Posts Tagged ‘IMU’

Another piece for my institutional home’s analytical publication, Newsbrief, this time looking at the relationship between Pakistan and China. While this is not exactly Central Asia, it still forms a component of my bigger research project looking at China in Central Asia with Alex. More on this broader theme on the way.

China in Pakistan: An Awkward Relationship Beneath the Surface
RUSI Newsbrief, 15 Jan 2014
By Raffaello Pantucci

Characterised by soaring rhetoric, at first glance the China–Pakistan bilateral relationship appears to be one of the world’s closest. Yet below the surface calm bubble concerns, with policy-makers in Beijing particularly worried about the implications of the 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan for stability in Pakistan. Western policy-makers should not, however, be optimistic that these concerns will soon translate into Chinese willingness to somehow assume responsibility or leadership in helping Pakistan to develop in a way favourable to the West. Rather, Chinese concerns should be seen within the context of a regional relationship that is likely to grow in prominence as time goes on, ultimately drawing China into a more responsible role in South Asia at least.

China’s Pakistan policy has three principal pillars – political, economic and security – which, together, leaders in Pakistan see as their main bulwark against international abandonment. Elites in both countries have publicly signalled the importance of the Sino–Pakistani relationship. For example, Premier Li Keqiang was the first foreign leader to visit Pakistan after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was elected in June 2013, while Sharif made China his first international destination as prime minister. Meanwhile, speaking about the region more broadly, China’s Ambassador to Islamabad Sun Weidong told Pakistan’s National Defence University in October that ‘the Chinese government attaches great importance to developing relations with South Asia, and takes South Asia as a key direction of China’s opening up to the west and a prominent position in China’s neighbouring diplomacy’.

However, the decision to refer to Pakistan in the regional context reflects a divergence of views between the two countries on the importance of the relationship. While China clearly cherishes its links with Pakistan – indeed, Ambassador Sun closed his speech with the rallying call: ‘May the China–Pakistan friendship last forever!’ – the relationship between the two is imbalanced, with China the big brother and Pakistan the supplicant.

Indeed, for China, Pakistan is significant particularly within the broader regional context of relations with the countries along its western borderlands – stretching from Kazakhstan in the north to India in the south. Ties with Pakistan are seen by Beijing as part of this wider picture, rather than constituting a bilateral relationship in its own right.

This has been evident, most recently, in the relatively slow progress on the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a 2,000 km route connecting the Pakistani port of Gwadar with Kashgar in the northwestern Xinjiang region of China – which was formally mentioned during Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s May 2013 visit to Pakistan. Always an ambitious project, at a Sino–Pakistani track-two meeting in Beijing in August 2013, Lin Dajian, vice director general of the Department of International Cooperation at the National Development and Reform Commission, highlighted ‘the security issues and challenges that could impede the speed of [the] project’. A month later, Ambassador Sun more pointedly stressed the expectation of Pakistani support in ‘safeguarding the security of Chinese institutions and citizens in Pakistan’ as they developed the CPEC.

Other Chinese firms with investments in Pakistan have previously expressed similar concern for the safety of staff based there. In September 2011, China Kingho Group, one of the country’s largest private coal-mining firms, backed out of a $19 billion deal in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, telling the Wall Street Journal that this was out of security concerns for its staff. In 2004, the Chinese state-owned enterprise Sinohydro, which had won a contract to build the Gomal Zam Dam in Pakistan’s restive southern Waziristan province, suspended work when Chinese engineers were kidnapped near the site. One died during a rescue attempt, and the project was delayed for a further three years while Sinohydro aggressively renegotiated the contract (more than doubling its price). While this dam has now been completed, other Sinohydro projects, like the Duber Khwar hydropower project, have encountered similar problems.

These examples highlight the difficulties – even for Chinese companies – of doing business in Pakistan, belying the overly positive vision of the relationship often portrayed by the media. It also casts some doubt on the feasibility of the CPEC. With the state-owned China Overseas Holdings Limited responsible for managing the Gwadar port since February, focus has turned to the attendant ambitious plans for the Chinese-led re-development of Pakistan’s roads, railways and pipelines, with the aim of transforming the country into a giant highway conveying Chinese goods to the open seas. So far, however, it is unclear how much progress has been made on rendering the port usable. In July, it was revealed in the Pakistani media that an investigation would be initiated into why a Chinese ship had been unable to reach the port due to heavy silt, despite ‘billions of rupees’ having apparently been spent on dredging work.

Yet China’s security concerns with regard to Pakistan extend beyond apprehension about the safety of its nationals. In October 2013, a BBC Urdu report indicated that, at the behest of the Chinese government, Pakistani authorities had added the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM – known within the group itself as the Turkestan Islamic Party) as well as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) to its list of proscribed terrorist organisations. This announcement came amidst a period of turbulence in China, which saw attacks in Xinjiang and one in central Beijing in Tiananmen Square in late October. Although Chinese authorities did not specifically mention a Pakistani link in relation to these attacks, they have previously referred repeatedly to Pakistan or South Asia (which is usually read as Pakistan) as the source of such plots. They also reported, in the aftermath of a number of the attacks in Xinjiang and the Beijing incident, that radical material produced by ETIM had been found at the homes of those involved.

The nature of this connection with ETIM is unclear. While there are radical elements in Xinjiang who might use the ideological inspiration of the group as cover for their actions, it is not clear that there is a command-and-control connection. Certainly, those elements of ETIM that do exist outside of China mostly reside in Pakistan’s badlands, under the protection of those close to the most fervently anti-state members of the militant outfit Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). There, they produce a constant flow of radical videos, magazines and audio messages, calling for the overthrow of the Chinese state and for funding and support. In two messages in 2013, ETIM leader Abdullah Mansour praised those behind recent acts of violence in China: one message was released following an incident in Bachu County in April in which twenty-one were killed after a confrontation with authorities, and the other in the wake of the Beijing attack. However, Mansour did not claim responsibility for these two attacks, instead appearing more eager to give the impression that such acts are not the product of mindless anger, but of a global jihad.

Indeed, domestic messaging about international links to recent incidents in China tends not to refer specifically to Pakistan, but – increasingly – to Syria. For example, Chinese officials have suggested that individuals involved in attacks in Xinjiang also intended to go to Syria while reports in the Chinese media in July 2013 suggested that ETIM members were already fighting there. Subsequent reporting indicated that one member of the group had confessed that he had been dispatched from the battlefield in Syria with orders to conduct some sort of attack in China. Whilst the specifics of these reports are unconfirmed, videos have emerged showing Chinese-speaking individuals and Uighurs on the battlefield there – although whether they hail from China originally or from the large diaspora community in Turkey is unclear.

Despite this, for Beijing, the decision to push for Pakistan to list these groups as terrorist organisations seems more closely linked to concerns that ETIM is increasingly seeking and receiving support from other Central Asian groups based in Pakistan’s badlands. Indeed, the increasingly broad fusion of jihadi groups in the region is likely to be appealing to ETIM, which has historically had difficulty sustaining itself and gaining traction among its counterparts internationally. Furthermore, Central Asian groups like IMU and IJU would be natural partners given their linguistic and ethnic proximity, and recent reports indicate that IMU in particular has been moving northward through Afghanistan, possibly heading back towards its primary ideological target – Islam Karimov’s regime in Uzbekistan. As such, Chinese analysts speak with growing concern about the ‘re-networking’ of extremist groups across the broader Central Asian region.

This is where the importance of Pakistan to China, due to its role and position in the region, becomes clear. Although China has invested substantially in Pakistan itself, it has also invested heavily in the broader region. Afghanistan, Central Asia and India are all potential trade partners and sources of the natural resources needed by China to bolster national growth and, more specifically, to enhance development in Xinjiang. Instability in Pakistan – perhaps through the presence of terrorist organisations – has the potential to undermine such efforts. Thus the prosperity and, indeed, the survival of the Pakistani state is essential to China.

Yet Western policy-makers must remain cautious in their interpretation of this relationship. While China may have a great deal invested in Pakistan, the way in which it pursues its interests there is not likely to further those of the West. Indeed, China will advance an agenda that, first and foremost, safeguards its citizens and assets. It will be unlikely to take on a major security role, preferring to bolster local authorities with whatever they say they need to counter the threat. Human-rights issues are unlikely to be prioritised, and in cases where bribes are required to expedite a process, it is unlikely that Chinese firms will hesitate to oblige.

The positive side of all of this is that China will provide Pakistan with useful infrastructure, be it roads, ports, railways or alternative sources of electricity. China has also demonstrated a willingness to lean on Pakistan when the mutual hostility with India becomes too tense: in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, Chinese shuttle diplomacy was important in soothing tensions. Following a visit by then-President Zardari of Pakistan to India in 2012, former Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani told the press that it was ‘our best friend China … [which] advised us to promote trade relations with India’.

The end result is a situation in which China will increasingly find itself as the responsible partner to Pakistan, drawn more closely into Pakistani affairs. However, Beijing is unlikely to push for reforms within the Pakistani system or to try to influence affairs beyond its own specific interests. Any Western–Pakistani spats or discussions will be left to one side, with China more eager to nurture a stable country than one that is friendly with the West.

Raffaello Pantucci
Senior Research Fellow, RUSI
Twitter: @raffpantucci

I have been travelling somewhere where this site was blocked, so I am going to be catching up on old articles for a day or so. There are also new ones in the pipeline, but apologies if you have already seen them elsewhere. First up is a piece for Jamestown that builds on my work about the German jihad focusing on a pair of current trials in which individuals who first went out to Waziristan to link up with IMU or a different jihad group in the region with a German flavour, but ended up working with al Qaeda for various reasons.

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: 14 days
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/

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 piece for AfPak Channel at Foreign Policy magazine, this time looking at the odd phenomenon of why so many German jihadis appear in extremist videos, while so few Brits do. At any rate, I find it curious. Interested if anyone comes across any more material, as this is a topic I will continue to follow.

Britain’s Camera-Shy Jihadis

BY RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI, MARCH 24, 2011 | Thursday, March 24 – 11:17 AM | Share

A few weeks have passed since the discovery on extremist forums of the image of alleged martyr “Musa, the British.” While Britain’s intelligence service MI5 confirms that they believe that at least 4,000 young Britons have been drawn to fight and train at militant camps in Waziristan and Afghanistan prior to 2009, they have thus far been remarkably coy in their appearances in propaganda videos produced by jihadi media outlets. This stands in stark contrast with the German jihadist contingent, which seem to revel in their celebrity and repeatedly feature injihadist media outlets, as well as self-publishing tracts describing their experiences. Parsing this difference between these two groups (and the related question of why only Adam Gadahn appears amongst the estimated hundred or so Americans Bob Woodward was told have ventured to Waziristan) might offer some deeper insights into the machinations of the networks drawing young western Muslims to Pakistani training camps and help analysts better understand trends of growth or shrinkage of such networks.

The shot of “Musa” was the first image of a British jihadi “martyr” linked to Afghanistan or Pakistan since the videos emerged of Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, two of the July 7, 2005 London subway bombers. The two men were part of the pipeline of young British fighters drawn to training camps in Pakistan, though ultimately they were directed to carry out an operation back home in the U.K. rather fight and die on the field in Afghanistan. However, these three men aside, there have been few images released by al-Qaeda or its affiliates that have included British jihadis. In Somalia, a young British-Somali blew himself up in October 2007, though the video took almost two years to surface and in Tel Aviv, two British-Pakistani Muslims attempted a suicide attack on Mike’s Place bar in 2003. In contrast, ever since about 2007 when German fighters started to surface in growing numbers in Waziristan, there has been an ever-growing digest of jihadi media in German and featuring a select group of German nationals.

Why there is such a divergence between the U.K. and Germany is hard to understand. One possible answer is that the German jihad in Waziristan is still in an earlier phase its British counterpart. According to Guido Steinberg of the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik and a former adviser to the German Chancellery, the network to send young Germans to Waziristan only really got established in 2006. In an interview, he described that before 2006 the networks were a haphazard affair, suggesting that the network is still relatively immature, and might therefore need more advertising to attract young recruits. In the U.K., on the other hand, jihadi networks have been drawing young Britons to fight in South Asia since the early-to-mid-1990s — almost two decades of militant travel have established a strong network.

But this German network now exists in force, and security forces in Germany have a large body of returnees and missing individuals whom they believe are training in Pakistan’s tribal areas that they are worried about. An unknown number of individuals are still being drawn to Waziristan, withofficials at home concerned about more than 30 that have been trained and a further 200 who have been radicalized. In September 2007, the possible threat that this network posed was illustrated by the case of the Sauerland Cell, a group of Germans who were planning an attack on an American base in Germany– having been tasked to do this by their commanders in the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU). An offshoot of the Islamist Movement of Uzbekistan, the group’s primary target is Uzbekistan, though it has now been operating in Waziristan alongside al-Qaeda and Taliban groups for some time.

Operationally, the constant appearance of young Germans in videos in Waziristan merely gives the German authorities a useful list of individuals to place on international watch lists and investigative leads into networks back in Germany. From this perspective, al-Qaeda’s British recruits have proved to be much more useful in international plotting. Their bashfulness before the camera means that their identities are still theoretically hidden and therefore they are still deployable in terrorist plots. In the period from 2004 to 2007, most major al-Qaeda linked terrorist plotting in the U.K. were linked to British citizens who had trained in Waziristan. Al-Qaeda and its affiliate networks may have concluded that the German contingent is less useful operationally in the West.

Ideologically, it is likely that the videos in some cases have even had a counterproductive effect insofar as some of the images may have reduced Western fears of the group, to the point of ridicule in some situations. The surreal sight of German-Moroccan jihadist Bekkay Harrachstanding before a red matinee curtain in a suit while he threatened Germany to vote correctly in an election was not followed by any visible attacks. For an audience of both potential jihadists and the general public, the impression was of empty threats that will not have strengthened the group’s hand.

In contrast, when British jihadis with links to Afghanistan and Pakistan have appeared in propaganda videos, it has been when they are featured in videos that claim to celebrate their deaths in the pursuit of jihad. And none of them or their many compatriots have written lengthy tracts describing their adventures seeking fields of jihad like Mounir and Yassin Chouka, a pair of German-Moroccans currently fighting alongside the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in Waziristan, or the fallen Eric Breininger, the young German convert who hid out fighting alongside the IJU regularly releasing odd videos showing off about how much fun he was having. His subsequent obituary was an epic document that helped clarify a bit to German authorities how the networks of Germans going to fight had evolved.

But it was not always so. Dhiren Barot, the British Hindu convert to Islam who in the mid-1990s ran away to Kashmir to join Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani militant group responsible for the deadly terrorist attacks on Mumbai in 2008, subsequently wrote a book about his experiences. Other British Muslims radicalized during the 1990s served as “correspondents” for www.qoqaz.com orwww.azzam.com, the infamous British-based websites that supported jihad in Chechnya and Afghanistan, writing about their experiences in hagiographic terms. And prior to that, videos and cassettes that are still available online describe the experience of British jihadis (amongst others) going to fight in Bosnia.

None of this is very surprising — these Western warriors have been convinced by the al-Qaeda narrative that they are carrying out sacred acts in the name of a good cause, and it should be expected that they want to show off about it before a camera. Having seen countless others in such videos before they leave, it is not shocking that they want to add their names and images to the lists to inspire future terrorists. But, for British jihadists at least, this need seems to have faded away, with occasional rumors or newspapers stories around single individuals. Unlike their German comrades whose names are becoming tabloid currency, Britons like “Musa” have largely fallen silent.

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

 

Another interview for Free Rad!cals this time with my old friend Guido Steinberg, the most reliable authority on jihad in Germany. I believe that he is developing a book on this topic, and has worked on a lot of the cases built against the jihadi network in Germany.

Terror in Germany: An interview with Guido Steinberg

Given the shootings at Frankfurt airport by Arid Uka, and a series of arrests and convictions recently, it seems as though jihad in Germany is continuing to be a thorn in the side that is not going away. Last week I asked Ces to comment on events in Russia. This week, I have reached out to Dr. Guido Steinberg of the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) in Berlin, the most prominent expert on the topic of radicalisation in Germany, to give us some thoughts on the current state of jihad in Germany.

RP: Can you give us an overview of the current state of Islamism and Jihadi ideology in Germany at the moment? What sort of numbers are we talking about?

GS: The number of German jihadists has risen substantially since 2005/2006. Before then, Germany used to be more of a safe haven and logistics base for al-Qaeda and other organisations. Today, it has become a target and German citizens of different backgrounds have joined different organisations including al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Jihad Union.

Germany is under threat today because these organisations aim at perpetrating attacks on German soil in order to force the German government to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. At the same time, al-Qaeda and its allies now have the necessary recruits who have been trained in Pakistan and know Germany well.

According to official information, about 220 persons from Germany are on their way to, are currently in, or have recently been to jihadist training camps. Of these, 110 are back in Germany and 10 are in jail. In more concrete terms, there are currently more than 50 Germans in Pakistan. This is a substantial increase from previous years and the jihadist scene in Germany still seems to be growing.

RP: The recent case of Arid Uka and the shootings in Frankfurt is particularly disturbing- do you think this is the beginning of a trend?

GS: There has been a trend towards independent action in Germany just like in other European countries since 2005. At that time, most independent jihadists in Germany radicalised because of the Danish cartoon crisis. For instance, there have been the so-called suitcase bombers, two students from Lebanon who planted bombs in suitcases on two regional trains in Western Germany in July 2006. The bombs did not detonate because of a technical error. It might be that the trend towards independent action will gain traction as it has all over Europe and in the US in 2010. However, as of yet, there are no clear indications regarding this in Germany.

RP: What brought about the creation of the German Taliban Mujahedeen in Waziristan? Not many other European or Western communities have similar organisations out there.

GS: The German Taliban Mujahedeen has been more of a propaganda tool than an organisation. It seems as if it was founded by the IJU in 2009 after an increasing number of Germans arrived in its headquarters in Mir Ali, North Waziristan. Together with a Turkish-Azerbaijani group called Taifetul Mansura they formed a kind of jihadist international brigade. However, the organisation never consisted of more than a dozen fighters and after the death of its founding emir, Ahmet Manavbasi, the group disintegrated. Some were killed with him, some joined the IJU, and others returned to Germany. Its remnants today seem to consist of a small group of young men from Berlin.

RP: From the Hamburg Cell to the Sauerland Group and Arid Uka. Why has jihadism found such a rich soil to grow in Germany?

GS: The members of the Hamburg cell were in their majority Arab students who had only arrived in Germany during the 1990s and had not struck deep roots here. Therefore, I think that the history of a distinct German scene only began with the Sauerland group. It began when an increasing number of ethnic Turks and Kurds were radicalised. The Sauerland group was part of a wider network, which was predominantly Turkish. As it seems, it took the Turks longer than most Arabs to get attracted by jihadist thought. When that happened, Germany was affected because it is home to some 2 million ethnic Kurds and at least 500.000 ethnic Kurds from Turkey – the biggest Turkish diaspora community worldwide. Once the first Turks had joined, the German jihadist scene expanded rapidly. This to me seems to be the result of an internationalisation processes affecting the jihadist scene worldwide. However, the German example seems to be especially striking.

RP: Are there any particular trends in Germany that particularly worry you in the short to medium term?

GS: The most worrying trend is the growth of the salafist scene in Germany. Some years ago, there were only two or three prominent preachers. Today, there are dozens. Official estimates count some 4000-5000 salafists here. This is particularly worrying because all the German individuals who went to join al-Qaeda, IMU and IJU in Pakistan first attended salafist mosques. This is where they were radicalised and recruited. Visiting the al-Nur mosque in Berlin, the al-Quds mosque in Hamburg or the multicultural house in Neu-Ulm was the first step on their journey to jihad. The fact that the salafist scene is growing likely means that the number of sympathisers, potential supporters and active jihadists will grow as well. It is no coincidence that Germany-based salafist preachers also influenced Uka