Germany slams Saudi Arabia over Islamist funding

German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel delivering a speech during a session of the German Bundestag (lower house of parliament) on Nov 26, 2015.
German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel delivering a speech during a session of the German Bundestag (lower house of parliament) on Nov 26, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN • German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has urged Saudi Arabia to stop supporting religious radicals, amid growing concern among some lawmakers in Berlin about the funding of mosques fostering extremist ideology by the world's biggest oil exporter.

"We need Saudi Arabia to solve the regional conflicts," Mr Gabriel, who is Chancellor Angela Merkel's deputy in a left-right coalition, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday, in an unusual criticism of the Gulf state.

"Wahhabi mosques are financed all over the world by Saudi Arabia. In Germany, many dangerous Islamists come from these communities."

Added Mr Gabriel, who is head of the centre-left Social Democrats and also economy minister: "At the same time, we must make it clear to the Saudis that the time of looking the other way is over."

Saudi Arabia follows the ultra-conservative Wahhabi form of Islam, and some outsiders see it as a cause of the international terror threat.

Some terror groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, follow an extreme interpretation of the Salafi branch of Islam, of which Wahhabism was the original strain.

In a statement, the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Berlin said the kingdom was interested in countering the radicalisation of young people and referred to a previous statement in which it denied wanting to build 200 mosques in Germany.

"Like Germany, we are part of the anti-Islamic State (ISIS) coalition and fighting side by side against terror," it said.

Germany is worried about growing support for Salafism.

Its domestic intelligence agency says the number of Salafists has risen to 7,900, up from 5,500 just two years ago.

Another senior Social Democrat, Mr Thomas Oppermann, also homed in on Saudi Arabia, saying Wahhabism offered an ideology for ISIS insurgents and contributed to the radicalisation of moderates.

"We will prevent Saudi help in the building or financing of mosques in Germany where Wahhabi ideas are to be disseminated," he told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

Wahhabism "contributes in other countries to a radicalisation of moderate Muslims", he said, adding that "this is something we don't need and don't want in Germany".

The Social Democrat leaders' comments were published days after the release last week of a damning report on Saudi Arabia by German foreign intelligence service, the BND.

The report accused Saudi Arabia of an increasingly "impulsive" foreign policy with the goal of becoming the "leaders of the Arab world".

Berlin last Friday rebuked the BND agency for making such suggestions about Saudi Arabia and called Riyadh a key partner in regional conflict resolution.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2015, with the headline 'Germany slams Saudi Arabia over Islamist funding'. Print Edition | Subscribe