BERLIN (AP) — The German government announced Tuesday it had banned an Islamic group, "The true religion," which is suspected of targeting teenagers to radicalize to fight in Syria and Iraq. At the same time, police raided about 190 offices, storehouses, mosques and apartments of members and supporters.
In searches in 60 cities in western Germany and in Berlin, police seized documents, hard drives, smartphones and weapons, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said. Nobody was detained.
The group — also known as "Read!" — has been distributing German-language copies of the Quran across the country. The interior minister said that more than 140 youths had traveled to Syria and Iraq to join fighters there after having participated in the group's campaigns in Germany.
"The translations of the Quran are being distributed along with messages of hatred and unconstitutional ideologies," de Maiziere told reporters in Berlin. "Teenagers are being radicalized with conspiracy theories."
Young men in long robes and bushy beards handing out German copies of the Quran has been a common sight in downtown and shopping areas across Germany for several years.
Security officials said that the group had about 500 members. In a warehouse near the western city of Cologne, authorities seized about 21,000 German-language copies of the Quran.
The ban came a week after security authorities arrested five men who allegedly aided the Islamic State group in Germany by recruiting members and providing financial and logistical help.
The German interior minister stressed that the ban does not restrict the freedom of religion in Germany or the peaceful practice of Islam in any way. However, he said the group had glorified terrorism and the fight against the German constitution in videos and meetings.
"We don't want terrorism in Germany ... and we don't want to export terrorism," de Maiziere said adding that the ban was also a measure to help protect peaceful Islam in the country.
Some 850 people are believed to have traveled from Germany to Syria and Iraq to join extremist groups like the Islamic State as fighters. All in all, security officials say that there are about 9,200 so-called Salafists in Germany who practice an ultra-conservative form of Islam that can also turn violent.
The head of "The true religion" group, 52-year-old Palestinian-born Ibrahim Abou-Nagie, is currently in Malaysia, the German news agency dpa reported. He has in the past repeatedly preached against "infidels" at mass events in Germany and on videos and social media.