By Elisa Oddone
BERLIN, May 9 - Germany is considering a legal ban on ultra-conservative Salafist Muslim groups, its interior minister said on Wednesday after violent clashes with the police, one of which was provoked by German ultra-rightists.
Last weekend, Salafists turned on police protecting far-right anti-Islam protesters during a regional election rally in the western German city of Bonn, injuring 29 officers, two of them seriously. Police arrested 109 people.
The far-right protesters had infuriated the Salafists by waving banners showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.
There have been similar clashes in other German towns in the past week, including in Cologne, where around 1,000 police were mobilized on Tuesday to keep Salafists and far-right activists far apart.
"We will use all the possibilities at the disposal of a constitutional state to oppose them (violent Salafists) wherever they fight against... our constitutional order," Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told n-tv television.
"Germany will not allow anybody to impose religious wars on us, neither radical Salafists nor far-right parties such as the Pro NRW," he said, referring to the ultra-nationalist that clashed with the Salafists in Bonn.
An interior ministry spokesman confirmed to Reuters that the government was examining the possibility of a ban on Salafist groups. "However, there is nothing official yet," he added.
Friedrich said Germany was home to some 4,000 Salafists, not all of whom were violent.
"Without question the Salafists are ideologically close to al Qaeda," the minister told the Rheinische Post in a separate interview. "They have the clear political goal to destroy our liberal democracy. We will not allow them to do that."
Germany is home to around four million Muslims, about half of whom have German citizenship. Many came from Turkey as "guest workers" in the 1960s and 1970s and contributed to Germany's economic growth. Germany's total population is 82 million.
Salafists, whose roots are in Saudi Arabia, recently stirred unease with a campaign to hand out free copies of the Koran around the country, prompting conservative lawmaker Volker Kauder, a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, to say Islam was not "part of our tradition and identity in Germany".
Security experts have warned that German language Islamist propaganda is fuelling militancy among a small number of socially alienated Muslim youths in Germany.
But despite the prominence of Germany in the saga of al Qaeda due to Hamburg's role as a base for three of the September 11 suicide airline hijackers, its indigenous militant scene is much smaller than that in Britain or France, the experts say.
The recent Salafist clashes have become an issue in campaigning for Sunday's election in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany's most populous state, which the main opposition centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) are expected to win.
Regional SPD leader Hannelore Kraft has vowed "zero tolerance" towards both the Salafists and the Pro NRW activists.
(Editing by Gareth Jones and Mark Heinrich)