Spanish authorities have arrested a Muslim cleric — whom the New York Times once praised for his efforts to fight radicalization within Germany's Islamic community — for alleged ties to the Islamic State.
Hesham Shashaa (aka Abu Adam), a 46-year-old Egyptian-Palestinian, was detained near Alicante in southeastern Spain on April 26 on charges of aiding the Islamic State, extolling terrorism and promoting Salafi-jihadism.
The Spanish Interior Ministry said that Shashaa had facilitated the travel to Spain of Islamic State jihadists from Syria and Iraq by providing them with money, refuge and fake documents.
Most recently, Shashaa had made arrangements for two jihadists — who are the subjects of international arrest warrants for their membership of the Islamic State — to travel from Turkey to Spain by providing them with false passports.
In addition, Shashaa fraudulently tried to obtain for two jihadists letters of invitation with the aim of facilitating their travel from Egypt to Spain.
According to the Spanish Interior Ministry, Shashaa has also been charged with disseminating Islamic State propaganda:
"The detainee took advantage of his privileged position within the Islamic Community of the province of Alicante to spread content extolling attacks committed by the terrorist organization Islamic State and cruelly disparaging their victims. In addition, he used social networks as a tool to generate hate by publishing videos in which terrorist leaders indoctrinate their followers to engage in violent jihad."
On April 29, Spanish High Court Judge Eloy Velasco ordered Shashaa — who lives in a 10,000 square meter (108,000 square foot) mansion in Teulada-Moraira, a small coastal town on Spain's Mediterranean coast, with his four wives and 18 children — to be held in prison without bail. Velasco ruled that Shashaa was a flight risk and that there was a danger he would repeat his criminal behavior (reiteración delictiva).
Shashaa settled in Spain in 2012, shortly after the New York Times published a glowing profile of his moderation while he was an imam at the Darul Quran mosque in Munich, Germany. The story, entitled "Munich Imam Strives to Dilute the Elixir of Radical Islam," stated:
"A growing number of imams in Europe and the Middle East have denounced suicide missions and terrorist acts. Many of these imams, however, still view Al-Qaeda, the Taliban or Hamas as legitimate resistance movements, while Mr. Shashaa openly declares that they are violating the tenets of Islam.
"He travels to mosques and madrasas throughout Europe, as well as the Middle East and Pakistan, telling young Muslims that fighting against American troops and other forces is a violation of their religion. He condemns militant recruiters in his sermons, urges worshipers at Friday Prayer to call the police if they hear about plans for an attack and readily talks with law enforcement officials about the reasons for radicalization and the best way to combat it."
In an interview with the Times, Shashaa portrayed himself as a pacifist:
"They [the militants] use the religion for their personal aims and declare war on Jews and Christians, but I want people to follow what Islam really says. We cannot just sit down and let other people hijack our religion."
The Times also quoted a senior German security official, who said:
"We know that he speaks and works against terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and that is important. He is the only example of someone who is doing it in this way here in Germany, and in this sense he is effective."
Shashaa told the Times that he ended up in Germany after he lost his briefcase there on a 2000 stopover while on his way to Britain from Romania, where he had been living. "Everything was gone, the papers, the money," he said. "So I thought it was God's will that I should stay here."
Several months after the New York Times published its hagiography of Shashaa, he was arrested for physically assaulting his third wife, who was hospitalized with a broken nose and shoulder. "The attack was obviously very brutal," a hospital spokesperson said at the time.
The woman, a Syrian, told police that she had wanted to live a more Western lifestyle; she wanted to find a job and stop wearing the hijab. Shashaa refused. After the woman called police, Shashaa refused to let them in. "What a man does with his wife does not concern the authorities," he said. Shashaa was arrested and then released.
During a raid on Shashaa's mosque in Munich, police found copies of a book — Women in the Shade of Islam — which has been banned in Germany because of its calls for violence against women. Shashaa defended his possession of the book: "I need to know what is in these books. How else will I know how to argue with recruiters?"
"In 2012, German intelligence called him a Salafist: He opposed a pluralistic society, repeatedly stated that a woman should not leave the house without her husband's permission, and during the Gaza War in 2009 preached a sermon that disparaged Jews. He wants a theocracy, which would be inconsistent with the separation of powers, the rule of law and the parliamentary system. He posted several videos with extremist content. According to the 2012 intelligence findings, his claims to have distanced himself from extremism were deemed 'questionable.'"
Shashaa, who does not speak Spanish, said he moved to Spain to establish a "center for cultural understanding." Through an interpreter, Shashaa told a Spanish newspaper that "spreading culture is the best way to end prejudice and to promote tolerance." He said that his cultural center would operate under the premise of "openness and integration" and that its doors would be "open to the whole world." He added that the walls of the center "must be made of glass so that everyone can see how we are and what is going on in there." Shashaa also insisted that "fundamentalism is a disease we must eradicate."
Spanish authorities are now investigating the source of Shashaa's wealth. His mosque in Munich was shuttered in October 2015 due to financial difficulties, while the mansion he purchased in Spain in February 2015 is said to be worth more than half a million euros.
Meanwhile, more than two weeks after Shashaa was arrested, the New York Times still has not reported on the fate of its poster boy for Salafist pacifism.