In the annual reports of the Regional Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Hamburg, or the local branch of the German counterintelligence, suspicious activities in the circle of the Hamburg Islamic Center were first written about in the first half of the 1990s. In recent years, the institution has been publicly labeled as extremist and controlled by the Iranian Islamist regime. In June this year, the administrative court also sanctified this definition.
Already in the past there have been voices calling for the authorities to close the center. However, they have not yet been heard. Only now, in the tense atmosphere following the bloody attacks by the Palestinian Hamas movement’s commandos in Israel and the retaliatory strikes of the Jewish state in the Gaza Strip, is the center really starting to close down.
On Wednesday evening, coalition Hamburg politicians from the Social Democracy (SPD) and the Greens together with the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) and liberals (FDP) called for the center to be closed.
“We do not want to put up with the fact that certain actors in our city are creating a breeding ground for hatred of Israel,” said Jennifer Jasberg, head of the Green faction in the Hamburg parliament.
CDU representative Dennis Thering recalled that anti-Semitic slogans were heard at pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Germany in recent days.
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“Whoever supports violence, hatred and harassment against Jews does not share the foundations of our democratic values,” added Dirk Kienscherf, head of the Social Democratic faction.
The appeals of Hamburg politicians are directed to the federal government in Berlin. Although the northern German port city has the status of a federal state, the closure of the Islamic Center must first be decided by the Republic’s Ministry of the Interior. After all, it has been reviewing the center’s activities since last year, when it received an initiative from members of the Federal Assembly.
The Islamic Center is located in the grounds of the Imam Ali Mosque, which was built by Iranian businessmen in the first half of the 1960s among luxurious villas near Hamburg’s artificial Außenalster lake – as a spiritual retreat for Muslim Shiites. After the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 and the establishment of a government of religious leaders, the Hamburg center became the European base of the Iranian regime.
The position of head of the Islamic Center is traditionally held by his loyal followers. As of 2018, the center is headed by Mohammad Hadi Mofatteh Leiter, formerly a longtime executive in Iran’s state media whose family has strong ties to the state-religious elite in Tehran.
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The importance of the center goes beyond not only the city of Hamburg, but also the whole of Germany.
“The Islamic Center is one of the most important centers of its kind in Europe, as a central religious contact point it is used by Shia Muslims from various nations – in addition to Iranians, mainly Afghans, Arabs, Lebanese, Pakistanis and Turks, as well as German converts,” described the Hamburg Land Institute for the Protection of the Constitution in the annual report for last year.
There are regular prayer events and religious celebrations in the mosque. The center also offers various courses such as Islamic religious education for children and lessons in Arabic, Persian and German. At the same time, representatives of the center appear much more moderate in public than, for example, Salafists, fundamentalists from the Sunni branch of Islam, German counterintelligence points out.
The problem is that the center is far from being limited purely to religion. In recent years, for example, it has co-organized the anti-Israel demonstrations Al-Quds, named after the Arabic name for Jerusalem.
Last year, it was revealed that the deputy head of the center, Seyed Soliman Mousavifar, was expelled from Germany due to demonstrable close ties to associations that raised money for the terrorist organization Hezbollah. He tried to overturn the decision in the courts for several months but was unsuccessful and finally returned to Iran in November 2022.
In September 2022, Greens co-chair Omid Nouripour, who was born in Tehran, called the center the most important nest of Iranian espionage in Germany. Nevertheless, Hamburg politicians turned a blind eye to the center’s activities for many years. They even actively collaborated with him.
In 2012, when Hamburg’s current Chancellor Olaf Scholz was mayor, the city signed an agreement that addressed, among other things, the joint teaching of religion. It should be noted that the contract was already negotiated by the previous management of the town hall under the baton of the Christian Democrats. The other contracting party was the Schura Council of Muslim Communities, of which the Islamic Center of Hamburg was also a member until last year.
The center withdrew from the umbrella organization on its own, but under increasing public pressure and due to growing fears that Hamburg would no longer extend the mentioned contract with Muslim representatives.