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Cops fear clashes as anti-Islam demos grow

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Demonstrators in Dresden on Monday night. Photo: DPA
09:14 CET+01:00
Federal Security Service chief Hans-Georg Maaßen has warned Germany could see confrontations between Salafists and people drawn to right-wing, xenophobic politics.

“We can see a quickly rising number of Salafists and simultaneously a worrying reinforcement of xenophobic activities,” Maaßen said.

Maaßen was speaking in the wake of a demonstration by over 15,000 people under the banner of “People Against the Islamization of the Occident” (Pegida) in Dresden on Monday night, an increase of 5,000 participants on last week's protest.

The increasing numbers also prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel to warn against "agitation and mud-slinging" against foreigners.

The march was attended by the leader of right-wing political party Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Brandenburg Alexander Gauland, despite a call from party spokesman Hans-Olaf Henkel for members to avoid it.Radicalized people returning from battle zones in the Middle East and violent hooligans demonstrating in the streets could easily come to blows, making for a tense situation for the authorities to monitor in 2015.

Maaßen recalled the street battles between police and over 4,000 “Hooligans against Salafists” in late October this year as an example of what could happen when just one of the opposed groups was involved.

But he added that Islamist terrorism was the greatest threat to security in Germany.

“This year's toll of Islamist terrorism is horrifying. Never have so many jihadists left for Iraq and Syria as since the call went out from Islamic State (Isis) in the summer.”

More than 230 Islamists from Germany are believed to have travelled to the warzone in 2014, bringing the total fighting jihad abroad to over 550. Maaßen's men believe 180 of them have returned to Germany. One man was recently sentenced to three years' jail for fighting in Syria.

“They usually go back to their old circles, which use them for recruitment and radicalization of fresh people. And returning fighters with combat experience enjoy high respect in the scene.”

Leaders from across the mainstream political spectrum and immigration and asylum organizations targeted Pegida for harsh criticism on Monday, with Merkel warning people not to be “instrumentalized” by xenophobes.

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Numbers of counter-demonstrators marching for “Dresden for All” and “Dresden Nazi-free” were significantly lower than last week. Police said there were 5,600 at the counter-march compared with 9,000 last week.

Anti-immigrant feeling is on the rise across Europe, with President Hollande of France blasting anti-immigrant sentiment in his own country at the opening of a Museum of Immigration in Paris on Monday.

SEE ALSO: Merkel slams 'mud-slinging' anti-Islam demo

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