Boris Rhein, the interior minister of the western German state of Hesse, is alarmed by the growing number of German jihadists making their way to Syria to take up arms in the civil war currently raging there. Authorities across Germany are reporting increases month on month of young Muslim men who want to fight on the side of the radical jihadists against the regime of Bashar Assad. Some 230 such departures have so far been logged by police and intelligence agencies.
What was once an absurd jihad trip undertaken sporadically by radicalized Salafists has now become a regular exercise, according to the gloomy analysis of the authorities.
Particularly worrisome according to Rhein is the new trend of targeting young men at colleges. A scientific study commissioned by the state Interior Ministry in Hesse found that "the Salafist recruiters have systematically started to target students," the minister said. For the study, experts analyzed 23 cases of Salafists traveling abroad and found that nine of those from Hesse were still students. Similarly, the researchers found that most of the departees were under 25 years old, and all were born in Germany.
Improved Guidance and More Effective Education
Rhein is hoping the disturbing figures will give his colleagues from interior ministries in other German states a serious jolt. At their conference in Osnabrück, which starts on Wednesday, he will not only present the study but also a new idea for preventing such would-be Jihadists from traveling in the first place. He wants to rapidly build a nationwide network of telephone hotlines and counseling centers to enable concerned parents or friends to report radicalized young people. Such tips could help stop very young radicals in particular before they leave Germany.
The idea for a jihadist early warning system is similar to existing prevention projects for the far-right scene. According to Rhein, people close to the young radicals are often quick to recognize their extremist sentiment, but rarely report it to the authorities because they simply don't know who to contact. With improved communication with concerned relatives and friends and more effective education in universities and colleges, the authorities hope to prevent at least some young people from joining the war in Syria.
One of the reasons that Jihad tourism is on the rise is the simple fact that traveling to Syria is far simpler than trying to reach other radical hotspots -- for example, the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. German extremists don't need a visa to enter Turkey, from where the border with northern Syria is in easy reach.
Only recently, the case of 26-year-old Burak Karan made headlines in Germany. Karan had once been a promising soccer player from North-Rhine Westphalia, had played for Germany at Under-16 and Under-17 level and once counted current stars like Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sami Khedira among his team mates. Karan died on the front in Syria in October.