German vice-chancellor accuses Saudi Arabia of funding Islamic extremism in the West

German vice-chancellor accuses Saudi Arabia of funding Islamic extremism in the West

Sigmar Gabriel with German Chancellor Angela Merkel REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

The German vice-chancellor has publicly accused Saudi Arabia of financing Islamic extremism in the West and warned that it must stop. Sigmar Gabriel said that the Saudi regime is funding extremist mosques and communities that pose a danger to public security.


“We have to make clear to the Saudis that the time of looking away is over,” Mr Gabriel told Bild am Sonntag newspaper in an interview.

“Wahhabi mosques all over the world are financed by Saudi Arabia. Many Islamists who are a threat to public safety come from these communities in Germany.”

The allegation that Saudi Arabia has funded mosques with links to Islamist terrorism in the West is not new. But it is highly unusual for a Western leader to speak out so directly against the West’s key Arab ally.

Mr Gabriel is Angela Merkel’s deputy and the leader of the German chancellor's main coalition partner.

His intervention comes just days after German intelligence issued a rare public warning that Saudi Arabia is at risk of becoming a major destabilising force in the Arab world.

Mrs Merkel’s government quickly distanced itself from the BND intelligence service’s assessment, saying it did not reflect official policy.

But Mr Gabriel’s remarks make it clear there are serious misgivings about the Saudi regime within the government.

Wahhabism, a fundamentalist sect of Sunni Islam that inspired both Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) and al-Qaeda is also the official form of the religion in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis have long funded the building of Wahhabi mosques around the world to spread the sect.

King Salman has already been widely criticised in the German media for offering to build 200 mosques for Syrian refugees arriving in Germany, even as Saudi Arabia refuses to take in any refugees itself.

Mr Gabriel’s linking of Saudi-funded mosques to Islamic extremism will heighten concerns over the offer.

It is not the first time he has clashed with the Saudi royal family.

On a trip to Riyadh earlier this year he spoke out in support of Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam.

He also intervened to block a deal to build a German arms factory in Saudi Arabia which had been approved by a previous German government.

“Of course we need Saudi Arabia to solve the conflicts in the region,” Mr Gabriel told Bild am Sonntag. “We cannot and must not ignore the country.

“And it does not help to put it in the pillory every day, because that won’t increase its readiness for serious negotiations over Syria.”

The German parliament on Friday voted to deploy up to 1,200 military personnel to support international air strikes against Isil.

German forces will not directly take part in combat missions, but will provide reconnaissance flights and force protection.

Saudi Arabia is to host a conference of Syrian rebel factions opposed to both Isil and the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, next week.

Isil has claimed responsibility for a number of terror attacks in Saudi Arabia.

But there have also been persistent allegations the Saudis supplied arms and funding to Isil and other jihadist groups in the Syrian civil war.

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