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The German link in the European Terror Plot

In late September 2010, the United States issued a travel advisory for its citizens warning against travel to European cities. This occurred in the backdrop of a high terror alert across European countries of France, Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom; all countries are known allies of the United States and are battling domestic Islamic radicalization. This commentary would like to focus on an aspect of the European terror plot- The role of Germans in global Jihad.

Germany is a vital US ally as a member of a military alliance through NATO and a leading economic powerhouse in Europe. The country plays a pivotal role in the future direction of Europe, and is unfortunately in the news once again owing to German links to another terror plot. Germany reportedly monitors 29 different Islamist organizations, and estimates that roughly 36,000 members of these organizations pose potential security risks.

The large majority of Muslims in Germany are of Turkish origin (63.2%), followed by smaller groups from Pakistan, countries of the former Yugoslavia, Arab countries, Iran and Afghanistan. According to Lorenzo Vidino, “the Muslim Brotherhood in Germany has gained significant power and political acceptance. Islamist organizations in other European countries now consciously follow the model pioneered by their German peers”.

Concerns about the integration about the immigrant Islamic populace have been reflected even in German government reports. According to a report published by the German interior ministry, around 40 percent of those surveyed had a “fundamentalist orientation”, with 6 percent of those surveyed were classified as having “violent tendencies,” while 14 percent of respondents had “anti-democratic” tendencies.

According to media reports about the latest plot, a German national Ahmed Sidiqi, of Afghan descent was captured by security officials in Afghanistan. Subsequent revelations have suggested that the infamous Hamburg cell which provided logistical support to Moh.d Atta (the leader of the September 11 hijackers) was involved in the plot, including sending across German youth to Afghanistan and Pakistan, after recruiting them through the Taiba mosque in Hamburg. Taiba is known to be an extremist congregation point in Germany, formerly known as the Al-Quds Mosque, in reference to the Third Holiest Mosque in Islam located in Jerusalem.

Taiba’s chief preacher Mamoun Darkazanli, has been under suspicions of close links with terrorism even before he became infamous as Atta’s mentor. Since 1995, according to the New York Times, Darkazanli has been known to promote financial transactions which have funded terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda. A businessman, his corporate entity Darkazanli Import-Export Company was sanctioned by the Bush Administration on charges of terrorism fundraising.

A number of German or Germany based individuals were involved in the September 11 attacks, including Atta, Marwan al-Shehi, Ziad Jarrah and Mounir al-Motassadek, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Zakariya Essabar. In addition, other notable names which had been based in Germany include Mohamed Fizazi, or Mohammed al-Fizazi (the former Imam of the Taiba Mosque), whose radical speeches included the line “The Jews and crusaders must have their throats slit.”

In other incidents, four Islamists were convicted by a court in Dusseldorf on charges of a plan to use three car bombs and 250kg of explosives on US targets. The attacks were planned to coincide with a vote in parliament on whether Germany should extend its military presence in Afghanistan. A key terror suspect for Germany was Breininger, a German convert to Islam, who is known to have fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. He was killed in Pakistan.

On 19 January 2008, 14 men reported to be members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban, an Al-Qaeda allied group, were arrested by Spanish authorities in Barcelona, 12 of who were Pakistani. Police found what they said was bomb-related material in a number of raids. One of the plotters reportedly told an informant, “Only the leadership of the organization knows what requests the emir [Mehsud] will make after the first attack, but if they are not carried out, there will be a second attack in Spain, and a third, and then in Germany, France, Portugal and the United Kingdom. There are many people prepared there.”

A German foreign ministry spokesman told media outlets that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan had been actively recruiting in Germany. The group’s face is “Abu Adam”, a 24-year-old German believed to be of Turkish or North African descent. The bigger concern highlighted in the case of Adam, whose real name Mounir Chouk, is that under his obligatory national service he was originally trained in the use of arms by the German government, before he joined a terror training camp in Yemen.

According to Elmar Thevessen a terrorism analyst for German public television channel ZDF, the number of German foot soldiers while still low, there is a trend to show that sympathizers are increasing. While, many an analyst agrees that radicalization in Western countries has been particularly too difficulty to monitor owing to unconventional preaching methods such as the internet, the dangers posed by it can be seen in the examples of Major Nidal Mallik Hassan and the Nigerian underwear bomber Abdul Muttalabh, who were radicalized online through preaching by Yemeni cleric Alwaki.
In July 2010, security officials in the western German town of Montabaur released a statement announcing the arrest of a Hussam S, who is accused of using Internet forums and blogs belonging to the German section of the “Global Islamic Media Front” and the “Al-Ansar Media Battalion” since 2007 to attract militants to the various Al-Qaeda groups.

However, traditional centers such as Mosques and Islamic cultural centers continue to play a pivotal role in both the radicalization and de-radicalization efforts. The history of the Munich Mosque for example, is an indicator of how radicalization was introduced in Germany, exploiting historical social ills, contributing to the efforts of global Jihadists.

The Islamic Center of Munich was established by the Nazis in order to recruit Soviet Muslims and use them against the Soviet Union. The end of the war saw a number of these Muslims return to Munich, where they promoted the work of the Mosque, and were used by the CIA for anti-communism purposes.

However, owing to frequent trips to Saudi Arabia as a part of their de-briefing program, the seeds of radicalization were planted, with the eventual takeover of the mosque by elements of the Muslim Brotherhood. After 2001 the head of the Mosque’s board of directors was placed on a terrorist watch list and had his assets frozen. The Mosque now however is reportedly less radicalized under new leadership in place, a key role to play in de-radicalization efforts.

While other countries in the European terror plot have long been held high on the terror hit list, Germany, it can be argued,, has remained relatively immune from the spectacular terror attacks which have rocked the UK and Spain. France too has faced terror attacks on its interests in former North African Colonies, while German casualties were comparatively limited.

The most significant of Islamist terror to be perpetuated on German soil remains the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics. There have been cases of German citizens being kidnapped by groups known to be allied to global Jihadi groups, such as the two German girls kidnapped in Yemen last year, and hostage situations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Germany as a target for Islamic groups was raised in increasing jihadi “chatter” preceding the general elections of September 2009. Attacks against Germany are intended to pressure the government to withdraw from Afghanistan, where German troops are a contingent of the International Security Assistance Force. German withdrawal from Afghanistan would have a domino effect on other European countries, which would hasten the American withdrawal from the state.
About two-thirds of Germans want to pull out the country’s 4,200 troops. America has already indicated plans of reducing troops in Afghanistan by May next year, and with allies withdrawing from the region, it would give impetus towards renegotiating with the Taliban on terms favorable to them.

The Al-Qaeda core leadership, which is believed to be behind the latest terror plot, has reasons to believe in the success of the ploy of attacking European countries. It demonstrated similar capability in the Madrid bombings of 2004, which saw the Spaniards withdrawing from Iraq soon after. Interestingly, Spain plans on sending more troops to Afghanistan this year, with the Spanish President reiterating that Spain has not declared a withdrawal date from the region.

Another reason for Germany as a target may have to do with newly released documents by wikileaks, which indicate how the German government added at least 13 names to a document called Joint Prioritized Effects List (JPEL) for Afghanistan. The JPEL is a list of individuals who are to be priority dealt with by the International Security Assistance Force.

It is reported that the Germans have marked their targets for capture as opposed to kill, but inclusion of a name in the JPEL essentially means a death warrant for the individual, since troops are authorized to shoot and kill candidates on the JPEL list. In addition, the civilian deaths caused by German forces fighting in hostile conditions have also contributed to a sense of revenge against the German government.

Germany realizes that at the heart of the battle is also to re-integrate its citizens and residents back into the mainstream. In what would be heartening news to German security agencies, while a number of recruits go to the Af-Pak region among other theatres, a sizeable number of them are unhappy with the living conditions there. Germany has therefore to embark on a de-radicalization program, along the lines of similar programs being held elsewhere.

While, the success of the de-radicalization programs in Yemen and others have had mixed success, it is a task which the German authorities should consider seriously. Germany has taken some steps towards addressing this feature. One notable forum at the national level is the Berlin Conference, which is intended to spur dialogue between and among the central government and representatives from Muslim communities.

Furthermore, Germany had earlier this year announced plans to open up a hotline for Islamic extremists who wish to reintegrate into society. Importantly, the hotline also provides for relatives to provide information to security officials, to help them track down those who have gone astray and provide counseling on how to impress upon them the benefits of reintegration.

The German government should be encouraged by a joint report prepared by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), based at the University of Maryland, and the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR), based at Kings College in London, which has suggested that Prison-based programs to de-radicalize terrorists show promise. Neighboring European states such as Netherlands have already taken a step towards strengthening their de-radicalization programs, including announcing it would spend the equivalent of $40 million to launch de-radicalization programs, train imams and other religious leaders and promote intercultural dialogue.

While the counter-terrorism and de-radicalization programs would only be able to deal with a fraction of the Jihadi threat which Germany currently faces, the inroads made by the state would be a significant stride towards mitigating a terror strike against Germany. It would also importantly play a positive role in educating neighboring states which too face Germany’s security concerns and have not yet implemented measures against radicalization of their youth.

*Siddharth Ramana is a Graduate of Counter-Terrorism and Homeland Security and Intelligence and Strategic Studies from Israel and the UK respectively. He is presently a research officer with the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. Views expressed are those of the author.