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East, West Radicals Find Unsettling Bond

January 03, 2003|Jeffrey Fleishman | Times Staff Writer

BERLIN -- They are unlikely allies, but right-wing extremists and Islamic militants share a hatred for Israel and the United States that has drawn the attention of German authorities.

Since 2001, when Islamic extremists and neo-Nazis cheered the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., the two camps have echoed one another's abhorrence of what they view as a world controlled by Jews and enforced by Washington's military power. There are no links suggesting that right-wing and Islamic groups are collaborating on terrorism-related strategies, but law enforcement officials are concerned over the growing, and sometimes surreal, attraction between the two.

"The common ground they share is deep on two issues," said one Western diplomat. "They cannot tolerate the existence of Israel, and they share a conspiracy theory that the U.S. wants to control the Middle East and the world's energy supply. It's a very paranoid world view, but they share it deeply."

Though extremists in both camps have been eyeing each other for decades, many are skeptical that such an alliance can advance very far, given broad religious and philosophical differences and the strong racism among right-wing extremists. Neo-Nazis and skinheads historically have attacked immigrant Muslims and other foreigners for spoiling their dream of a pure German state. The street-level thugs of the right wing, according to some officials, will not easily abandon anti-foreigner sentiments in favor of joining Islamists in a campaign of violence against the U.S. and Israel.

"Right-wing extremists are so xenophobic that we can't imagine a deep structural connection between these groups," said Isabelle Kalbitzer, a spokeswoman for Berlin's Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which prosecutes offenses against the state. "But we are keeping a close eye on this."

Although neo-Nazi shock troops may not be embracing their Islamic counterparts, right-wing leaders and ideologues have come to admire the tenacity of Muslim militants. This was heightened after the Sept. 11 attacks, when right-wing extremists were awed by the Al Qaeda network's dedication and patient planning in striking the icons of American capitalism and military prowess.

"Islamic militants are strange heroes for the right wing," said Herbert Mueller, a government analyst of political extremism in Baden-Wuerttemberg state. "The right wing detests Islam, but that kind of commitment shows what they are lacking."

Udo Voigt, chairman of Germany's main far-right political force, the National Democratic Party, surprised the mostly Muslim audience in a university lecture hall late last year when he attended a speech by Shakir Aasim, a representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic organization branded dangerous by German authorities. Voigt also supports Ahmed Huber, a Swiss far-right leader who espouses closer ties with Muslim radicals and is under investigation by U.S. authorities for possible financial links to Al Qaeda.

In what was interpreted as a gesture of goodwill, Voigt was quoted by German television as telling the university crowd, "I think I speak in the name of all German nationalists when I say, if it comes to a great clash [between civilizations], we will not stand at the side of America."

Aasim said he was unaware Voigt was in attendance. "I was astonished," he said. "I didn't know who he was until someone told me." Aasim, whose group is being investigated by Germany for alleged ties to terrorist networks, said he doubts right-wing and Islamic movements will merge, adding, "We have very different ideas."

But there is evidence of attraction between the radical views of East and West. Islamic fashion has even added a dash of color to the drab skinhead uniform of high boots and jeans. Neo-Nazis have been appearing at German rallies wearing Palestinian scarves and calling for worldwide intifada.

And last summer, members of the far-right fringe group Fighting Union of German Socialists attended a ceremony at the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin to receive an award from Saddam Hussein's regime. "For us," a member of the group, Tomas Behl, was quoted as saying, "Iraq is of special importance because in Saddam Hussein there is a person who reminds us of our leader, Adolf Hitler, who is standing up against superpower America and who is not willing to bend his knees."

Groups such as the Fighting Union of German Socialists are considered absurd by law enforcement and intelligence officials. But more mainstream right-wing leaders, such as Austria's Joerg Haider, the unofficial head of the Freedom Party, have made overtures to the radical Arab world. Haider visited Libya and Iraq several times in recent years. One of the most troubling figures on the far right is Huber, a Swiss businessman who travels throughout Europe and the U.S. promoting his radical views.

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