A German police raid on a Berlin mosque and five other locations over allegations of fraud has sparked a political spat with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who on Friday labeled the raid racist and Islamaphobic.
On Wednesday more than 150 armed police officers descended on the Mevlana Mosque in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district and five other locations, with the officers entering the mosque during the 5 am morning prayers.
The German daily newspaper, Der Tagesspiegel, reported that according to “security circles” a 58-year old man had applied for 14,000 euros in coronavirus emergency aid.
This allegedly fraudulent application for the emergency aid was part of a case of 70,000 euros that had been fraudulently applied for, according to the newspaper which cited the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
According to the newspaper, 7,000 euros in cash were seized from the Mosque during the raid as well as computer equipment and documents.
A statement issued by the board of the Mevlana Mosque stated: “We firmly reject the accusation that our application for Coronavirus aid was fraudulent.”
The board stated that they had never been approached or asked by authorities about the application for Coronavirus aid prior to the raid, which it said resulted in 100 masked police storming the mosque.
“Open questions regarding the application would have been quickly clarified by simply asking. It [the answers] could also have been rejected. The payment [of Coronavirus aid] could also be claimed back.”
According to the statement, two businesses and three private residences were searched in the raid, including the home of the chairman of the board operating the mosque.
On Friday, Erdogan, commenting on social media, said: “I strongly condemn the police operation in the Mevlana Mosque in Berlin during the morning prayer, which is obviously nourished by racism and Islamophobia, which is bringing Europe closer to the darkness of the Middle Ages, and completely ignores the freedom of belief.”
Berlin’deki Mevlana Camii’nde sabah namazı saatinde gerçekleştirilen, Avrupa’yı Orta Çağ karanlığına her geçen gün biraz daha yaklaştıran ırkçılık ve İslam düşmanlığından beslendiği apaçık ortada olan, inanç hürriyetini tümden yok sayan polis operasyonunu şiddetle kınıyorum.
— Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RTErdogan) October 23, 2020
His comments on Twitter drew much support from his followers while some users criticized the Turkish authorities for not mentioning the fraud allegations.
The raid was also condemned by Turkey’s Directorate for Religious Affairs Professor Ali Erbas.
“Our sensitivities and our saints were disregarded in the raid by German police on the Mevlana Mosque, one of the central mosques of the region, in Berlin, the capital of Germany during morning prayer. I strongly condemn this hateful attitude,” he said in a social media post on Twitter.
Almanya'nın başkenti Berlin’de bölgenin merkezi camilerinden biri olan Mevlana Camii’ne sabah namazı vaktinde Alman polisleri tarafından yapılan baskında hassasiyetlerimiz ve kutsallarımız hiçe sayılmıştır. Bu nefret dolu tutumu şiddetle kınıyorum.
— Prof. Dr. Ali Erbaş (@DIBAliErbas) October 22, 2020
Presidential spokesman and special adviser to Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, posting on social media, said: “We strongly condemn the raid on the Mevlana Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in Berlin, by 150 officers during the morning prayers. The sanctity of places of worship and Article 4 of the German Constitution were completely violated by this heinous act.”
Berlin’in en köklü camilerinden olan Mevlana Camisine 150 polis tarafından sabah namazı esnasında yapılan baskını şiddetle kınıyoruz. Bu çirkin eylemle ibadet yerlerinin kutsallığı ve Almanya Anayasasının 4. Maddesi tümüyle ihlal edilmiştir. Mevlana Camii cemaatine geçmiş olsun pic.twitter.com/MNKFmihx57
— Ibrahim Kalin (@ikalin1) October 23, 2020
According to Der Tagesspiegel the Coronavirus aid is only intended for businesses that have suffered losses due to the pandemic and not for non-profit organizations.
It reported that three people, including a 58-year old man, were at the center of the investigations.
However, the Mevlana Mosque board in its statement described the police action as unacceptable and “disproportionate.” It said would taking legal action against the authorities.
Citing security sources, Der Tagesspiegel, reported that the value of the crime is not determined by what was actually paid out – a total of 45,000 euros – but rather by the amount that was sought – 70,000 euros.
The newspaper further reported that the mosque, one “belongs to the spectrum of the Turkish-Islamic movement Milli Görüs observed” and is being “observed” by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic security agency that is tasked with protecting the democratic order in the country.
German media has reported in the past that key Milli Görüs members have been subject to investigations, one of which has since been dropped, over allegations of fraud, including an allegation in Cologne that they diverted mosque members donations to Ankara instead of going to their designated cause.