A group of radical Islamists have formed a vigilante squad, wearing homemade vests marked “shariah police” as they try to deter young Muslims from drinking and vice in a German industrial city.
The radicals have distributed leaflets describing the sleazy nightlife area they monitor near the main railway station of Wuppertal – a city of 340,000 – as a “Shariah Controlled Zone.”
They wore fluorescent orange traffic-safety vests marked “shariah police” in English on the back.
The Wuppertal radicals, who have won some converts among young ethnic Germans and have exasperated authorities with previous publicity gambits, are followers of Salafism, a puritanical stream of Islam.
Police took the names of 11 men aged 19 to 33 on Wednesday night and are investigating them on possible charges of illegal assembly. Wuppertal citizens were urged to phone police if the vigilante patrol was sighted again.
Germany disapproves of all citizen-watch schemes, but police admit it would be difficult to get the vigilantes off the street until someone complains at being accosted or insulted.
Birgitta Radermacher, the city’s chief of police, said only official police in the service of the state were allowed to behave as police in Germany.
“Intimidation or provocation won’t be tolerated,” she warned.
Leaflets handed out by the self-styled guardians urged citizens of the city to refrain from alcohol, drugs, gambling, attending concerts, watching pornography or visiting prostitutes.
The group issued a YouTube video publicizing their activities. Regional newspapers said Facebook had deleted a group calling itself “Sharia Police Germany.”
The seven-minute video shows the men walking up to youths, saying, “How are you?” and urging them to visit the Salafists’ mosque.
A blond man boasts in the video that the vigilantes made men “ashamed” to visit a gambling-machine parlour, saying the group did not use force, but offered a path to “paradise” for the virtuous.
Salafists in Wuppertal and nearby have shown creativity in the past in attracting publicity.
In 2012, the movement gained worldwide attention and upset political leaders with a plan to hand out 25 million translations of the Koran free of charge on German streets. Some were distributed, until the printer refused to make any more.
German authorities worry that Salafists are the main motivators behind a stream of young men who have been departing to Syria and Iraq to join the militant Islamic State movement and similar organizations.