Angela Merkel Versus the Radical Islamists

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is seen in Berlin on December 20 near a Christmas market that was hit by an attack a day earlier. Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

Updated | Even before the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) claimed the allegiance of the driver of the truck that slammed into a Berlin Christmas market on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had set herself on a collision course with the ideologues and Gulf leaders who condone and support radical Islamists.

Related: Hatred of women is jihadism's first pillar

Merkel's welcoming of Muslim refugees into Germany has proved to be highly unpopular for her at home. But she is also one of the few Western leaders who has spoken out against Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab nations for funding the Salafist mosques that have been brainwashing young men into becoming violent radicals throughout Europe. And she has called for a full-face burqa ban in Germany, a move that inflamed Islamists when France banned it in 2010.

Last week, the German government released a report compiled by Merkel's intelligence agencies that accused Gulf Arab states of funding extreme Islamist groups in Germany that have links to ISIS. The report named Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar as alleged financing sources for Salafist mosques, preachers and faith schools in Germany. The report warned that more than 9,000 people have links to Salafism in Germany and that many more could be converted.

The report added more evidence to a growing body of reporting and official reports linking Saudi Arabian funding to Salafists behind radical Islamist mosques and imams in Europe.

In the U.S., Saudi Arabia and some of its citizens, as well as its allies in Kuwait and Qatar, have donated between $17 million and $45 million to the Clinton Foundation. As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton rarely spoke out publicly against Saudi Arabia's systematic repression of women, including denying them the right to drive and withholding other benefits of citizenship granted to men. In addition to the Clinton Foundation, Saudi Arabia has poured millions of dollars into influential D.C. think tanks such as the Brookings Institution, and has invested in well-connected lobbyists including former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman to press for their interests in the Capitol.

As a female, Germany's leader would be a de facto provocation to radical Salafists even if she never criticized the Saudis, whose official wahhabi religion is synonymous with the Salafists. The sect emerged in the 19th century as a kind of "Make Islam Great Again" movement via a return to the ancestral religion ( salaf means "devout ancestors"). A cornerstone of Salafism is loathing of female power. Salafists consider women to be "a source of discord" and unfit to hold public office.

A second German woman in a position of leadership poked another stick in the Saudis' eye a few weeks ago: Merkel's defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, refused to don the abaya during an official visit. The Saudis—via the German embassy in Riyadh—routinely loan the floor-length black covering to visiting female officials, who are expected as a form of respect to cover themselves from head to toe when in the presence of the male gaze.

Leyen, the first woman in German history to hold the defense post, was meeting Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman al Saud. In photographs of the event, the 58-year-old is seen wearing a blue suit and with her blonde hair brushed back. Saudi social media users immediately started calling for her arrest, but the government did not officially object.

"Of course, I respect the customs of a country," Leyen told the German tabloid Bild. "I strive to comply with such rules. But for me there are limits to the way I adapt to the country. I do not put on a headscarf and I wear trousers. No woman in my delegation has to wear the abaya."

German police have been cracking down on Salafist-linked extremists with a series of raids this year. In August they arrested a man with Islamist links who was suspected of planning a bomb attack on a festival. In November, a German court acquitted a group of Salafist men for participating in a Sharia vigilante patrol in 2014 in the western German town of Wuppertal. The men, in their 20s and 30s, wore orange vests that read "Shariah Police," held cards that read "Sharia controlled zone" and positioned themselves near the central station, harassing couples holding hands and warning travelers to stay away from clubs and to stop listening to music and drinking alcohol.

The vigilante group's ringleader, a German-born Muslim convert Sven Lau, spoke to a reporter after his arrest. The twice-married father of five, who rocks a wispy, long blonde beard, boasted that Salafism was helping his sex life. "Women love bad boys," he said. "In the last month I think 10 women wanted to marry me…from models to women who are totally covered."

This article has been updated to indicate that ISIS claimed responsibility for the German Christmas market attack.

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