German Trials Highlight the Role of the IMU as a Feeder for al-Qaeda Operations in Europe

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 9
May 4, 2012 12:28 PM Age: 2 yrs
Category: Terrorism Monitor, Military/Security, Terrorism, Germany, Home Page, Featured

Trial of German-Afghan Ahmad Wali Siddiqui - AP

Two separate trials are currently underway in Germany that have highlighted the particular role of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) as a feeder group for German jihadists who end up working alongside al-Qaeda. The first is a case in Koblenz involving Ahmad Wali Siddiqui, a German-Afghan who was captured in July 2010 by American forces at a taxi stand in Kabul (Der Speigel, February 28, 2011). The second case involves Yusuf Ocak and Maqsood Lodin, German and Austrian nationals respectively who were captured after careful detective work by German forces seeking to intercept radicals they suspected were behind videos threatening Germany (Der Spiegel, June 18, 2011; AP, June 20, 2011). The three men are all standing trial accused of ties to the highest echelons of al-Qaeda and seem to have made their connections to the group through the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Their trials have cast a new light on the particular ties between Germany and the Central Asian militants.

The Unsuccessful Jihad of Ahmad Wali Siddiqui

Ahmad Wali Siddiqui’s ties to militancy go back to his time in Hamburg as an Islamist on the fringes of the community in which Mohammed Atta’s September 11 cell formed around the infamous al-Quds mosque (later renamed the Taiba Mosque) (Der Spiegel, August 9, 2010; AFP, August 9, 2010). After moving to Germany as a 16-year-old in 1990, Siddiqui achieved little in life beyond failing at business before encountering Moroccan Mounir al-Motassadeq while they both worked at Hamburg airport in 1997 (AP, October 8, 2010; Der Spiegel, February 8). Al-Motassadeq was later convicted in Germany of supporting the September 11 cell. On the stand, Siddiqui denied being close to al-Motassadeq, though it was revealed that he had driven al-Motassadeq’s father some 400km to visit his son in prison and had holidayed with al-Motassadeq and their wives in Morocco in 2002 (AP, March 19). [1] It was not until March 2009, however, that Siddiqui decided that it was time to join the fighters in Waziristan. Siddiqui joined a contingent of 11 Germans (nine men and two of their wives) that left in four separate groups starting on February 4, 2009. Along with his wife and brother, Siddiqui belonged to the second cell, which had intended to use as their guide an older member, Assadullah Muslih, an Afghan who had long been moving back and forth between Pakistan and Germany. However, Muslih seems to have disappeared soon after he took the first cell to Pakistan, leaving the aspiring jihadis to their own devices (Der Spiegel, October 18, 2010).

Those that made it re-grouped in Mir Ali in Waziristan later in 2009.  Here they were absorbed by the IMU, which had by this point established itself as a home for German jihadists. According to Siddiqui, the group had gone to the region to connect with al-Qaeda, but was instead re-directed to the IMU after they met a pair of German jihadists in the region. They were brought into the group’s trust and met leader Tahir Yuldashev at a wedding where they pledged allegiance to him (Der Spiegel, February 28). Things were not always so positive, however, as they found themselves largely unable to communicate with the Uzbek jihadists. According to Siddiqui’s account, a trainer at one point threatened to beat him after Siddiqui experienced a fall that aggravated an old injury and prevented him from training. The commander settled for firing a shot near his head. Siddiqui’s brother similarly got into a clash with another of the trainers and the brothers were able to broker their way out of the IMU camp after they agreed to produce a recruitment video for the group (AP, March 20). At this point, they found their way to al-Qaeda, though the group was initially suspicious of the men.

As with the IMU, they seem to have been brought into the group’s trust relatively quickly and were allowed to train alongside the group using heavy weapons. In the first half of 2010 they participated in a meeting at which they met a fellow German jihadist from the Hamburg cell, Said Bahaji, an individual connected to the September 11 Hamburg group who had fled to Pakistan a week prior to 9/11. However, the most significant encounter was much later with Yunis al-Mauretani, whom Siddiqui and German jihadist Rami Makanesi state they met in mid-2010. The al-Qaeda commander arrived at a camp where the Germans were staying with stories of a plot being planned with cells in Italy, France and the UK to launch Mumbai-style assaults on European cities. Al-Mauretani was apparently eager for the Germans to return home and undertake fundraising and planning in Germany (Der Spiegel, October 11, 2010). However, the plot was soon disrupted, with Rami Makanesi handing himself over to authorities, Ahmad Wali Siddiqui being captured by U.S. forces in Kabul as he plotted his trip back to Germany and the remaining members being killed by a drone strike in late 2010.

The Deutsche Taliban Mujahideen

The story of Yusuf Ocak and Maqsood Lodin is different and yet similar in many ways to that of Siddiqui. Ocak and Lodin were drawn from a group of young German extremists who went to Pakistan to join the Deutsche Taliban Mujahideen (DTM), an offshoot of the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) that formed under the tutelage of the Pakistani Taliban and the IJU in response to the growing numbers of Germans coming to fight jihad. [2] Leaving months after Siddiqui’s Hamburg group, Yusuf Ocak was ensconced in Waziristan by September 2009 where he helped found the DTM (Deutsche Welle, January 25). By late December, 2009 he was videotaping missile attacks on U.S. bases in Afghanistan (Der Spiegel, June 19, 2011).  Ocak appeared in a video where he threatened Germany with attacks, leaving an audio trail that German investigators were able to trace, leading to his capture (Austrian Times, February 2). As well as helping establish the DTM and producing videos for the group, Ocak used the internet to reach out to prospective members and recruits in Germany. Lodin, meanwhile, was an active fundraiser for the group (Handelsblatt, January 25).

The DTM was a short-lived group that for a while seemed to be a new hub of German-origin terrorist networks in Afghanistan-Pakistan. However, with the April, 2010 death of their leader Ahmet Manavbasi (a former drug dealer from Lower Saxony), the group seems to have largely collapsed with Yusuf Ocak being picked up by al-Qaeda. This was around the same time that Siddiqui and Makanesi were being recruited by Yunis al-Mauretani for his European terrorist plot and the new German recruits from the old DTM would have been prime targets for recruitment as well. Ocak denies having encountered al-Mauretani, but was apparently taught to use the same encryption programs (Asrar and Camouflage) as Rami Makanesi admits to having learned in the training camps (Der Spiegel, May 9, 2011; Die Tageszeitung, January 25). More incriminating than this, however, was a series of documents found on an encrypted flash drive in Ocak’s underwear when he was captured that appear to be a series of internal al-Qaeda documents (Die Zeit, March 15). The documents are apparently a series of internal planning documents written by senior members of al-Qaeda. These include a series of reports believed to be written by British al-Qaeda member Rashid Rauf (allegedly killed by a drone strike in November, 2008). These reports appear to be post-operational assessments of the July 7, 2005 London bombings, the failed July 21, 2005 attacks on the London Underground and the 2006 “Airlines plot” to bring down around eight airliners on transatlantic routes.

Ocak and Lodin left Pakistan in early 2011, travelling via Iran and Turkey to Budapest where they were apparently tasked with raising funds and establishing networks of suicide bombers that could be used in future al-Qaeda operations (Die Tageszeitung, January 25). However, both operatives were captured together with a network of Austrian recruits, some of whom were believed to have sought flight training (Der Spiegel, June 18, 2011).

Conclusion

What is most interesting about both cases is the transfer of the German cells from the IMU and DTM to core al-Qaeda. In both cases, the German speakers seem to have first been drawn in using the IMU/DTM networks that are in themselves off-shoots of Central Asian networks, but ended up as part of the al-Qaeda network, tasked with carrying out terrorist attacks in Europe.

According to Siddiqui, however, this was contrary to their original intentions: “We wanted to fly [to Pakistan] to live life according to Shari’a law and fight jihad….we didn’t want to ever return” (AP, March 20). Similarly, Ocak seems to have enjoyed fighting the United States alongside the DTM and their Central Asian associates. However, the men were easily turned from their Central Asian focus back towards the West, al-Qaeda’s priority interest.

There are still a number of uncertainties surrounding these two cases. In particular, it is unclear whether the two groups interacted or were kept apart. Given their similar interactions with al-Mauretani and orders to head back to Europe to establish new networks, it seems as though they might have been part of a bigger scheme, explaining why al-Qaeda would have wanted to keep them apart. While a number of other cells have been disrupted in Germany of late, it remains unclear how many more might be out there. Nevertheless, these trials show that the interaction between Central Asian terror groups in Waziristan, their German recruits and al-Qaeda is somewhat less organized than it appears at the outset and is highly influenced by the actions of individual personalities on the ground. 

Far from being an organized targeting of Germany by al-Qaeda, the activities of these cells was instead an opportunistic effort that reflected the presence of numerous itinerant young Germans in Waziristan in 2009. In a pattern seen previously with the British-Pakistani connection in the lead-up to the July 7, 2005 bombings, young men fired up by parochial jihadist groups are drawn towards al-Qaeda’s globalist message prior to returning home to carry out attacks there.

Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) and the author of the forthcoming We Love Death as You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Mujahedeen (Hurst/Columbia University Press).

Notes:

1. http://ojihad.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/why-the-hamburg-friends-matter-jihad-made-in-germany/

2. “Mein Weg nach Jannah,” by Abdul Ghaffar el Almani (Eric Breininger), released on forums May 2010. A translation summary can be found at: http://www.jihadica.com/guest-post-the-story-of-eric-breininger/

 


 
 

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