Tanzania, Senegal and Now Ethiopia Islam continues to cause problems for Africans
Published November 02, 2012
As midday prayers came to an end at the Grand Anwar mosque in Ethiopia’s capital, worshippers continued on to what has become a regular second act on Fridays — shouting anti-government slogans.
The demonstrations this Friday did not turn violent. But tensions are rising between the government in this mostly Christian country and Muslim worshippers. On Monday, federal prosecutors charged a group of 29 Muslims with terrorism and working to establish an Islamic republic.
Not all encounters between police and the protesters have been peaceful. In July, hundreds were arrested after a scuffle in the mosque that injured many and damaged property, including city buses.
Religious violence outside the capital has killed eight and wounded about a dozen this year in two incidents, including one last month when protesters tried to free jailed Muslim leaders in the Amhara region. Protests first erupted in December after the state, wary of Islamist extremists, wanted to change the leadership of a religious school in the capital.
The government also expelled two Arabs in May after the pair flew in from Middle East and disseminated pamphlets at the Anwar mosque. Two-thirds of Ethiopians are Christians; the rest are Muslims.
Ethiopia’s former leader, Meles Zenawi, before he died in August expressed concern over rising fundamentalism he said was evident by the first discovery of an al-Qaida cell in the country. A federal court is scheduled to rule Monday in the case of 11 people charged with being members of al-Qaida. One Kenyan national has already pleaded guilty.
Protesters also accuse the government of unconstitutionally encouraging a moderate teaching of Islam called Al-Ahbash and dictating the election of community leaders to support it at an Addis Ababa religious school.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, speaking to parliament on Oct. 16, said the government fully respects freedom of religion and “would not interfere in the affairs of religion just as religion would not interfere in matters of politics.” He blamed “extremist elements” for the protests. He said some protesters “tried to activate a hidden political agenda under the pretext of religion.”
On Monday, federal prosecutors charged a group of 29 people, including the jailed activists, with terrorism.
The group, including a wife of a senior Cabinet minister, now faces charges including leading a covert movement to undermine the country’s secular constitution and establish an Islamic republic. Prosecutors say the group incited violence and called for jihad against the federal government.
The minister’s wife, Habiba Mohammed, is charged with coordinating finances for the group. Police say she was caught leaving the Saudi Arabian embassy in Addis Ababa with nearly $3,000. Other suspects are also charged with receiving pay from the embassy “to preach extremism.”
Before the charges were filed, the minister defended his wife, saying he had asked the Saudi ambassador for the money to help construct a mosque their family is building.
Rights groups are concerned about the trial and the use of an anti-terrorism law which they say has been used in past trials to silence dissent, not prosecute terrorists.
“Many of these trials have been politically motivated and marred by serious due process violations. The Ethiopian authorities should allow systematic independent trial monitoring, including by human rights organizations, throughout the trial,” said Laetitia Bader of Human Rights Watch.
One protester on Friday said his group is changing the color used in past protests, yellow, to white to underscore that the jailed leaders are peaceful activists, not terrorists.
German Islamists Target Youth on the Internet
A growing community of German-speaking Islamists has developed on the Internet. Aiming to find new recruits, they glorify jihad and call for attacks on Germany. A new study warns that such online propaganda might foster a new generation of terrorists.
As a rapper, Denis Cuspert was a bit player, but as a propagandist for jihad he is a star in some circles. He has gained considerable prominence since 2010, when he transformed himself from a Berlin hip-hop artist named Deso Dogg into the Islamist Abu Malik.
Today, the ex-rapper is one of the most prominent German-speaking propagandists for jihad on the Internet. A new study by the Berlin-based Foundation for Science and Politics (SWP), which advises the German government, addresses the development of the Islamist scene on the Internet in detail for the first time.
International terrorist groups like al-Qaida recognized the importance of the Internet for recruiting new supporters early on. But it wasn’t until the end of 2005 that the German arm of the “Global Islamic Media Front” (GIMF), which saw itself as the mouthpiece for all jihadists worldwide, emerged.
The German offshoot of GIMF was founded by Mohamed Mahmoud, an Austrian with Egyptian roots. In addition to Cuspert, Mahmoud is still one of the most colorful figures in the German Islamist community. Mahmoud quickly attracted the attention of authorities when he began spreading al-Qaida propaganda on the Internet in 2005.
After GIMF posted a video in March 2007 threatening possible attacks in Germany and Austria, Mahmoud and his wife were arrested. Because he had used his own computer to place the video on the Internet, all Austrian authorities had to do was establish the connection between Mahmoud and the computer’s IP address.
After his release in September of last year, Mahmoud quickly joined his new friend Cuspert in Berlin. Soon thereafter, the two men went to the western German city of Solingen, where Mahmoud transformed the Millatu Ibrahim Mosque into a nationally known meeting place for Salafists.
But the Internet remained far more important than the mosque. Mahmoud, Cuspert and their supporters have set up sophisticated websites. “Especially noteworthy are the high degree of technical professionalism and the targeted use of elements of current youth culture,” the SWP study, published on Wednesday, concludes.
According to the study, shutting down the websites and arresting the people behind them will hardly curb the growing number of Salafists in Germany. On the contrary, Mahmoud only developed into “a star in the scene” as a result of having spent time in prison. After the federal government banned Mahmoud’s Millatu Ibrahim group in June, its website was shut down, but new blogs and sites soon popped up to spread the same messages.
Mahmoud, Cuspert and their cohorts depend on these sites to stay in touch with their supporters in Germany. In the wake of the Millatu Ibrahim ban and growing police pressure on the Salafists following bloody clashes at a rally in Cologne, Mahmoud and Cuspert, together with many other key figures in the German Islamist community, have disappeared and have presumably fled to Egypt.
Cuspert made another Internet appearance in September, with threats of attacks in Germany. “You spend millions and billions for the war against Islam,” he said in a video. “And that’s why this country, the Federal Republic of Germany, is a war zone.”
Taking Inspiration from Others
German authorities are taking the dangers posed by jihadist propaganda on the Internet very seriously, especially after the case of Arid U. The young man from Frankfurt had never had any physical contact with known jihadists, and became radicalized exclusively through the Internet. In March 2011, he killed two US soldiers at Frankfurt Airport. In addition to YouTube videos of alleged and actual crimes committed by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, Anasheed supposedly played an important role in his actions.
U. is the perfect example of a phenomenon called “leaderless jihad.” These militants do not travel to terrorist training camps in Pakistan or Afghanistan, nor do they receive direct instructions from al-Qaida leaders. Instead, they act on their own, inspired by jihadist websites.
For the authorities, this web-based propaganda offers both opportunities and risks. On the one hand, according to the SWP study, “they can trace the networks of sympathizers and even pinpoint some of their physical locations.”
Intelligence services can also take advantage of the anonymity of Internet forums to deliberately plant false information or obtain insider information. But all of this requires a lot of personnel, and for each website that is shut down, a similar one appears before long.
Until now, attacks by “leaderless jihadists” have been relatively minor in comparison to others, because the attackers had not been trained in camps run by militant Islamist movements.
But Guido Steinberg, editor of the SWP study, warns: “We can assume that the jihadists will also draw lessons from attacks like those committed by Anders Breivik in Norway, or by the National Socialist Underground (NSU), and will become more effective in the future.”
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.