Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

A new piece for Jamestown on a subject I have been trying to get published for a while. Will keep this short as am in hurry, but more soon.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s Expanding Western Connections

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 37
October 14, 2011 05:20 PM Age: 18 hrs
Faisal Shahzad
As the United States breathed a sigh of relief that the 10th anniversary of 9/11 had passed without any major incident, the U.S. Justice Department announced that three men had pled guilty to charges of trying to smuggle a member of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) into the United States. As one of the suspects, Irfan ul-Haq, put it, it was “not their concern” what the smuggled individual might “want to do in the United States – hard labor, sweep floor, wash dishes in a hotel, or blow up. That will be up to them.” [1] The men were apparently part of a network of people smugglers that was willing to help Pakistani TTP members enter the United States, highlighting once again the menace posed by the group to the United States, as perceived by the American security community.

The histories of the three men at the heart of this case are unclear. They were arrested on March 10 in Quito, Ecuador, as part of an operation by American forces (NTN24 [Bogata], September 20, 2011). In court documents released later, prosecutors laid out a case showing that from January 2011, undercover agents dispatched by a law enforcement agency approached two of the men in Quito, Irfan ul-Haq and Qasim Ali, to inquire about smuggling a fictitious person from Pakistan into the United States. The initial approach was to ul-Haq, who directed them to talk to Ali in order to obtain fraudulent documentation. The two men then met and spoke with the undercover agents a number of times to work out the details and a month later ul-Haq seems to have brought a third man, Zahid Yousaf, into the conspiracy. [2] It was at about this time that one of the undercover agents told the suspects he was a member of the TTP and that the individual who was intended to be smuggled was also a member – information that elicited the callous response highlighted before. [3] While it is unclear whether the suspects were actually supportive of TTP aims, their capacity to smuggle individuals out of Pakistan and into the United States using fraudulent documentation would have provided the TTP with a useful network were they able to connect with it. At one point the suspects provided the undercover agents with a sample fake British passport and ul-Haq boasted of having contacts in Pakistani immigration that could provide exit stamps for people who were wanted by security services.

This in turn highlights the general growing concern about the increasing internationalization of the TTP. On July 29 the UN Security Council agreed to add the TTP to the list of proscribed groups. [4] In an electronic interview with Terrorism Monitor, Richard Barrett, coordinator of the UN’s al-Qaeda-Taliban Monitoring Group, said the move was “an important symbolic consequence” that showed “the international community as a whole condemns [the TTP] without reservation. This universal condemnation acts as an encouragement to all those who are opposed to TTP and have suffered from its violence.” [5] The move follows earlier decisions to proscribe the TTP by Pakistan, the UK, the United States and most recently, Canada. [6] The threat to the West was brought into focus when Waliur Rehman, the head of TTP in South Waziristan, announced: “Soon you will see attacks against America and NATO countries, and our first priorities in Europe will be France and Britain” (al-Arabiya, June 28).

This is not the first time the group has threatened the West and it has attempted in the past to carry through on these threats. Back in January 2008, the group was connected to a plot to attack Barcelona, Spain and other possible EU targets by deploying a network of twelve men, ten Pakistanis and two Indians.  According to prosecutors and an informant within the cell, some of the men had undergone training with TTP in Waziristan. The informant reported that the then-TTP leader Baitullah Mahsud had specifically identified him as a potential suicide bomber. The link to the TTP was confirmed in August 2008 when TTP spokesman Maulvi Omar released a video in which he stated, “the [foiled attack] in Barcelona was conducted by twelve of our men. They were under pledge to Baitullah Mahsud and the TTP has already claimed responsibility because [of] Spain’s military presence in Afghanistan.” [7]

While this plot was disrupted, responsibility for Faizul Shahzad’s failed car bombing in Times Square in May 2010 was claimed by TTP soon afterwards in a video that featured footage of Shahzad at a TTP camp. According to the indictment that was handed down against him, Shahzad admitted to having trained alongside the group in Waziristan in December 2009. Having returned to the United States, Shahzad received some $5,000 in February 2010 to help him carry out an attack there. He then went about purchasing a gun and locating the necessary equipment to build a car bomb. [8]

While it is unclear whether Shahzad had any contact with TTP networks in the United States, the existence of these networks now seems to have been confirmed. Aside from the group arrested in Quito, FBI agents in Miami moved in May to disrupt a network based around a pair of imams in Florida who were allegedly running a fundraising network to send money to the TTP. According to prosecutors, the group sent at least $50,000 to Pakistan and discussed the terrorist attacks it was going to support with their contacts there (Miami Herald, May 14). This came after an August 2010 operation codenamed “Samosa” in Ottawa, Canada that was mounted by Royal Canadian Mounted Police forces to disrupt a network that was sending funds to the TTP and accumulating bomb making material locally (National Post, July 5).

Successful attacks have yet to emerge from these TTP support networks, but it seems likely that more plots will follow in the future. Given the ongoing trickle of foreigners drawn to Pakistan and the TTP’s ongoing campaign at home against the Pakistani state and its American backers, it is likely that this connection will continue to be a focus of concern for Western intelligence agencies.

Notes:

1. USA vs. Irfan ul Haq, Factual Proffer in Support of Guilty Plea, filed September 12, 2011.http://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/1683.pdf.

2. USA vs. Irfan ul Haq, Qasim Ali, Zahid Yousaf, Indictment filed March 3, 2011.http://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/1678.pdf.

3. USA vs. Irfan ul Haq, Factual Proffer in Support of Guilty Plea, filed September 12, 2011.http://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/1683.pdf.

4. http://www.un.org/sc/committees/1267/NSQE13211E.shtml.

5. Author’s email interview with Richard Barrett.

6. Public Safety Canada – Currently Listed Entitities, http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/prg/ns/le/cle-eng.aspx#TTP.

7. http://www.nefafoundation.org/multimedia-intvu.html

8. USA vs. Faisal Shahzad, indictment, http://www.cbsnews.com/htdocs/pdf/Shahzad_Faisal_Indictment.pdf .

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A new piece on recent plotting in the UK for HSToday, a few editorial choices I might not have made, but the overall point was to cover a couple of recent plots in the UK. Once the book finally lands, a lot more on this topic. In the meantime, in Bucharest recently for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, a local news outlet wrote a piece on a presentation I gave for those who can read Romanian (or any of the romance languages).

Britain’s Jihadist Networks

10/11/2011 (11:34am)

Western jihadism may have suffered a serious blow with the deaths of Anwar Al Awlaki and Samir Khan, but the war in the United Kingdom to counter terrorist networks continues. In the week prior to Awlaki’s reported death in Yemen, an operation against a group of seven Birmingham natives resulted in serious charges leveled against them as part of an alleged Pakistani-connected plot to carry out a terrorist operation in the UK.

In addition, charges were brought against a pair of German converts to jihad who had attempted to enter the UK to connect with radicals there who were intercepted at the border with copies of articles from Awlaki and Khan’s Inspire magazine.

The separate arrests were made following intelligence-led operations that disclosed not only the degree in which British security services are in close contact with their counterparts around the world, but their vigilance in identifying potential terrorist networks at home. In both cases, links abroad showed how the UK remains a hub of radical activity in Europe.

The arrests in Birmingham appear to have come after a long-term operation by a local counterterrorism unit and MI5 to pinpoint a cell of individuals they believe were providing support for terrorist networks in Pakistan and planning a “bombing campaign.”

The arrested men are between 20 and 32 years old, and their names indicate they are Pakistani natives. In the immediate aftermath of the arrests, the police said only that the men were part of a “large operation” that was “Al Qaeda inspired” and was the most “significant” counter-terrorism operation so far this year.

Since then, charges have been filed that reveal a network with links to Pakistan that involved a “suicide bombing campaign/event.” According to court documents, since last December 25, two of the men, Irfan Nasser (30) and Irfan Khalid (26), plotted to commit “acts of terrorism within the UK or assisting another to commit such acts.”

The men allegedly travelled to Pakistan for training that “include[ed] bomb making, weapons and poison making” and professed their “intention to be[come] a suicide bomber,” according to West Midlands Police. They also allegedly made martyrdom films, planned a bombing campaign, sought to purchase chemicals and build explosives detonators, recruited others and provided advise to other wannabe jihadists on how to travel to Pakistan.

Another man, 26-year-old Ashik Ali, also is suspected of having been involved in the conspiracy and having expressed his “intention to be[come] a suicide bomber.” He does not, however, appear to have made the trip to Pakistan. His older brother, Bahader (28), was charged with fundraising and not reporting the plot to authorities. Twenty-five year-old Rahin Ahmed was charged with supporting others to go to Pakistan to train and raise funds. Mujahid Hussain (20) was charged with fundraising and failing to inform police of the alleged terrorist plot . Hussain was not initially arrested, but turned himself into police a week after the initial arrests.

Another older man, Mohammed Rizwan (32), was charged with failing to report the alleged plot to police,  as was an unnamed 22-year-old woman.

While the charges against the group are serious, unarmed officers conducted the initial raids, suggesting the police knew that the men did not possess weapons or explosives. Authorities have acknowledged that the group was under law enforcement surveillance in the run-up to the arrests.

Given previous problems that police have had in charging terrorism suspects, it’s unlikely they would have moved to arrest all the suspected terrorists unless they were certain they had evidence that would stand up in court. It’s unclear how, exactly, the links to Pakistan were identified, but reportedly they were overheard during conversations monitored by British security forces, who were able to ascertain the mens’ intentions. However, because intercepted communications cannot be used in court, it’s likely police uncovered incriminating evidence during the raids on the mens’ various properties.

Among the community in which the men lived, they reputedly were known as radicals, though no one suspected they were violent. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, a neighbor reported that Ashik Ali was “incredibly intense and devoutly religious.”

While it’s unclear whether the men have links to Islamists previously arrested on charges of plotting attacks, numerous counter-terrorism operations have been conducted in the areas of Birmingham where the men are from.

One of the first properties searched by police was registered to a man involved with a network that sent supplies to Taliban forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The leader of the network, Parviz Khan, is a former football player who’d hatched a plot to kidnap and behead a British Muslim serviceman. While Khan was able to lure others into his alleged conspiracy, one, Mohammed Irfan, is alleged to have only been involved in helping manage the supply network Khan is suspected of operating.

The discovery in the same area of Birmingham of another network that allegedly was established to get people to South Asia for training and fundraising has raised concerns about Muslim radicalization in the area.

As authorities focused on the other cases involving apparent links to jihadist networks in Pakistan, a separate case was unfolding in another London court room. There, charges were leveled against a pair of alleged German jihadist converts who’d been caught trying to enter Britain at the border in Dover. According to authorities, they allegedly intended to connect with radicals already in England. The two men, Christian Emde (28) and Robert Baum (23), were intercepted during an intelligence-led operation as they attempted to enter the UK through the port at Dover.

When border security agents searched their luggage, they found a computer and a hard drive full of material that’s become indicative of radicalized Muslims, including articles from Inspire, the slick magazine published by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The articles were, “Destroying Buildings” and, “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”

Authorities also found the essay, “44 Ways to Support Jihad,” by Anwar Al Awlaki, who was AQAP’s external terrorism operations chief until he was killed in a CIA-directed drone strike in Yemen on a convey he was travelling in late last month.

The two men initially claimed they were trying to get from Brussels to Egypt, but were dissuaded by the cost of flights.

In an interview with Der Spiegel, Baum’s mother said her son had made a gradual shift towards radicalization. As a child, he reportedly sought to join the Army to serve in Afghanistan but ended up in a desk job. He apparently converted in January 2009 and ended up in a number of dead-end jobs. In October 2010, he announced his intention to go to Egypt with other Muslims to learn Arabic. It was a suspicious change in behavior that panicked his mother, who alerted authorities.

Although law enforcement paid him a visit, it didn’t appear to discourage him – he continued to operate in Salafist circles and allegedly went to hear the sermon of a radical preacher. He also continued on his trip to Egypt, returning to Germany in February 2011.

Baum’s travel partner was a man known to be active among local jihadist circles and was under surveillance by German intelligence services. At one point, police approached the imam at a mosque in Solingen, Germany where the two regularly attended, warning him that the two men might be extremists. The imam asked the men to stop attending the mosque.

What Baum and Emde were planning in the UK is unclear, but according to a German journalist, the two men were in contact with British extremists via Facebook and websites like Salafimedia.net. The disclosure indicated British extremists appeal to a broader community of radicals in Europe and that the UK is a haven for hardcore, domestic radicals.

While the activities of the two Germans seems relatively low on the ladder of terrorist activity, prior to their arrests evidence allegedly indicated that they had a resolute interest in becoming involved with radicals. And when combined with the case in Birmingham, it could be construed that there’s a community of extremists living in the West Midlands who have connections to radical groups in Pakistan.

If true, it would mean the UK has been unable to eliminate its domestic terrorist threat. While the quality and quantity of the threat certainly has subsided, evidence strongly suggests it hasn’t yet gone away.

Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) at King’s College, London. He is Homeland Security Today’s London correspondent.

A longer paper on the current state of the Islamist terrorist threat to Europe ten years on from 9/11 for Chatham House. It was written and presented prior to news of Awlaki’s death, so that is not included, but I do not think it alters a huge amount the thrust of the piece, except to shift the threat a bit from AQAP. I have a feeling his death will have an impact on western radicalisation, as I do think individual religious leaders like himself are important in getting young European’s excited. Will explore that in another longer piece I have forthcoming, but in the meantime here is the paper:

http://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/public/Research/International%20Security/010811wr_terrorism.pdf

And a link to the event: http://www.chathamhouse.org/events/view/176017#node-176017 – it was part of the European Security and Defence Forum series that Chatham House run, and thanks to Benoit and Claire for the invitation to attend and the efforts with the paper!

I have had a spike in visitors today, likely the result of horrific events in Norway this afternoon. However, we are early days yet so I am going to keep my powder dry for a while on that. Come back soon if you want to hear some thoughts (or contact me directly for anything specific). In the meantime, here is my latest for Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel touching upon the ongoing UK connection to jihad in South Asia which draws on the still unresolved story of two British nationals picked up in Herat recently. That will be an interesting case to see unravel.

Talib al-Britani

BY RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI, JULY 22, 2011 | Friday, July 22, 2011 – 4:09 PM

Britain’s connection to jihad in South Asia was once again cast into the spotlight with the capture of two British nationals with alleged links to the Taliban in Herat. The man and woman remain unidentified, and the British Ministry of Defense and Foreign Office have both merely confirmed that they were British nationals. Stories have started to circulate in the press that they were plotting an attack back in the U.K. and it seems that they were dual Afghan-British nationals known to MI5, though other reports indicate they may be of Pakistani origin.  Whether they were planning an attack in the U.K. or not, the prospect of British nationals fighting British soldiers in Afghanistan is something that has long worried British officials. Either way, their presence shows the connection between the U.K. and fighting in Afghanistan continues to exist, a demonstration of how ingrained extreme ideas continue to be in the U.K.

In many ways, this discovery is not that surprising. NATO forces have captured other European nationals fighting for their enemies in Afghanistan before, and there have been reports of British signals intercepts planes over the country hearing men talking in distinct regional British accents. Recently a picture surfaced in an extremist video showing “Musa the British” – a dead Taliban fighter with roots in the U.K. Most dramatically, a couple of years ago a story circulated that British forces had discovered a Taliban corpse with an Aston Villa tattoo. (Aston Villa is a Birmingham football team, one of Britain’s cities with a large South Asian population.)

In the U.K. a number of cases have come before the courts in recent years highlighting the ongoing existence of a pipeline sending young men to fight alongside the Taliban (or al-Qaeda). Currently in Manchester a case is being heard against a cell of men that had formed around a former Taliban fighter who had relocated to the city. The group was allegedly using a stall set up for spreading religious messages in the city to try to recruit others to go and fight in Afghanistan. In June 2009 a court sentenced 21-year-old London lad Mohammed Abushamma to three-and-a-half years in jail for attempting to join the Taliban using a route through Turkey and Tajikistan. Abushamma admitted to police that he was seeking jihad in Afghanistan and, according to the prosecutor, emails he had sent his family “clearly indicated that he would be fighting with a Koran in one hand and an AK47 in the other.”

Others appear to have successfully got through to join the fighting. Last year the Guardian told the story of the East London taxi driver who would every year go back during fighting season to join the battle against the occupying forces. As he boastfully put it, “there are many people like me in London….we collect money for the jihad all year and come and fight if we can.” In a separate case, an Afghan suicide bomber who penetrated Kabul’s Defense Ministry in April this year, Atiqullah Mangal, was allegedly radicalized in a British jail, having been smuggled into the U.K. as an illegal immigrant in 2001 and then incarcerated for violent assault. Upon deportation at the end of his sentence, he connected with the Haqqani Network and ended up leading an audacious assault that was supposedly intended to strike the visiting French Defense Minister.

And just the other day, a court in London further extended a control order (a government means of restricting an individuals movement whom they cannot incarcerate) against “BF” — a British-born man of Pakistani descent who was allegedly connected to the Operation Crevice cell (Crevice was the first large-scale Islamist counter-terrorism operation in the U.K. to stop a plan to explode a fertilizer bomb on behalf of al Qaeda). “BF” is alleged to have travelled out to Pakistan in 2008 with a pair of brothers also connected to the cell who were fleeing control orders, and he returned carrying letters to pass on that were clearly referring to terrorism training. A year later he allegedly attempted to make the journey again, and this time was intercepted by British police and placed under restrictive custody.

Admittedly this latter path through Pakistan might not have ended up in Afghanistan, but at the same time this route is one that has been used repeatedly by British extremists in the past to go and join the Taliban. In mid-2001, the leader of the Crevice cell in the U.K., Omar Khyam, headed to Pakistan ostensibly to attend a friend’s wedding, but instead connected with extremist networks and, in his own words to British journalist Richard Watson, travelled “all over Afghanistan…the Taliban are the most hospitable people in the world.” At around the same time, Mohammed Siddique Khan, a British jihadist who was to achieve fame later as the leader of the July 7, 2005 cell, was making a very similar trip through Pakistan to Afghanistan. Khan had brought along with him another young Briton, Shippon Ullah, and the two of them trained at Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen camps where, according to Ullah, “we were treated differently because we had our own hut with two brothers from the United Arab Emirates.”

This sort of jihadi tourism was something that primarily served the purpose of fundraising for the Taliban and providing young British men with an exciting experience during their summer holidays. But as was seen with both Khyam and Khan, the potential danger was that these young men could then be persuaded to take up arms against their own country at home. It is unclear at this stage what exactly these two in Afghanistan were doing, but their existence highlights that the jihadi pipeline between the UK and Afghanistan is alive and well.

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

A new piece for Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, looking at the phenomenon of converts going to fight jihad in AfPak. I have looked at this a couple of times before, and keep considering a longer piece on it but haven’t quite figured it out yet. I know others are also looking at this, and I would welcome any ideas or thoughts on the subject.

The White Man’s Jihad

BY RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI, MAY 13, 2011| Friday, May 13, 2011 – 2:59PM

Up in the north of England, a trial is being heard against a group of men allegedly at the core of a cell recruiting and radicalizing individuals to fight in Afghanistan. The group, part of an ongoing trickle of people from the U.K. attracted to fighting in South Asia, is notable because it counts amongst its ranks a white convert, the latest in a long line of such individuals who have been drawn to militancy in South Asia. These reports of white converts in the region are naturally of particular concern to Western security services: their capacity to blend effortlessly back into the West makes them highly attractive weapons for groups seeking to launch terrorist attacks.

Back in mid-2009, an older moderate Muslim convert in London told me that his theory behind converts in terrorist cells was that they played a key role as catalysts. The presence of a convert, usually a zealous individual who had moved from a troubled past as drug addict or petty criminal to Islamist extremist, would reinforce the group’s internal dialogue and help push them deeper into their militant ideologies.

The group who bombed London’s public transport system on July 7, 2005 is the archetypal example of this. Convert Germaine Lindsay, originally of Jamaican descent, was the most overtly violent and radical of the group and may have played a role stirring the others on. According to information released during the recent Coroner’s Inquest into the bombings, he was likely involved in a gun crime incident prior to the bombing, he was reported to have been active in promoting radical groups in Luton. Additionally, he was a close student of the radical preacher Abdullah el Faisal. His presence amongst the otherwise Pakistani-Beeston group would have been as an outsider, but one who was brought into the closest of confidence, suggesting an outsized influence.

In a separate case in East London, Mohammed Hamid, also known as “Osama bin London,” was a “revert” who found his religion after a life of drugs and became a key figure in a radicalizing network training, amongst others, the July 21 team who tried to bomb London two weeks after the successful July 7 cell. And there are other examples. Looking at other failed plots linked to Waziristan, the 2006 plot to bomb airlines concurrently on transatlantic routes counted a couple of converts amongst plotters, and the 2007 plot to attack a U.S. airbase in Germany was conducted by a group of mostly Caucasian German converts.

On the battlefields of Afghanistan and Pakistan, however, these light-skinned converts face a high degree of skepticism: for example, Rahman Adam, aka Anthony Garcia, one of the plotters involved in the 2004 plot to blow up a British mall using a fertilizer based explosive, was initially turned away from training camps for being “too white.” Adam was in fact of Algerian origin and a born Muslim; he was just very pale skinned.

Prior to al-Qaeda’s attacks of September 11, 2001, the route for converts to training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan was much easier to tread. James McLintock, nicknamed the “Tartan Taliban,” first joined the jihad against the Soviet Union in the late 1980s after, by his account, he met a group of young Saudi hotheads on a flight to Pakistan as he made his way to visit a University friend. Enjoying this first taste of jihad, McLintock became a feature of the European jihadi scene, joining the fighting again in Bosnia and returning regularly to Afghanistan. Back in the U.K. alongside fellow convert and jihadi traveler Martin “Abdullah” McDaid, McLintock began running study circles at the Iqra bookshop in Beeston, northern England and training camps in the nearby Lake District that were attended by some of the July 7, 2005 cell.

And in the years immediately before September 11, there was a stream of converts who showed up and were accorded quite high levels of trust by al-Qaeda. In 1997, having converted a few years earlier in Orange County, California, Adam Gadahn made his way to Pakistan and then to Afghanistan. Using contacts he had made in the U.S., he arrived and seems to have been able to fill a vital early role as translator of Arabic material into English. By 1999 converts seemed to be arriving into South Asia from all directions. Sometime in the middle of the year Christian Ganczarski, a German-Polish convert who used the same network to get to Afghanistan as theHamburg Cell that produced Mohammed Atta, a leader of the 9/11 group, arrived in Quetta, Pakistan and after a trip back to Germany to fetch his family, moved into Osama bin Laden’s compound in Afghanistan, where he acted as the I.T. guy. At around the same time, itinerant Australian jihadist David Hicks showed up and trained with Lashkar-e-Taiba near Lahore — he tried to go and fight in Kashmir, but ended up going to train at the Al Farouq camp near Kandahar the next year, where he met a bunch of fellow peripatetic westerners including British convert Richard “shoe bomber” Reid. Early 2000, Jack Roche, a burly Australian-Brit who had converted and joined the Indonesian al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah, showed up on the recommendation of Hambali, the operations chief for the Indonesian group, to train and learn explosives and got to sit down and eat with Osama bin Laden.

Post-9/11 converts have continued to play a role in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but few appear to have continued to rise into senior roles as they had before. According to British security sources, one of the most senior was British-born Hindu convert Dhiren Barot, who was incarcerated in November 2006 in the U.K. after a long career as a jihadist foot soldier. Starting with fighting with Lashkar-e-Taiba in Kashmir in 1995, an experience he wrote about in his 1999 magnum opus “The Army of Madinah in Kashmir,” Barot went on to help 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed with his global jihadist planning.

Since 9/11 instead white converts in Afghanistan and Pakistan have mostly been foot soldiers, with the militant groups there more skeptical of converts as potential Western intelligence agents. The Caucasian-seeming Rahman Adam was unable to go and train until he had connected with established jihadist Omar Khyam. An exception to this seems to have been Bryant Neal Vinas, a Queens, New York-born kid who converted to Islam, who made his way to training camps in Pakistan in September 2007 seemingly using networks from the U.S. to establish contact with radicals. It took him a bit longer to establish his bona fides, but eventually he got to meet with an array of high- and mid-ranking al-Qaeda fighters who immediately saw his potential as an operative who could easily blend back into the West.

The Waziristan-based Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) seems to have recognized this potential in a group of German converts who showed up to fight alongside them in the mid-2000s. Having trained a group of them, they sent a cell led by converts Fritz Gelowicz and Daniel Schneider to target the U.S. base in Ramstein, Germany. Other converts linked to the group instead fell in battle, includingEric Breininger who in April 2010 died in Pakistan, while the group was initially motivated by the death in Chechnya of fellow convert Thomas Fischer in late 2003. Another just disrupted allegedGerman network included another convert and helping funnel fighters to South Asia.

And the trickle goes on. In July 2010, Khalid Kelly, infamous Irish convert and former member of British extremist group Al Muhajiroun, returned home to Ireland having claimed he tried to join jihadists in Pakistan (although he was interviewed in the Times in November 2009 saying he was training to go to and fight in Afghanistan). In Kelly’s own words, however, “as a white convert, I stuck out like a sore thumb,” so he returned to Ireland instead. Others met with messier ends: according to Pakistani intelligence reports two white British converts were killed in a drone strike inDatta Khel in December 2010.

The pre-9/11 days of converts showing up and getting to meet al-Qaeda leaders are over, but these light-skinned jihadis remain a key potential threat that militant groups will attempt to actively recruit. They both help show off the group’s ongoing international appeal while also acting as excellent weapons to strike deep in the West. And until the overall threat has been eliminated, they will continue to be a feature of it.

Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR). 

A new piece for Prospect, looking this time at al Shabaab and its foreign recruitment. A rich topic that I keep coming back to, though one thing I realized I missed after publishing it was any mention of Shabaab’s TV channel. As ever, any tips or thoughts are warmly appreciated.

Jihadi MCs

RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI — 12TH APRIL 2011

The Islamist group al Shabaab is attempting to make jihad trendy. But is it having any success?

“I obsesses not depress for martyrdom success” raps hip-hop enthusiast and keen Islamist, Omar Hammami, in his recent comeback song. This track wasn’t intended to top any charts, but instead to prove that the elusive Omar was still alive. That the Alabama-born twentysomething, who is believed to be a senior figure in the Islamist group al Shabaab, chose to do this through the medium of rap is typical of the Somali terrorist group that has brought the notion of socially networked revolution to a whole new level.

Jihad is a young man’s game. Old codgers like Osama (54) or Ayman al-Zawahiri (59) may be able to provide some ideological and operational support for cells, but for the most part it is young men who are on the frontlines. As a result, Islamist networks trying to recruit fresh blood are increasingly using new media, social networks and other non-traditional means to spread their message. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group behind the “underpants bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and last October’s parcel bomb scare, even produces a flashy magazine called Inspire—full of funky imagery and slang, it looks more like a fanzine than a terror manual. Closer to home, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) releases bilingual videos with colloquial German subtitles to appeal directly to its core audience in Germany.

But it is Somali group al Shabaab (“The Youth”) that is at the forefront of this new media approach. Omar Hammami’s recent hip-hop release is merely the latest from the jihadi MC. In his earlier work “First Stop Addis” he rapped about his earnest desire to become a martyr, over shots of him and his “brothers” training and fighting in Somalia. Released through extremist websites, but also widely available on YouTube, the MTV-inspired videos and songs seek to show kids how cool it is to be a mujahedin. Other videos released by the group show young warriors from around the world speaking happily into the camera as they boast, sometimes in perfect English, of how much fun it is to be fighting against the “kuffar” (unbeliever) government in Somalia.

Videos and songs are all very well, but as any good PR manager will tell you, a multipronged approach is what’s really needed. Recognising this, al Shabaab encourages its young warriors to phone home in order to inspire others and raise money. Using dial-in conference calls, the warriors in the field tell those back home of the fun they’re having, and urge those who cannot come to send money instead. They shoot guns in the background while on the phone, “to see they are working ok” and to show off. And online, members have ongoing conversations with the friends they left behind, sending them Facebook messages along the lines of, “’Sup dawg. Bring yourself over here” to “M-town.” Meanwhile websites like al Qimmah provide a forum for the fighters in the field and the fundraisers at home to interact, keeping the flame of jihad in Somalia alive.

This holistic media outreach program seems to be reaping dividends for the group, who continue to attract a steady trickle of young warriors from across Europe and North America. Most recently, in Canada, police pulled 25-year old Mohamed Hersi off a plane he was about to take to Cairo on his way to join the group. A bored Toronto security guard, it seems he was only the most recent of a number of young Canadians who have joined the group. Similar cases can be found in the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark and Australia, among others.

The danger for western countries is that while al Shabaab is currently using its trendy web strategy to draw fighters to Somalia, a time may come when they attempt to punish the west directly for supporting Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government. They have already turned their attention to neighbouring Uganda, which contributes soldiers to a peacekeeping mission in Somalia. If the recruitment drive succeeds, al Shabaab will have at their disposal a network of western passport-holding men, all of whom are at home in our hyperlinked society and know how to use technology to aid terrorism.

Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR)

A new post for Jamestown, this time looking at the German jihad again. The Arid Uka shooting at Frankfurt airport highlights the potential danger that exists out there. Thanks again to Guido for providing me with insights on this topic.

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 14
April 7, 2011 03:42 PM Age: 10 hrs

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.