Over the past few years, “clan crime” has become a significant public issue. Politicians and media outlets had long avoided the topic for fear of accusations of xenophobia. For as many as 20 years, members of several large Arab families have earned their livelihood exclusively through social welfare and crimes such as theft, robbery and extortion.
But then the Arab clans started making headlines. In 2010, a group of brothers and cousins robbed a poker tournament at Potsdamer Platz. In 2014, in the middle of the Christmas shopping season, members of a large family known to the police looted a jeweler in the posh department store KaDeWe. That same year, clan members cracked open safe-deposit boxes at a Sparkasse in Berlin-Tempelhof and then blew up the entire bank. Members of a clan are currently standing trial for stealing a 100-kilo gold coin from the Bode Museum in 2017. In 2018, a clan is alleged to have robbed an armored car near Alexanderplatz; several Lebanese nationals are currently in custody for the offense. “
The increased public interest was driven by the criminals’ own insolence,” argues Ralph Ghadban, a Lebanese-born Islamic scholar living in Berlin. “Their arrogance reached such a degree that no one could overlook it. Last year, Ghadban published a bestseller titled Arabische Clans – Die unterschätzte Gefahr (Arab clans – the underrated danger). “If the media covers it,” he says, “it influences policy. Politics reacts, but it’s not proactive.”
A dozen clans, each with several hundred members, supply the Berlin police with a constant flow of work. It’s always the same figures committing the same offenses, small and large, with names like Al-Zein, Remmo or Ali-Khan.
Not all members of these families are criminals. But many of them help cover up the dark deeds of their fathers, brothers and cousins. If they are questioned by police or in court, they just can’t seem to remember. Or in the words of mafia expert Sandro Mattioli: “The clans are male associations; there is a vow of secrecy.