Around 70 Safalist Muslims showed up outside a mosque in Solingen, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), where the anti-Islam grouping “Pro NRW” had set up a stand showing cartoons of Mohammed. Some were copies of the Danish cartoons which sparked global outrage in 2005.
Police made 44 arrests and confiscated a bag of rocks from a protester at the apparently unplanned protest, local paper the Rheinische Post reported on Wednesday.
Prosecutors have since opened a probe on suspicion of grievous bodily harm and
disturbing the peace, a police spokesperson said.
On Monday a state court lifted a previous ban on the “Pro NRW” group using Mohammed caricatures in their election campaign in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) – despite criticism that the idea was pure provocation, and amid fears of violence.
And while there were protests in a few of NRW towns, the city of Solingen was the most eventful, with Salafists draped in flags bearing Arabic script and chanting pro-Islam messages.
Police said the demonstrators were peaceful until some tried to break through the chain of officers encircling the group, outside of the town hall. Things escalated and stones were thrown at police, injuring three officers and one passerby.
A further 37 people were arrested after police searched the city’s main Salafist mosque shortly after the incident, bringing the total to 81. All have since been released.
The “Pro NRW” party had displayed anti-Islamic caricatures of Mohammed by Danish artist Knut Westergaard in Essen and Gelsenkirchen before the ban, though the police prevented demonstrations taking place directly outside mosques.
The party intends to send activists to 25 mosques throughout the state in the run-up to the North Rhine-Westphalia election on May 13, staging protests in Cologne, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Aachen, Wuppertal and Solingen.
Interior Minister for the state Ralf Jäger spoke out about Tuesday’s unrest, calling for vigilance towards extremism of any sort, whether Salafist or right-wing.
Meanwhile, the creator of the cartoons Westergaard has tried to distance himself from “Pro NRW”, saying he supports freedom of speech and is in no way politically affiliated with the group.