Programs to integrate Muslim communities may have helped Germany so far avoid the Islamist violence in neighboring France and Belgium
During his lunch break one day at the end of March, Dirk Sauerborn, a senior police officer in the German city of Düsseldorf, agreed to appear on a children’s television program called Nine ½, which was devoted that week to the subject of terrorism. In their tagline for the episode, the show’s producers posed a question about the bombings that hadstruck a week earlier in Brussels, leaving more than 30 people dead. They asked: “Who would do such a thing?” It fell to Sauerborn to provide an answer that German kids could understand.
For him this was part of the job. Tall and lean, with grey sideburns and a rigid posture, Sauerborn runs a police outreach program called Wegweiser, or Signpost, whose aim is to prevent the radicalization of Muslim youth. The program was created two years ago to counter the online recruitment efforts of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the terrorist group that has claimed responsibility for the Brussels bombings and the related attacks in Paris last November.
In looking for targets – or as Sauerborn calls them, “clients” – the program has found itself in direct competition with ISIS for the hearts and minds of European Muslims. On Friday, authorities in Belgium arrested two more suspects in connection with the Brussels bombing. Both of them are Belgian citizens reportedly radicalized while growing up in a poor, immigrant neighborhood of Brussels – exactly the type of men Sauerborn tries to steer away from radicalism before they turn violent.