Germany debuts 'suicide bomber hotline'

"HATIF" phone service to prevent violence in name of Islam.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
July 19, 2010 18:11
2 minute read.
Muslim women wearing burqas.

muslim women burqa 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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The German government set up a 'suicide bomber hotline' Monday to aid Muslims who want to quit extremism.

The service should not be confused with a standard 'suicide hotline,' which provides help to individuals who are considering hurting themselves.


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The hotline is called "HATIF," which means "telephone" in Arabic.

A statement from the German Federal Constitution Protection Office said "the primary goal of HATIF is to prevent violence in the name of Islam."


A spokeswoman for the German domestic intelligence agency, who was talking on condition of anonymity in line with agency policy, declined to say how much money had been allocated or how many employees were working for the program.

However, she said the agency would guarantee confidentiality to users, and also help with safety measures if people seeking to quit are threatened by radicals.

"Our program is an offer for those who want to leave extremism behind," she said. "Once we find out what their needs are, we will develop the program accordingly."


The intelligence service estimates there are more than 36,000 Islamist extremists in Germany, but only a fraction of those are considered potentially violent. The Muslim population in Germany is estimated to be between 3.8 million and 4.3 million — meaning Muslims make up between 4.6 and 5.2 percent of the population.

The program, which is called HATIF also is aimed at family members or friends of people who have come under influence of extremists.

They can contact members of the intelligence service online or call a specific number. The service is offered in German, Turkish and Arabic.

Germany has not seen a large-scale terror attack, but in recent years, there have been attempts to commit attacks on public transportation and U.S. military bases.

Countries like Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Singapore have also implemented deradicalization programs in recent years, but they mainly work with convicted terrorists in prisons, while Germany tries to reach out to extremists before they commit a crime, said Peter Neumann, an expert from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence in London. He said there are no similar programs in other European countries so far.

"We know that in almost all of these groups, there are people who want to leave, but it is not easy to get out of such an environment," he said. "Therefore it is great that Germany makes this offer — even though this definitely won't lead to the end of radical Islam in Germany."

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