Germany Bans Domestic Hizballah Activities

Congregants pray at al-Mustafa Gemeinschaft, in Bremen, Germany, in 2015. (Source: al-Mustafa Gemeinschaft website)

By Claire Galasso and Samuel Rubenfeld

Friday, May 1, 2020

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer on Thursday announced the ban of all domestic activities by Hizballah, the Lebanese Shia militia group backed by Iran.

Under the order imposing the ban, Germany prohibited the use of Hizballah symbols in a public setting or in material distributed in print, audio or visual media. In addition, Hizballah’s assets under German jurisdiction are to be confiscated and forfeited to the German government. 

“The activities of [Hizballah] violate criminal law and the organization opposes the concept of international understanding,” the ministry said in a statement.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi condemned the German move, saying “certain countries in Europe are adopting stances without considering the realities” in the region, according to a Reuters report citing state media.

The German parliament had passed a resolution in December calling for the ban. Hizballah openly advocates for the violent elimination of Israel, and it questions the right of the state of Israel to exist, the German ministry noted. Because Hizballah is a foreign group, it’s impossible to disband the organization itself, the German ministry said.

In addition to the domestic activity ban, German authorities on Thursday raided four religious centers: al-Irschad e.V. in Berlin; Imam Mahdi Zentrum in Munster; Gemeinschaft Libanesischer Emigranten e.V. in Dortmund; and al-Mustafa Gemeinschaft e.V. in Bremen. The private residences of the leaders of each center were also searched, the ministry said. 

The local associations “are suspected of forming part of Hizballah” through their financial support and propaganda on behalf of the organization, the Interior Ministry said. A march planned for May 16 in Berlin was canceled, German media reported Friday.

Over the past decade, German authorities have reported that Hizballah uses the country as a hub for financing. A 2017 German Interior Ministry report found that nearly 1,000 “members and adherents” of Hizballah were in the country. In 2014, German officials closed the Waisenkinderprojekts Libanon e.V. (Lebanon Orphan Children Project) for raising funds for the Martyrs Foundation - Lebanon, sanctioned by the U.S. in 2007 for its facilitation of Hizballah. 

Al-Mustafa Gemeinschaft, one of the four organizations raided Thursday in conjunction with the Hizballah ban, supported Hizballah financially through donations with the Lebanon Orphan Children Project, German intelligence reported in 2017.

Al-Irschad e.V. maintains a scouts unit for youths, and three other entities are co-located at the organization’s address. The organization also recently conducted a fundraising campaign to send and distribute food packages (EUR 25 each) in Lebanon as part of relief efforts in the country related to challenges stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. The campaign maintains an account at a German financial institution. (A Lebanese minister told CNN this week that three-quarters of the country’s population, already reeling from an economic crisis, is in need of aid as a result of the coronavirus, which is also known as COVID-19.)

Libanons Echo in Deutschland, a German entity that shares a phone number with Al-Irschad e.V., coordinated a 2020 Ramadan lecture series in partnership with 13 Germany-based organizations, including al-Irschad e.V., al-Mustafa Gemeinschaft and Imam Mahdi Zentrum. The lecture series includes speakers from Germany and Lebanon.

One of the Lebanese speakers was Shafiq Jradi, identified by a pro-Hizballah Lebanese media outlet as a “supporter” of the group. Jradi is also the director of al-Maaref al-Hekmiya, a Lebanese religious organization that has hosted Hizballah Secretary-General Hasan Nasrallah for speeches over the previous decade.

Hizballah was designated in 1997 by the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO); it has political, military and social components. Hizballah wields significant influence in Lebanese politics, having used its power in parliament to name the country’s prime minister. The military wing of Hizballah is sanctioned by the European Union. In January, the U.K. expanded its terrorism designation of Hizballah to cover the entire organization.

Israel and the U.S. had urged Germany to ban Hizballah outright. 

“This is a very important decision and a valuable and significant step in the global fight against terrorism,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commended Berlin for the move, saying Germany had joined the “growing ranks of nations” that reject any distinction between Hizballah’s terrorist operations and its political wing. 

Supporters of groups aligned with Hizballah also engage in fundraising activities in Germany. 

The Turkey-based Kawthar International Humanitarian Aid Association (Kawthar Association) maintains a branch in Germany, Internationaler Hilfsverein Kawsar, that solicits donations from individuals based in Europe through an account at a Germany-based financial institution. 

Established in 2018, the Kawthar Association has been promoted in Turkish-language Iranian media. The association’s leadership in January 2019  visited the Iranian headquarters of the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, a group the U.S. Treasury Department described as a Hizballah social service organization. (Its Lebanon branch was sanctioned in 2010 for supporting Hizballah.) As of August 2019, the Kawthar Association has provided financing for relief projects implemented by the Sana’a, Yemen-based Wounded Foundation, an entity that received financing from the office of Abdulmalik al-Houthi, the U.N.-sanctioned leader of the Houthi rebels.

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