BERLIN (AP) — The number of Islamic extremists in Germany is growing rapidly, the head of the country's domestic intelligence agency said Saturday.
The agency estimates that some 6,300 people in Germany are adherents of an ultraconservative strain of Islam known as Salafism, Hans-Georg Maassen told public broadcaster rbb-Inforadio. In Germany, all Salafis are considered Islamic extremists and on the radar of the security services, though other groups are also monitored if they are determined to be a threat to the state or democratic order.
Maassen said the number of Salafis could rise to 7,000 by the end of the year, compared to about 3,800 three years ago.
Extremist strands of Islam provide disaffected young people with a sense of belonging and purpose that allows them to hope they'll go "from being underdogs to top dogs," he said.
Authorities have spoken of at least 450 Islamic extremists who have traveled from Germany to join extremists groups fighting in Syria and Iraq. German weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung reported Saturday that the actual figure could be far higher.
Citing unnamed security officials the newspaper claimed that German authorities calculate that as many as 1,800 extremists may have left the country to join jihadi groups.
An Interior Ministry official told The Associated Press that 450 remains the number Germany's security agencies are working with, but acknowledged that there was an unknown "dark figure" of people the authorities might not yet be aware of. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly.