) for the mosque’s construction. Mr. Ramadan himself gave 1,000 marks. Mr. von Mende quickly put out feelers for information on the well- heeled visitor. Soon, his index of people to watch contained a new entry: ‘Said Ramadan, Geneva. Circa 36 years old, 3 children. Since 1956 drives an expensive Cadillac, gift of the Saudi Arabian government. R.S. [sic] is supposed to be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.’”

(Idem.)

20. “Said Ramadan’s arrival in Europe was the result of a clash of ideas that continues to tear at Islamic societies. At heart, the problem is how to reconcile Islam with the modern nation-state. Like many religions, Islam is all-embracing, prescribing behavior in many spheres, politics included. But when taken literally, these requirements can clash with today’s liberal democracies, which promote individual freedom. In 1920s Egypt, a young schoolteacher named Hasan al-Banna came down firmly on the side of orthodoxy. Troubled by what he saw as the immorality of a rapidly modernizing Egypt, he set up an organization called the Muslim Brotherhood. His plan was to re-Islamicize society by teaching the fundamentals of Islam in the everyday language of the coffee shop, not the classical Arabic of mosques. He set up welfare organizations and was famous for his commitment to social justice.” (Idem.)

21. “But this collided with other visions of Egypt, especially those imported from the West, such as socialism and fascism. Heavily involved in the turbulent politics of postwar Egypt, Mr. Banna was assassinated in 1949. A few years later, a military coup brought in a socialist government that banned the group in 1954. Many members were thrown in jail and some were executed. Mr. Ramadan was the most prominent member to flee abroad. He was Mr. Banna’s son- in-law and was famous for having helped organize Jerusalem’s defense against the new state of Israel in 1948. Few countries in the region wanted to shield Mr. Ramadan; Egypt was a regional powerhouse and its neighbors were wary of antagonizing it. After stops in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Pakistan, he arrived in Geneva in the summer of 1958 on a Jordanian diplomatic pass, accredited to the U.N. and also neighboring West Germany.” (Idem.)

22. “While in Germany, he set out his ideas in a doctoral thesis called ‘Islamic Law: Its Scope and Equity.’ It was published as a book and became a classic of modern Islamist thinking. ‘He was decent and intelligent,’ says his doctoral adviser at Cologne University, Gerhard Kegel, now 93, ‘if a little fanatical.’ Not fanatical in the sense of advocating violence, Mr. Kegel says, but in his view of a world in which Islam guides all laws and there is no distinction between religion and state. Mr. Ramadan also published a magazine, Al- Muslimoon, which surveyed events in the Muslim world and criticized secularism.” (Idem.)

23. More about the alliance between Ramadan, the Brotherhood and the CIA. Note that even in the fifties, the Brotherhood had profound differences with the West. Those differences were exacerbated after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“Mr. Ramadan, like others in the Muslim Brotherhood, strongly opposed communism for rejecting religion. During the Cold War, that made him a natural ally of the U.S. But Mr. Ramadan also opposed the U.S. and other Western countries for their interference in Mideastern affairs. Then as now, that put people like Mr. Ramadan in a tough position: They needed to cooperate with the West but didn’t want to be Western collaborators. Historical evidence suggests that Mr. Ramadan worked with the CIA. At the time, America was locked in a power struggle with the Soviet Union, which was supporting Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser. As Nasser’s enemy, the Brotherhood seemed like a good ally for the U.S.”

(Idem.)

24. “A document from the German foreign intelligence service, known by its initials BND, says the U.S. had helped persuade Jordan to issue Mr. Ramadan a passport and that ‘his expenditures are financed by the American side.’ Swiss diplomats concurred that the U.S. and Mr. Ramadan were close. According to a 1967 diplomatic report in the Swiss federal archives: ‘Said Ramadan is, among others, an information agent of the British and Americans.’ When the Swiss newspaper Le Temps reported the contents of the diplomatic report last year, the Ramadan family responded in a letter to the editor that read in part: ‘Our father never collaborated with American or English intelligence services. He was, on the contrary, the subject of permanent surveillance for numerous years.’” (Idem.)

25. “Members of the Ramadan family refused to comment. They include two sons, the popular Muslim intellectual Tariq and his brother, Hani, who heads an Islamic center in Geneva that his father set up. Although he was fortunate to have escaped the Middle East, Mr. Ramadan’s Swiss exile cut him off from his base of support. He began to look around for allies, according to colleagues who knew him then. Soon, an opportunity presented itself: He was contacted in 1958 by some Arab students in Munich eager to build a new mosque.” (Idem.)

26. “The students had come to Germany to study medicine, engineering and other disciplines in which German education excelled. Many had been involved with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and were also using the chance to escape persecution. Mr. Ramadan ‘was a gifted orator and we all respected him,’ says Mohamad Ali El-Mahgary, who now heads an organization affiliated with the Munich mosque, the Islamic Center of Nuremberg. The students quickly united in wanting to get rid of Mr. Namangani, the former SS imam. Fired up by Muslim Brotherhood ideology, they saw the Uzbek as a throwback to an earlier era, one where, for example, local traditions allowed for drinking alcohol when this was expressly forbidden in the Quran. Over the next three years, Mr. Ramadan and the Brotherhood showed their political mettle — first sidelining the soldiers and their German allies, then striking out on their own.” (Idem.)

27. “First Mr. Ramadan teamed up with Amcomlib to undermine Mr. Namangani. In 1959, he organized the ‘European Muslim Congress’ in Munich, which Mr. von Mende’s informants reported was co-financed by Amcomlib, according to German foreign- ministry archives and Mr. von Mende’s personal letters. The goal: marginalize Mr. Namangani by making Munich’s mosque a European-wide center, not just for Munich’s Muslims. For the U.S., this would help strengthen their man, Mr. Gacaoglu, and limit the West Germans’ influence over the emigres. In 1960, Mr. Ramadan took formal control of the mosque-construction commission, with the students convincing the former soldiers that only Mr. Ramadan could raise the money needed for a mosque, according to interviews. Mr. Ramadan was elected chairman and Mr. Namangani relegated to deputy.” (Idem.)

28. The rivalry between the CIA-backed Ramadan/Brotherhood faction and von Mende’s proteges deepened.

“Flummoxed, Mr. von Mende tried to figure out what Mr. Ramadan’s goals were. His reports show that he was convinced that Mr. Ramadan was working with the U.S. But he needed confirmation and so turned to Germany’s foreign-intelligence service. In a private letter to a former colleague in the Ostministerium, Mr. von Mende asked for information on Mr. Ramadan and suggested stealing files from his office in Geneva. He even estimated how much the operation would cost, bribes and travel costs included. Mr. von Mende’s BND contact confirmed that Mr. Ramadan was backed by the U.S. As for stealing his files, the colleague advised against it: Mr. Ramadan was ‘much too careful’ to leave valuable information in them.”

(Idem.)

29. “Adding to Mr. von Mende’s worries was that the CIA was now openly backing Mr. Ramadan. In May of 1961, a CIA agent attached to Amcomlib in Munich, Robert Dreher, brought Mr. Ramadan to Mr. von Mende’s office in Dusseldorf for a meeting to propose a joint propaganda effort against the Soviet Union, according to Mr. von Mende’s personal papers and interviews with contemporaries of the men. Mr. von Mende quickly turned them down. Mr. von Mende decided he had to use Mr. Namangani to engineer Mr. Ramadan’s removal. At first, it appeared the two had succeeded. In late 1961, Mr. Namangani called a meeting of the mosque commission. Mr. Ramadan was accused of financial irregularities. The soldiers put forward a new candidate and in a close vote won a simple majority. In memos to each other, German officials crowed that Mr. Ramadan was gone and with him the plans for a ‘monumental mosque.’” (Idem.)

30. Ex-SS Imam Namangani was superseded by Ramadan, but remained on the German government payroll.

“But a sharp-eyed city government official noted that the commission’s by-laws had required that Mr. Namangani’s candidate win a two-thirds majority. The simple majority hadn’t been enough. Once again Mr. Ramadan’s ability to mobilize had been decisive: His students had turned out in force, unlike Mr. Namangani’s more-numerous soldiers. Mr. Ramadan was still in charge of the mosque commission. Discouraged, the soldiers began to leave the commission. Mr. Namangani remained head of the West German organization that oversaw the former soldiers’ spiritual needs, but had nothing more to do with the mosque. In a seven-page letter to German officials that is now in the Bavarian state archives, Mr. Namangani explained he was tired of fighting Mr. Ramadan. ‘The Mosque Construction Commission has drifted far from its original goal and there is the danger that it will become a center for those engaged in politics,’ he wrote.”

(Idem.)

31. “The emigres’ departure from the mosque commission slowed its progress but didn’t hurt it. The German bureaucracy, packed with many former Nazis, was still sympathetic to the idea of building a mosque, memos among officials show. They apparently didn’t know that their former comrades-in-arms had left the commission. The West German bureaucracy even gave the mosque project, now firmly under Muslim Brotherhood control, tax-exempt status, which would be worth millions over the next decades.” (Idem.)

32. “Mr. von Mende, though, realized that his Turks were left in the political wilderness. In memos to the German foreign ministry, he said the federal government must do everything possible to block Mr. Ramadan, whom he saw as a foreign-backed outsider. Whether Mr. von Mende could have stopped Mr. Ramadan is unknown: In December 1963, while sitting at his desk in Dusseldorf, Mr. von Mende had a massive heart attack and died immediately. He was 58 years old. A few months later, his Eastern European Research Service was closed and Mr. von Mende’s network of informants dried up. It would only be decades later, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S., that Germany would seriously focus domestic intelligence on the Brotherhood’s Munich operations.” (Idem)

33. Eventually, Ali Galeb Himmat, partner of Youssef Nada in the Bank al-Taqwa assumed a primary position in the Munich mosque. It was he who helped bring Ramadan to Munich in the 1950’s.

“Cloaked from outside scrutiny, the mosque had less and less to do with the needs of Munich’s Muslims. And around this time, evidence of the CIA’s involvement dried up. Instead, control eventually passed to an unlikely location: Campione d’Italia, a swath of mansions and millionaires in the Swiss Alps. Here, from a terraced villa overlooking Lake Lugano, one of Mr. Ramadan’s trusted lieutenants, Ghaleb Himmat, ran the Munich mosque and influenced the network that grew out of it. Of all the characters in the mosque’s history, Mr. Himmat is the most enigmatic, although he is one of the few still alive. A Syrian, he went to Munich in the 1950s to study but ended up amassing wealth as a merchant. Now under investigation by several countries for links to terrorism, he normally shuns publicity. He agreed to comment briefly on the telephone for this article.”

(Idem.)

34. “Contemporaries and archival records indicate that Mr. Himmat was a driving force behind the mosque. In 1958, members of the mosque commission say, he led the movement to invite Mr. Ramadan to Munich. Documents show that the two worked closely together. They went on fund-raising trips abroad and Mr. Himmat stood in for Mr. Ramadan when the older man was back in Geneva. Mr. von Mende’s death should have left Mr. Ramadan firmly in charge of the project. But over the next few years, he lost control to Mr. Himmat. The exact nature of their split isn’t clear, but close associates say it had to do with their different nationalities. Mr. Himmat denies this, saying he does not know why Mr. Ramadan left.” (Ibid.; pp. A12-A13.)

35. “At the same time, Mr. Ramadan was losing the support of his Saudi backers. Short of money, he stopped publishing his magazine in 1967. Over the last quarter century until his death in 1995, Mr. Ramadan’s influence waned. His son Tariq describes him in a book as prone to ‘long silences sunk in memory and thoughts, and, often, in bitterness.’ Mr. Himmat assumed control of the mosque just before it opened in August of 1973. Under his leadership, the mosque grew in importance, functioning as the Muslim Brotherhood’s de facto European embassy. As its influence grew, its name changed. From Mosque Construction Commission, the group became the Islamic Community of Southern Germany and, today, the Islamic Community of Germany. It is now one of the country’s most important Islamic organizations, representing 60 mosques and Islamic centers nationwide.” (Ibid.; p. A13.)

36. “The group also became a cornerstone in a network of organizations that have promoted across Europe the Muslim Brotherhood way of thinking. The Islamic Community of Germany, for example, helped found the U.K.-based Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe, which unites groups close to the Muslim Brotherhood and lobbies the European Union. Mr. Himmat says the mosque has always been open to all Muslims but that the Brotherhood came to dominate it because its members are the most active. ‘If the Muslim Brotherhood considers me one of them, it is an honor for me,’ Mr. Himmat said in the telephone interview. ‘They are nonviolent. They are for interreligious discussion. They are active for freedom.’” (Idem.)

37. “For decades, German authorities paid little attention to the activities in Munich, viewing them as unconnected to German society. They were slow to grasp the warning signs. In 1993, after a car-bomb attack on the World Trade Center in New York killed six and injured 1,000, investigators discovered that one of the organizers was Mahmoud Abouhalima, who had frequented the mosque. He was tried in the U.S. and in 1994 was sentenced to life in prison without parole. German domestic intelligence began to observe the mosque, intelligence officials say, but dropped their efforts after a short while when no links to terrorism appeared.” (Idem.)

38. “The Sept. 11 attacks changed that. Three of the four lead hijackers had studied in Germany, as did another key organizer. As German and U.S. law enforcement searched for clues, some, it is only now becoming apparent, led back to the Munich mosque. Mr. Himmat, it turned out, was one of the founders of Bank al-Taqwa, a Bahamas- based institution whose shareholder list is a who’s who of people associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe. The bank has been identified by investigators in several Western countries as having links to terrorism. Investigators believe the bank helped channel money to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and may have transferred money for al Qaeda operatives.” (Idem.)

39. “In 2001, the U.S. issued a list of ‘designated’ terrorists that included Mr. Himmat and a fellow shareholder, Youssef Nada. The Treasury Department froze their U.S. assets. Last month, Swiss authorities dropped their own investigation, citing lack of evidence. The men’s money, however, remains frozen and the U.S. has indicated that it is continuing its investigation. Messrs. Himmat and Nada deny any involvement in terrorism. A longtime member of the Munich mosque, Mr. Nada said in an interview that he no longer attends it or its board meetings. He said the mosque wasn’t a formal headquarters for the Brotherhood because the group is no longer a formal organization. Now, he says, it has become something different: a matrix of ideas. ‘There is no form you sign,’ Mr. Nada said. ‘We are not an economic and political organization. We are a way of thinking.’” (Idem.)

40. “The U.S. terror-funding investigation was enough to end Mr. Himmat’s career at the Islamic Community of Germany. In 2002, he resigned, he said, because by being put on the terrorism watch list he was no longer able to sign checks for the community, meaning it couldn’t pay its staff. He says the organization is doing well on its own and he doesn’t contemplate returning to it. ‘It is running,’ he said. ‘There is no need.’ In April, German police raided the mosque, claiming that it was involved with money laundering and spreading intolerant material, a crime in Germany. Police carted off computers and files from the offices. That was one of several raids on the center, although none have resulted in charges.” (Idem.)

41. “Mosque officials say the organization’s days as a focal point of political Islam are long over. ‘This center has developed from a center that was important in Germany and internationally to a local institution,’ says Ahmad von Denffer, a leader of the mosque. The Islamic Community of Germany has since moved its operations to Cologne, where its current president resides. Inside the world of political Islam, though, the Islamic Center of Munich remains something special. Some of the ideology’s top leaders have served or spoken there. And the Muslim Brotherhood’s current murshid, or ‘supreme guide,’ Mahdy Akef, headed the center.” (Idem.)

42. “Mr. Akef fondly remembers his time in Munich from 1984 to 1987. A short, friendly man with an elfish smile and big glasses, Mr. Akef says the center is now one of several belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe. During his stay there, he says, visiting statesmen from the Muslim world visited the Munich mosque to pay respects to the world’s most powerful Islamic organization. The mosque was so important that when he was arrested in Egypt in the 1990s on allegations that he had tried to form an Islamic political party, one of the charges against him was that he headed the center.” (Idem.)

43. “The Muslim Brotherhood is still formally banned in Egypt but a tiny office in Cairo is tolerated. Sitting on a sofa under a map of the world with Muslim nations colored green, Mr. Akef says the Brotherhood did indeed spread out from Munich to others cities in Germany and Europe. Mr. Akef is a controversial figure who has spoken sympathetically about suicide bombers in Iraq. But he avoids answering questions about terrorism or fundamentalism. . . .” (Idem.)

Discussion

One comment for “FTR #518 Islamism in Europe”

  1. […] on to what Ian Johnson’s book explores. The source is Spitfire List‘s ‘Islamism in Europe’ and quotes are from Johnson’s brief history for the Wall Street Journal (2005) to the […]

    Posted by How the Muslim Brotherhood expanded in Europe — part 2 | Orphans of Liberty | February 5, 2014, 3:33 pm

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