Germany worried about ‘kindergarten jihadists’
LONDON - German authorities have expressed fears of a wave of jihadism in the country in the next decade from children being radicalised at home.
“The ongoing jihadist radicalisation of children is worrisome and presents a challenge,” the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency said.
Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), warned that children radicalised at home could present a “significant security risk” in the future.
This is not the first time Maassen has warned about the threat posed to German national security by minors. German intelligence said children of volunteers who travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight for the Islamic State (ISIS) presented a security risk if they returned to Germany.
Maassen said there were increasing concerns about children who have never left the country and who are being radicalised by their parents.
“There are signs minors and young adults are more likely to be radicalised and that it’s happening faster and earlier,” he said.
The potential risk posed by minors has been dubbed “kindergarten jihadists” in the German media.
A BfV report provided to newspapers belonging to Germany’s Funke media group stated there were approximately 300 children being raised in Germany by parents who have Islamist extremist beliefs.
Children in some of those families are “educated from birth with an extremist worldview that legitimises violence against others and degrades those who aren’t part of their group,” the report said.
The revelations come as politicians, including some from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, have called to drop the age limit for surveillance to under 14. Germany lowered its age limit for surveillance from 16 to 14 in 2016 but many are saying that this is not young enough.
“This is not about criminalising people under the age of 14 but about warding off significant threats to our country, like Islamic terrorism, which also targets children,” CDU politician Patrick Sensburg said.
Maassen has consistently lobbied for Germany to repeal laws restricting security surveillance of minors, warning that children of Islamist fighters returning to Germany pose a threat.
Maassen said 290 toddlers and children left Germany with their parents or were born in Syria and Iraq to the estimated 1,000 German recruits who joined ISIS.
He acknowledged that, while only a small number had returned to Germany as of January 2018, they still constituted a threat requiring police and intelligence services to be granted expanded surveillance powers.
“We see that children who grew up with ISIS were brainwashed in the schools and the kindergartens of the Islamic State,” he told Reuters in January. “They were confronted early with the ISIS ideology… learnt to fight and were in some cases forced to participate in the abuse of prisoners or even the killing of prisoners.”
“We have to consider that these children could be living time bombs. There is a danger that these children come back brainwashed with a mission to carry out attacks,” he added.
Maassen said ISIS targeted vulnerable young people in Germany through the internet and social media and this was another reason for authorities to expand security surveillance of minors.
Fears of the radicalisation of minors rose after a 12-year-old boy, who had been recruited online by ISIS, was detained when he tried to bomb a Christmas market in Ludwigshafen in 2016.
With the collapse of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, many Western countries are faced with a dilemma regarding child returnees. Germany’s response could prove to be an important test case.