German interior minister vows to put Islamist children under 14 on watchlist – reports

Germany should keep an eye on Islamists’ children under the age of 14 who risk being indoctrinated by their parents, the interior ministry has suggested, triggering a barrage of criticism against the proposal.

BfV, the homeland security agency, should be able to accumulate intelligence on children whose parents left Germany and joined Islamist groups in the Middle East, according to a policy paper drafted on behalf of Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, which was reported by Die Welt.

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Existing laws prohibit storing such data on persons who have not yet reached the age of 14, therefore Seehofer’s paper calls for an amendment in order to be prepared for the risk of children returning to the country, potentially plotting terrorist attacks or spreading Islamist ideology.

“According to our experience, more and more children and young people found themselves in the jihadist environment,” said Hans-Georg Engelke, the ministry’s state secretary. He said there is a “significant number” of minors who are now in Syria and whose German parents are considered a security threat.

“These children may come back,” the top official warned. Separately, the Interior Ministry has sought permission to carry out “online searches,” wiretapping computers, smartphones or other devices, as well as encrypted chats and voice messages.

The paper, which discusses bringing the BfV up-to-date with current security challenges, has been distributed among cother government agencies for comment. However, some of them were unappreciative of Seehofer’s doument.

Justice Minister Katarina Barley has opposed the proposal, arguing that there is no point in giving more surveillance powers to BfV. Likewise, the German Association for Child Protection (DKSB) said putting under-14s on a watchlist is unlawful. “Children are never perpetrators for me, at least not children below the age of 14,”said Heinz Hilgers, DKSB president.

Seehofer is not the first official to advocate placing minors and children linked to Islamists under surveillance. Last year, Hans-Georg Maassen, then BfV director, discussed a similar idea, warning about children who have been “brainwashed in the schools and the kindergartens of Islamic State.”

However, he stated at the time that only a small number of the 290 children and toddlers who left Germany or were born in Syria or Iraq have so far returned to the country. Overall, nearly 1,000 people are believed to have left Germany to join IS militants abroad. 

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