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4th Jul 2020

Germany criticizes Saudi Arabia for funding radical mosques

  • Mosque in Parc du Cinquantenaire, Brussels says IS recruiters have no access (Photo: Stephane Mignon)

German vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel urged Saudi Arabia on Sunday (7 December) to stop supporting religious radicals, amid growing fear it is funding militant mosques across Europe.

“We need Saudi Arabia to solve the regional conflicts,” Sigmar Gabriel, the head of the Social Democrats (SPD), who are part of a coalition with the conservative chancellor Angela Merkel, told Bild am Sonntag newspaper in an interview.

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“But we must at the same time make clear that the time to look away is past. Wahhabi mosques are financed all over the world by Saudi Arabia. In Germany, many dangerous Islamists come from these communities," he said.

Gabriel’s criticism, though not the first, is a rare rebuke from a Western politician directed at Riyadh, the world’s biggest oil exporter.

In a statement, the Saudi Arabian embassy in Berlin said the Kingdom was interested in countering radicalisation of young people.

“Like Germany, we are part of the anti-Islamic State coalition and fighting side by side against terror,” it said.

Saudis have cracked down on jihadists at home and cut militant finance streams, but have continued to finance imams and mosques, in the EU and in the Western Balkans, which are sympathetic to an ultra-conservative form of Islam - Wahhabism.

Islamic State (IS) and al Qaeda follow the extreme interpretation of the Salafi branch of Islam, of which Wahhabism was the original strain.

For his part, Jamal Saleh Momenah, the Saudi director of the Parc du Cinquantenaire mosque, the largest in Brussels, recently told EUobserver that: “Nobody like this [an IS recuiter] can come here. I wouldn’t allow them to come to this place and they understand my way.”

But in Germany, authorities are worried about growing support for radical Islam in its Muslim community.

German intelligence says the number of Salafists in the country has risen to 7,900, up from 5,500 just two years ago, Reuters reports.

This is not the first time Gabriel publicly voiced criticism of the Saudis.

During a trip in March to Saudi Arabia, he criticized the Gulf country over its sentencing of blogger Raif Badawi to 1,000 lashes.

With Germany, last Friday, opting to join the international coalition fighting IS in Syria, there is growing concern about possible jihadi attacks on German soil.

Foreign policy

Last Wednesday, Germany’s foreign intelligence service issued a warning about Saudi Arabia's destabilizing role, saying the new king, Salman bin Abdulaziz, who assumed the throne in January, and his son, who is second in line for the throne, Mohammed bin Salman, and who is also defence minister, want to make their mark among Arab leaders.

It indicated that Saudi foreign policy is becoming more “impulsive”.

Saudi Arabia’s more assertive foreign policy, the German Intelligence Service, the BND said in a public report, was highlighted by a bombing campaign in Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi rebels, which started in March.

German intelligence also voiced concern on Saudi Arabia's role in Bahrain, Lebanon, and Iraq.

The Saudis have been irked by the nuclear deal between Iran, another regional heavyweight, and the US and five nations in July, which eases sanctions on Iran, in exchange for limiting its nuclear programme.

Riyadh is worried that a strengthened Iran could undermine Saudi interests in the region.

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