Picking Up Where the Red Army Faction Left Off: Tales from the German Jihad

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 14
April 7, 2011 03:42 PM Age: 4 yrs
Category: Terrorism Monitor, Global Terrorism Analysis, Home Page, Terrorism

Arid Uka, the 21-year-old Kosovar responsible for the killings at Frankfurt airport.

The shooting deaths in early March of two American servicemen at Frankfurt airport as they awaited a plane taking them to Afghanistan was an event that seemed to hearken back to the 1970s, when left-wing groups like the Red Army Faction (RAF) targeted American soldiers stationed in Germany. More in tune with the times, however, Arid Uka, the 21-year-old Kosovar responsible for the killings, appears to have been an individual living on the fringes of Germany’s growing Salafist scene (Der Spiegel, March 3). While abnormal in its success, Uka’s shooting was part of a jihadist scene in Germany that has been growing apace for some time.

Just over a week after Uka’s action in Frankfurt, a court in Berlin convicted Filiz Gelowicz of “supporting foreign terrorist groups” (AFP, March 9). Filiz is the wife of one of the German jihad’s more notorious members, Fritz Gelowicz, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison as part of Germany’s largest terrorism trial since the days of the RAF (Der Spiegel, March 4, 2010). Gelowicz was incarcerated for his role in a plot directed by the largely Uzbek Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) to carry out a bombing on a U.S. military target in Germany. His wife Filiz confessed to sending money to German terrorist networks in Waziristan, and was accused of being a key online supporter of German jihadists fighting in Waziristan (AP, November 5, 2010; Der Spiegel, February 22, 2010).

The group is part of a larger community of German jihadists who have developed a close relationship with the IJU and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and who were eventually allowed to establish their own organization called the Deutsche Taliban Mujahideen (DTM). According to German terrorism specialist Guido Steinberg (formerly of the German Chancellery and now at the German Insititute for International and Security Affairs), the DTM is largely a propaganda vehicle founded by the IJU in 2009 in response to the growing number of German jihadists who had been arriving in Waziristan seeking to fight alongside the group. This view was seemingly confirmed by the published memoirs of late DTM member Eric Breininger (a.k.a. Abdul Ghafar al-Alamani), a German convert to Islam who had been fighting alongside the IJU when his leader came and asked him if he wanted to join a group of Germans who had recently completed their training and were going to join the Taliban as a sub-group called the DTM. [1] Breininger was killed on April 30, 2010, in a firefight in Waziristan with Pakistani soldiers (Der Spiegel, May 3, 2010; see Terrorism Focus, January 28, 2009). He was not the first from the group to have fallen in the region; a number of German jihadists had already been killed in battle and Turkish-German Cüneyt Ciftci (a resident of Bavaria) became Germany’s first known Islamist suicide bomber when he carried out an attack against U.S. forces in Afghanistan in March 2008 (Der Spiegel, March 27, 2008).

But while this group seems to have largely managed to find its connections to jihadists in Waziristan by themselves, others have instead been directed through other networks tied to al-Qaeda. An example of this may be found in the experience of Bekkay Harrach (a.k.a. Abu Talha al-Alamani), a Moroccan-German whose death was announced by fellow extremists on Islamist forums in January (BBC, January 20, 2011). Harrach was a longtime extremist who had supposedly pursued jihad in the West Bank, Iraq and finally Waziristan. He was directed to the training camps in Waziristan by long-time German Lashkar-e-Taiba and al-Qaeda supporter Aleem Nasir. Harrach was featured in videos released under the banner of As-Sahab, Al Qaeda’s media wing, as well as ones linked to the IJU. His death, however, appears to have occurred fighting alongside the IMU (for more on Harrach, see Terrorism Monitor, October 1, 2009).

Others who ended up with the group were drawn to Waziristan only after first connecting with American Islamist Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Mounir and Yassin Chouka, Morocccan-born brothers who grew up in Bonn, were initially drawn to Yemen for jihad and claim to have met with al-Awlaki and an individual claiming to be a former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden.

According to their account, after spending some time there with the cleric and his network, the brothers were told the region was very dangerous for foreigners and were instead directed to Waziristan, where they were warmly welcomed. Jihadist groups in Waziristan were at that time actively seeking to recruit entire families. Enthused by this, the brothers set off, arriving in 2008 in Waziristan to join the IMU – a group they claimed not to have heard of before. [2]

Other German jihadis drawn to Yemen have instead chosen to stay there rather than go to Waziristan. In March a court in Yemen convicted Yemeni-German Hans Harmel of being involved in forming an armed group to conduct terrorist acts (Yemen Post, March 5). The details of his case are unclear, but there are other reports of some German nationals showing up at Yemeni schools and training camps. The growing German Salafist scene is likely feeding both the Yemen and Waziristan networks. According to Steinberg, there are some 4000-5000 Salafists in Germany at the moment and “this is particularly worrying because all the German individuals who went to join al-Qaeda, IMU and IJU in Pakistan first attended Salafist mosques.” [3]

It is in many ways the threat as expressed by gunman Arid Uka that is of greatest concern to German authorities. While it is unclear whether he was linked to existing networks – according to neighbors he knew another recently repatriated German in his building who had been caught fighting in Waziristan and his Facebook page showed evidence of contact with German Salafists – his attack does not appear to have been directed by others and he appears currently to be a “lone wolf” extremist (AP, March 3). There have already been other cases of “lone-wolf” extremists lurking on the periphery of the German radical scene, including Cameroonian convert Kevin S., who had met one of Fritz Gelowicz’s co-conspirators and threatened to carry out an attack through an amateurish YouTube video when he was arrested, and Turkish-German Adnan V. who was convicted in February of trying to build a bomb, telling others about it online and posting extremist videos online (Deutsche Presse Agentur, February 8). While officials suggest there are about 220 citizens who have trained or are training in jihadist camps, only ten of the 120 who have returned to Germany are in jail. Faced with both al-Qaeda/IMU trained militants and self-radicalized German nationals operating outside the normal networks, German authorities remain uncertain as to the exact extent of a clearly growing threat.


Notes:

1. Translation summary can be found at: www.jihadica.com/guest-post-the-story-of-eric-breininger/.
2. An English summary of their account can be found at: ojihad.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/german-jihadi-brothers-met-anwar-al-awlaki/.
3. Raffaello Pantucci: “Terror in Germany: An interview with Guido Steinberg,”
www.icsr.info/blog/Terror-in-Germany-An-interview-with-Guido-Steinberg.


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