BERLIN Mosques in Germany run by ultra-conservative Islamists known as Salafists must be banned, their communities broken up and their preachers expelled, German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel told Der Spiegel magazine.
"On this question I am for zero tolerance," Gabriel said when Spiegel put it to him that the Tunisian who killed 12 people in a Christmas market attack in Berlin had been in touch with Salafist hate preachers.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, in which a failed asylum seeker from Tunisia, Anis Amri, drove a truck into a Christmas market.
"Salafist mosques must be banned, the communities broken up, and the preachers expelled. And as quickly as possible," Gabriel told Spiegel in an interview published on Saturday.
Germany has seen sharp increases in the number of Salafists in recent years.
In November, the head of the Bundesverfassungsschutz domestic intelligence agency told Reuters his organisation estimated there were about 40,000 Islamists in Germany, including 9,200 Salafists. [nL1N19K17R]
Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, to which Gabriel's Social Democrats (SPD) belong as junior coalition partner, has proposed new security measures in response to the Berlin attack, triggering fierce debate in an election year. [nL5N1EU38J]
The SPD is expected to choose Gabriel, their long-standing chairman who is also economy minister, to run against Merkel for chancellor in September's federal election, senior party sources said on Thursday. [nL5N1EV4PX]
(Writing by Paul Carrel)