Germany confirms Islamic Relief ties to Muslim Brotherhood

Federal government aid payments to British-based charity under official scrutiny

Smoke billows into the sky after reported air strikes on a prison on the western outskirts of the Syrian city of Idlib, inside the jihadist-held bastion of the same name, on March 13, 2019.  / AFP / OMAR HAJ KADOUR
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German officials have accused Islamic Relief Worldwide of “significant” connections to the underground Muslim Brotherhood, triggering concerns among politicians over the diversion of official funds to Islamists.

A submission to the Bundesrat revealed that the powerful Federal Court of Audit was examining official grants to Islamic Relief, which was founded in Birmingham, UK, that totalled €6.1 million in the years to 2016. The response said Islamic Relief was connected to Muslim Brotherhood groups not only in Europe but around the world.

Liberal MP Oliver Luksic said the answer was deeply alarming. "It is a scandal that German taxpayers' money is going to go to Islamists," he said.

The centrist party has called on the German government to address the issue as an “urgent problem” and said its refusal to accept concerns expressed by parliament was a matter of deep concern.

Most of the German funding provided to Islamic Relief was designated for projects in Syria, the statement added.

The United Arab Emirates designated Islamic Relief Worldwide as a terrorist organisation in 2014 over its global links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Meanwhile concerns over the provenance of funds led global banking giant HSBC to shut down Islamic Relief’s accounts as had the Swiss banking corporation UBS four years earlier.

The announcement of a German review into official funding of Brotherhood-related groups comes amid growing concern over the spreading influence of the group in the country. The most recent published intelligence assessment said that there were an estimated 1,040 Brotherhood activists active in the country. It further said the group exerted active control over 50 mosques or Islamic centres.

Following concerns about the group’s underground influence at centres in Bonn, Colletta Manemann, Germany’s Integration Commissioner, warned that mosque-goers were targeted by the group. “To our knowledge, the Brotherhood is more in the focus of the security agencies than ever before,” she said. “We welcome that.”

Islamic Relief Worldwide rejected the claims and said it was seeking clarification from the authorities.

“Allegations surfacing in the German media claiming that Islamic Relief Worldwide has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood are damaging, defamatory and false," it said. "Islamic Relief is a purely humanitarian organisation, which categorically has no ties to any political group.

“To ensure no abuse of the organisation of any kind occurs, Islamic Relief employs comprehensive control mechanisms – including screening all staff, trustees and volunteers and ensuring that financial transfers require multiple approvals – that preclude any individual from making use of IRW’s projects and/or funds for extraneous purposes. These control mechanisms have been applauded in independent audit reports.

“Our independent affiliate office in Germany is in contact with the local authorities to seek clarifications on this urgent matter.”

On its website, the group sets out its history of working with governments since it was founded in Britain by Egyptian Hany El Banna. It became the first specialist Muslim charity to gain British government funding for projects in Africa in 1994.

It signed a framework partnership with the EU in 2002 and became a member of the UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) which distributes funds from nationwide appeals in 2005. In Britain alone its annual Ramadan campaign raises more than £10 million annually.

Political concerns in German over the Brotherhood have led warnings that groups Islamic Community of Germany, known by the initials IGD, actively seeks to be the government’s recognised partner in dealing with Muslim-focussed issues of policy and community relations.

The official intelligence report stated as much in 2018 and said members went to actively concealed their ideological beliefs. “The goal of the IGD is to be the recognised contact point in Germany for established Islam,” it said. “It therefore pursues a Muslim Brotherhood ideology-oriented strategy of influence in the political and social sphere.

“At public appearances, confessions to the Muslim Brotherhood and any anti-constitutional statements are avoided. Nevertheless, the activities of the IGD centres are rooted in the ideological orientation of the Muslim Brotherhood, including negative attitudes towards Western values and an antipathy to democracy.”

Volker Beck, a Green Party politician, said the Brotherhood had built up ties with the main Islamic body for German Turks, using a conference organised in Cologne late last year as a platform for pan-European ambitions. “At the conference at the Islamic centre in Cologne there was the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said. “This event is quite interesting and a bit terrifying. They are not anymore trying to organise the Muslims in Germany but on a European level.”