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Pro-ISIS Salafists Are Robbing German Churches

Interior of a church in Germany
Interior of a church in Germany
Florian Flade and Kristian Frigelj

MUNICH — It began nearly a year ago, on the weekend after Christmas. On Saturday night, unidentified individuals broke into a church in the Cologne district of Porz-Urbach. They broke open the safe in the sacristy and got hold of the key to the church. They ended up stealing money from the collection boxes, liturgical vessels, bowls and a monstrance. They weren’t able to get their hands on the Christmas collect because it had already been removed from the church.

In the following months, numerous churches in the greater Cologne area were broken into. Sometimes the thieves stole money and all manner of valuable objects in broad daylight. The police investigated and clues pointed to the possible involvement of Salafists who intended to use valuable holy objects from the churches to financially support jihad in Iraq and Syria. The suspicion was later confirmed by undercover investigations.

On Wednesday morning, the state prosecutor in Cologne and the federal public prosecutor’s office in Karlsruhe gave the signal: more than 240 officials mainly in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, but also in Lower Saxony and Bavaria began a spectacular raid.

In the North Rhine-Westphalia cities of Cologne, Siegen, Bergisch-Gladbach, Kreuztal and Netphen, they arrested a total of nine suspects, eight Germans: Mustapha A., 25, Kais B. O., 31, Lazhar B. O., 22, Sofien B. O., 35, Omar B. O., 25, Anoaur J., 25, Ali Ö., 23, and Usman A., 29, as well as a Pakistani citizen, Mirza Tamoor B., 58. The apartments of a further 20 persons on the Salafist scene were searched.

Burkhard Freier speaks of a "swamp" that investigators and the police "drained."

"It’s not the only swamp, but it’s a big one," says the head of North Rhine-Westphalia intelligence. It was a "successful day."

Capturing the "commuters'

For about a year and a half the state prosecution’s "Reise" investigating group working in tandem with the federal prosecution in Karlsruhe has had 44 people on their radar, all of whom are "Salafist extremists" according to Freier. They are known to both national intelligence and police and some of them are already on the wrong side of the law. The 44 persons of interest are mainly German citizens. "The arrests and searches show that security officials are on the ball and are using all legal means to fight extremist Salafists," said North Rhine-Westphalia’s Minister of the Interior Ralf Jäger.

The federal prosecution in Karlsruhe was involved in the strike against the Salafists, and for its part issued two arrest warrants. The authorities are accusing Kais B. O. and Mirza Tamoor B. of supporting terrorist organizations – the ISIS, Ahrar al-Sham and Junud al-Sham – and of having recruited for the ISIS in Germany.

Mirza Tamoor B. allegedly turned over to ISIS and Ahrar al-Sham a total of 3200 euros and a transport vehicle. Investigators are working on the assumption that Kais B. O. recruited at least three men from Germany for terrorist jihad in Syria.

According the North Rhine Westphalia intelligence chief, approximately one-third of these persons of interest are so-called commuters who travel between Germany and the war zones bringing goods and money. The suspects didn’t only break into churches and schools. They also raise money supposedly for humanitarian causes directly from clueless German citizens.

At monthly charity benefits that draw hundreds they raise sums up to six figures, says intelligence boss Freier. "We have to assume they’ve collected hundreds of thousands of euros and sent them on, he says.

In North Rhine Westphalia alone intelligence knows of some 40 extreme Salafist scenes, small groups that work in secret and are under observation. They are known as "loose networks." A soon as members start doing anything more than proselytizing and there is the danger that they will commit criminal acts then the observation goes undercover.

The most difficult thing is identifying individuals who get radicalized outside the framework of these groups, says Freier. "At the moment we don’t have any concrete indications that an attack is planned in Germany, but we need to stay on the alert because ever more men are joining the Salafist scene," he adds.

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My Wife, My Boyfriend — And Grandkids: A Careful Coming Out For China's Gay Seniors

A series of interviews in Wuhan with aging gay men — all currently or formerly married to women — reveals a hidden story of how Chinese LGBTQ culture is gradually emerging from the shadows.

Image of two senior men playing chinese Checkers.

A friendly game of Checkers in Dongcheng, Beijing, China.

Wang Er

WUHAN — " What do you think of that guy sitting there, across from us? He's good looking."

" Then you should go and talk to him."

“ Too bad that I am old..."

Grandpa Shen was born in 1933. He says that for the past 40 years, he's been "repackaged," a Chinese expression for having come out as gay. Before his wife died when he was 50, Grandpa Shen says he was was a "standard" straight Chinese man. After serving in the army, he began working in a factory, and dated many women and evenutually got married.

"Becoming gay is nothing special, I found it very natural." Grandpa Shen says he discovered his homosexuality at the Martyrs' Square in Wuhan, a well-known gay men's gathering place.

✉️ You can receive our LGBTQ+ International roundup every week directly in your inbox. Subscribe here.

Wuhan used to have different such ways for LGBTQ+ to meet: newspaper columns, riversides, public toilets, bridges and baths to name but a few. With urbanization, many of these locations have disappeared. The transformation of Martyrs' Square into a park has gradually become a place frequented by middle-aged and older gay people in Wuhan, where they play cards and chat and make friends. There are also "comrades" (Chinese slang for gay) from outside the city who come to visit.

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