Al-Qaida in Bonn?
The German news magazine „Der Spiegel“ has reported that the German authorities want to close down a Saudi Arabian financed school in Bonn, the King Fahd Academy, because they suspect it of being a breeding ground for Islamic fundamentalism.
„Der Spiegel“ reports that among the suspects turned up by investigators after the September 11th attacks was the former leader of an Islamic cell in Duisburg, some one hundred kilometres north of Bonn.
The magazine refers to him only as Mamoud A. He was an associate of one Christian Ganczarksi, who had trained in Afghanistan and is suspected of links to the perpetrators of the Djerba attack that killed twenty one people including fourteen Germans. „Der Spiegel“ also mentions an Egyptian Sayed M, a suspected member of the terror organisation al Tawhid. The children of these two, the magazine says, attend prayers in the mosque of the King Fahd Academy. That is the name of the school that was opened in the leafy residential Bonn district of Bad Godesberg in 1995 to cater for - among others - the children of embassy staff from Arab countries.
Strict Saudi Arabian-style Islamic curriculum
Two weeks ago the German public service broadcaster ARD reported that the academy had turned into a magnet for radical Islamic elements and its style of teaching could readily lend itself to the dissemination of fundamentalism. Viewers to the German television programme Panorama learned that the five hundred students at the academy received eight hours of tuition in the Koran every week, but only two hours in the German language.
But this is a special school with a strict Saudi Arabian-style Islamic curriculum and it would have probably escaped wider public scrutiny had it moved to Berlin along with the embassies and the German parliament and government. But it stayed in Bonn and that will probably be its undoing.
The King Fahd Academy is what is known in Germany as a "supplementary school". Such schools are only allowed to teach children who live in this country temporarily, such as the children of embassy staff.
But the regional educational authority, based in Cologne, knows that this condition isn't being met. Nearly half of the children are German nationals, which would suggest that they are not just here for a short stay. In Germany, all children, Germans and foreign nationals alike have to attend a recognised school. Supplementary schools were an exception, a concession to diplomats.
Closure of the King Fahd Academy?
A local paper in the Bonn, the „Bonner Generalanzeiger“ has already called for the academy to be closed. If the authorities in Cologne want to go that far, then they will probably have to do it indirectly, by "siphoning off" its children, as it were. They would simply force all the children who fall under German law to attend German schools, a move which would be perfectly legal. This might persuade the academy's owners, the educational ministry of Saudi Arabia that it is not worth their while to keep the school going with the few remaining children that are then left over.
Panorama showed footage of a prayer leader in the mosque who had for called preparation for the Dschihad. He has since left the school. Moreover Dschihad has several meanings, sometimes it is translated as holy war, but it can also be taken as a call to live and work according to the teaching of Islam.
The attraction the academy exudes for conservative or radical Muslims is not necessarily a reason to shut it down, even though the authorities may some of the parents may be viewed with suspicion. The authorities can only take action against the school if it or its staff break the law. So far there appears to be no evidence that that has happened.
Mark Caldwell, © 2003 Deutsche Welle