Salafism in Germany

Left-wing terrorist turned Islamist

Bernhard Falk is no stranger to prisons. A convicted left-wing terrorist, he spent 12 years behind bars. Now he looks out for imprisoned Islamists. Germany's domestic intelligence agency considers him a danger to society. By Matthias von Hein and Esther Felden

One of the advantages of a constitutional state that ensures the rule of law is that it also applies those rights to people who deeply reject it. Even those who want to abolish the democratic system and fight by force for an Islamic state have the right to a fair trial with a lawyer of their choice. And this is exactly where Bernhard Falk's self-proclaimed line of work begins.

An imposing man with a large greying beard and balding head, he describes himself as a "first responder". Falk's places of deployment are courtrooms and prisons. He looks after Islamist prisoners and travels the country up and down: returnees from Syria who presumably fought for the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) or other jihadist groups; members of the German Salafist scene who are accused of having recruited for jihad or of having helped young men on their way out to the Middle Eastern war zone; Islamists who are suspected to have sent money or equipment to the IS area and radicalised people who are prosecuted for planning terror attacks in Germany. For Falk they are all "Muslim political prisoners of the Federal Republic of Germany."

Exactly 122 names are on the multi-page list which Falk presented to Deutsche Welle in a Frankfurt park. He has just attended the trial of Bilal Gumus in the adjacent District Court. Gumus is said to have helped a 16-year-old boy leave for Syria to join IS. Only a few weeks after his disappearance the schoolboy was killed.

Left-wing terrorist past

It is no coincidence that Falk calls people like Gumus "political prisoners of the FRG (Federal Republic of Germany)." Nor is it a coincidence that in his YouTube videos he regularly describes Germany as the "heart of the imperialist beast": Bernhard Falk has a left-wing terrorist past. He committed several attacks, was convicted of attempted murder in four cases and served over 12 years in prison. He was released in 2008.

There are 122 names on Falk's list that he labels 'Muslim political prisoners of the Federal Republic of Germany' (photo: DW)
Falk's list includes 122 prisoners whom he calls "Muslim political prisoners of the FRG". The fact that the Islamist Falk speaks of "political prisoners of the FRG" is no coincidence. After all, Bernhard Falk has a left-wing terrorist past. He committed several attacks, was convicted of attempted murder in four cases and served more than twelve years in prison. He was released in 2008

His time behind bars spurs him on, says Falk, especially the five years in pre-trial detention. "My trial at the Dusseldorf Higher Regional Court lasted 134 days. Based on this experience, I told myself that it was really time to help Muslim political prisoners who usually do not know their rights, to exercise them." Falk emphasises that his Muslim faith helped him to endure the long imprisonment.

The path to Islam did not come naturally to this German convert who grew up in the north of the country. He was raised in a Catholic family and was an altar boy for 10 years. While his brother became a Catholic priest, Falk studied elementary physics at university in Aachen.

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