Islamic State: Germany Struggles to Deal with Returning Fighters

Germany Terror Trial


Published by Spiegel Online

Hundreds of radical Islamists from Germany have headed to Syria and Iraq to fight for Islamic State. Many have since returned home. Now the country’s court system is gearing up for the coming legal battles — and facing myriad challenges.

The players at TuS Makkabit Frankfurt remember Kreshnik B. as a reliable defender. As a member of the Jewish football club’s youth B-team, he kept opposing players away from his goal and even shot a few of his own. Kreshnik B., who is Muslim, happily wore the blue jersey of the team, despite it being decorated with Hebraic lettering and the Star of David. “He was proud to take the field with the star,” club leader Alon Meyer recalls.

Not even three years after playing for the team, Kreshnik swapped the football field for the battlefield. In the name of Allah, he allegedly joined the radical Islamist organization Islamic State in its fight to set up an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East. “Jihad these days is an individual’s duty,” he wrote his sister from the Middle East and asked her to pray that he might fall as a martyr. “I’m chillin’, fighting, doing my job for Allah. I take my Kalashnikov and bismillah,” he rhymed.

The five months that Kreshnik B., now 20, spent in Syria fighting for Islamic State are now the subject of a case which began in Frankfurt on Monday. He stands accused of membership in a terrorist organization and of “preparing a serious act of violent subversion.”

His trial marks the first time that a presumed Islamic State fighter has appeared in front of a German court. It won’t be the last. The number of jihadists who have left the country for Syria along with the number of Islamic State’s supporters in Germany is already much higher than it ever was during the Afghanistan conflict. Currently, there are around 140 investigations under way in Germany against Islamic State fighters or their supporters. And the number is climbing. Federal state prosecutors have taken on 33 cases involving more than 60 suspects, but the flood of cases has begun clogging up dockets across the country.

Politicians have also begun considering ways to stop the jihadists and their increasingly bold propaganda promoting the “holy war.” Last Friday, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière made any form of support for Islamic State illegal and an association of state working groups under the leadership of the Hesse Interior Ministry is currently looking into ways of preventing young Muslims from sliding into the militant Islamist scene in the first place. The aim is to combat the consistently rising number of young Muslims joining the jihad.

‘Tell Mom She Shouldn’t Be Frightened’

In many ways, Kreshnik B., the son of refugees from Kosovo, is a typical representative of jihad Made in Germany. The indictment claims that he boarded an Istanbul-bound bus in Frankfurt with six others in 2013. From there, they continued on to Syria.

“I really don’t care which group I end up fighting for,” Kreshnik wrote to his sister during the journey. “The most important thing is that I fight for Sharia and that I can do many deeds to serve God.” As fate would have it, he ended up joining Islamic State near the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Other extremist groups refused to accept the inexperienced men from the West, most of whom were unable to speak Arabic. But Islamic State took almost all of them, as cannon fodder, suicide bombers or, should it become necessary, hostages for ransom money.

Kreshnik B. went through a weapons training program, performed guard duties and fought. Back in Germany, his parents went to the police and were apparently ready to travel to Syria to convince their son to come home. “Tell mom that she shouldn’t be frightened, because I have my weapon with me,” Kreshnik wrote to his sister.

But the fun of jihad didn’t last long. Soon, Kreshnik began complaining to his sister of harassment from his commander, and of arguments and boring guard shifts. On one day, he reported, “three or four people” from his group died. We “shot tanks and tried everything, but nothing worked.”

Then, the head of the group came and said: “I need four people to go in who won’t come out alive.” The German jihadist wasn’t prepared for such a mission after all and traveled back to Frankfurt on Dec. 12, 2013, where he was arrested.

Part of the Salafist Scene

Exactly what pushed young people like Kreshnik B. to risk their lives in faraway wars was long a mystery to German authorities. But security officials recently assembled an 18-page report examining the radicalization process. It has provided some initial answers, and its findings, in some cases, are surprising.

The report notes that, of the 378 people who had headed for Syria with “Islamist motivations” by the end of June, more than 40 were women. Sixteen of them were minors, with the youngest having just turned 15. Almost two-thirds were born in Germany and roughly half of them left with the intention of joining the jihad. The overwhelming majority, 84 percent, are believed by authorities to be part of the Salafist scene.

In no way were all of Germany’s radicalized Muslims on the fringes of society or people without a future. More than 100 of them had received their diplomas by the time they left, with 41 of them having completed the Abitur, Germany’s college-prep diploma. Forty-three were enrolled in universities.

The “most important factor for radicalization” were friends, the study found. In 114 cases, they had a significant effect on those who headed off to join the jihad. Indeed, a jihadist’s circle of friends was found to be more important than the work of recruiters or radical preachers in Salafist mosques. In two-thirds of the cases, the Internet played a role in the radicalization process.

The report, which was commissioned by the Interior Ministry, conspicuously lacks ideas for how to address the growing number of fanatical Islamists. The fact that it took more than a year for the vast majority to become radicalized — theoretically providing sufficient time to intervene — offers a glimmer of hope. But family members, non-Islamist friends, teachers or social workers only rarely notice the subtle changes occurring in those close to them as they become more radical.

‘I Love Allah More’

Ismail I. marks something of an exception — his transformation took place extremely rapidly. He will likely become the next German to answer before a court for allegedly having joined the jihad in Syria. The trial is set to begin in Stuttgart at the end of October.

The Lebanese-born 24-year-old hasn’t had much success in his life. He was able to receive his high school diploma, albeit at a lower-tier Realschule, but was unable to find a traineeship afterwards. Drugs and truancy led to his expulsion from a vocational college, after which he worked for short stints at a bakery and at a KFC in Stuttgart. His marriage only lasted a few months.

Ismail I. then became acquainted with several significant figures in the German Salafist scene, including the preacher Sven Lau, who recently made headlines by sending a “Sharia Police” out on patrol in Wuppertal. After taking part in a pilgrimage with Lau, Ismail I. is thought to have flown from Düsseldorf to the Turkish city of Gaziantep on Aug. 22, 2013. From there, he took a bus to the Syrian border. He left a letter behind for his family reading: “I love you, but I love Allah more.”

In Syria, he allegedly joined Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, a Chechen-dominated group of Islamist fighters that merged into Islamic State over the course of last year.

In the autumn of 2013, Ismail I. apparently flew back to Stuttgart at the group’s behest. There, he went on a shopping spree for the war, buying large amounts of camouflage clothing, night-vision devices, scalpels and Celox, a drug which slows bleeding. For €850, he also purchased an old station wagon that he and a helper planned to use to drive his purchases back to Syria. But they didn’t get very far. They were arrested on Nov. 13 at an Autobahn rest area between Stuttgart and Ulm.

The case of Ismail I. illustrates the challenge facing the German judiciary as it addresses the muddled Syrian civil war 3,000 kilometers away. Several different groups, subgroups and sub-subgroups are involved in the fight there and it isn’t easy to tell which ones are affiliated with Islamic State.

Federal prosecutors, who charged Ismail I. in May, must conduct precise investigations. They are responsible for all cases having to do with crimes committed in connection with membership in or support of a foreign terror organization.

‘Unique Challenges’

History has shown that many such trials last more than a year. Officially, the federal prosecutor’s office describes them as “unique challenges for criminal investigations.” Unofficially, federal prosecutors recently sounded the alarm in the Justice Ministry — if the number of such cases continue to rise, the office will sooner or later be overwhelmed.

In Kreshnik B.’s case, a deal is in the works which could provide some relief to all involved. The court this week indicated that Kreshnik B. may be given a lighter sentence should he provide a comprehensive confession. Ahead of the trial, his defense attorney and prosecutors reportedly met with the judge to pave the way for just such a deal. Either way, given the possibility that Kreshnik B. would be convicted under juvenile law, his sentence isn’t likely to be severe. The defendant’s attorney, Mutlu Günal, told SPIEGEL that he would be open to a plea bargain.

But policymakers face an even more difficult challenge than jurists when it comes to jihad tourists. Officials believe that 120 people have returned to Germany from Syria thus far, but in many cases it isn’t clear what the person in question was doing in Syria — whether they fought and, if so, for whom. Most importantly, it isn’t clear in all cases whether they represent a threat now that they have returned home. The report compiled by security officials notes that only two dozen of those who have returned are “being cooperative with authorities.” The others are refusing to talk — and refusing to answer the question as to whether they intend to bring Islamic State’s fight to Germany.

Domestic policymakers have recently spoken of “banning” Islamic State in Germany. But in order to do so, it has to be proven that the group has built up club-like structures here — which it hasn’t yet. Last Thursday, domestic intelligence officials from across the country held a telephone conference to discuss what rules could be put in place instead. The next day, Interior Minister de Maizière announced that all acts in support of Islamic State were banned.

Whether the ban will be effective in the fight against Islamic State activists remains to be seen. The edict will certainly be helpful in locking away individual Islamic State supporters for up to two years should they display the group’s flag, use its symbols or spread its propaganda videos in the Internet. But banning Islamic State as a group isn’t yet possible because the group as such doesn’t exist yet in Germany. As such, de Maizière is operating in a legal gray area. “We want to nip the establishment of organized terror structures in the bud,” he said last week.

‘Deterrent Effect’

Another problem is the need to draw a clear line between Islamic State logos and normal symbols of Muslim belief. In individual cases, that might be tricky, one reason that the ban remained under consideration for so long. “We wanted to be sure that we wouldn’t offend the religious sensibilities of Muslims,” de Maizière said. He hopes the edict now issues will have a “deterrent effect.”

Other proposals have gone much further. One which is particularly popular among members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats would see a provision added to the criminal code that was once used to combat Germany’s left-wing terror group Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF).

“We have to once again make it criminal to solicit sympathy for terror organizations,” says CDU domestic policy expert Armin Schuster. “That would likely hit Islamic State supporters in Germany the hardest.”

The opposition in Berlin, however, continues to reject a further tightening of anti-terror laws. There are already “sufficient levers available to impose bans and limitations” on terrorists and their supporters, says Green Party domestic policy expert Irene Mihalic. “They just have to be forcefully applied.”

By Jörg Diehl, Hubert Gude, Jörg Schindler, Fidelius Schmid and Wolf Wiedmann-Schmidt




Digital Jihad: Inside Islamic State’s Savvy PR War — Spiegel Online


By Christoph Reuter, and Samiha Shafy

Published by Spiegel Online

Islamic State’s methods may be medieval, but the group’s propaganda is second to none. The Islamists target their professionally produced videos at specific audiences — sometimes to spread a specific message, sometimes merely to terrify.

Last Monday, the now weekly Islamic State television show pronounced its verdict on Barack Obama’s latest speech about the group: “Disappointingly predictable,” the anchorman intoned. “America is good, the Islamic State is bad,” he said, parodying the US president’s strategy. “And they will be defeated using aircraft and a motley collection of fighters on the ground.”

US allies in the Free Syrian Army, he went on, were an “undisciplined, corrupt and largely ineffective fighting force.” The Islamic State, the anchorman intoned, “welcome meeting Obama’s under-construction army.”

The speaker, pale and thin but bathed in professional lighting as he sat calmly at a table like a real anchorman, is a hostage. “Hello there,” his show began, “I’m John Cantlie, the British citizen abandoned by my government and a long-term prisoner of the Islamic State.” The cameras changed perspective frequently, from a frontal view to a lateral one, and zoomed in on his unshaven face. Cantlie, in effect, was speaking for his life. After about six minutes, he closed: “Until next time.”

The weekly videos featuring Cantlie, in which he argues on behalf of those who likely intend to kill him, are among the most perfidious productions created by the terrorist group Islamic State. Indeed, not long after Cantlie’s latest episode, Islamic State released another video, allegedly showing the beheading of Cantlie’s countryman Alan Henning, a 47-year-old taxi driver and aid organization worker who was kidnapped in Syria nine months ago. He is the fourth Western hostage that Islamic State has decapitated.

In recent months, Islamic State has become known for its adept video production and its fighters are widely present on all manner of social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram and SoundCloud. If their accounts get closed down, they just register under new names.

But the group’s marketing gurus do much more than simply repeat the same message ad infinitum on different platforms. They design each video and each message to correlate exactly to the target audience. For Western observers, they are cool, clean and coherent. For locals, they are bloody, brutal and fear-inducing.

Bringing People Together

When it works to their advantage, they exaggerate their own massacres. Sometimes they falsify the identity of their victims. The thousands of fellow Sunnis they killed in Syria were branded simply as “godless Shiites” on television. They even market themselves to kids, manipulating popular video games such as Grand Theft Auto V so that Islamic State fighters and the group’s black flag make an appearance.

In short videos from the series “Mujatweets,” an apparently German fighter talks about his supposedly wonderful life in the Caliphate. Such scenes, depicting the multicultural Islamic State brotherhood, are clearly meant for Muslims in the West. “Look here,” the message is, “everyone is equal here!” The images suggest that jihad has no borders; that it brings people together and makes them happy. Other blogs include women gushing about family life in wartime and the honor of being the widow of a martyr.

Islamic State’s propaganda offers something for every demographic — it is so professionally produced that al-Qaida looks old-fashioned by comparison. It is, as the New York Times recently dubbed it, “jihad 3.0.”

Their strategy is best illustrated by two almost simultaneously released videos from several weeks ago. One was produced to publicize the killing of American journalist James Foley, who had been kidnapped in November 2012. The second was likely never intended for a Western audience.

In the first, Foley’s captors had him deliver a message to the world. In the soft light of morning, Foley — dressed in Guantanamo orange — blamed the US for his death, expressed his regret at having been born American and absolved his murderers of all guilt. After he finished speaking, the masked Islamist standing next to him placed his knife on Foley’s throat and began moving it back and forth as the picture went dark.

There isn’t a single drop of blood to be seen in the video, making it seem as though his on-camera beheading was merely simulated. Experts have puzzled over the meaning of the staging, given the captors later show Foley’s bloody and detached head lying on his body. The most plausible explanation is that the video was designed to be tolerable for Western viewers — its most important message isn’t the murder itself, but Foley’s statement and that of his murderer just prior to the beheading. Those who attack Islamic State, the hooded killer threatens, must bear the consequences. He speaks English with a British accent.

‘Look At the Knife’

The second video couldn’t be more different. Heavily pixelated, it depicts Islamic State fighters murdering a group of rebellious clan members not far from the Syrian town of Deir ez-Zor. It is difficult to find adequate words to describe the 11-minute movie. The victims are lying on the ground, staring upwards with eyes full of fear, before their throats are slit one after the other and their heads are chopped or torn from their torsos. Their butchers laugh as they kill, saying things like “Hey, he’s really got some meat on his cheeks!” or “Hey you, you should look at the knife when I cut your head off!” The killers speak Arabic with Moroccan and Egyptian accents.

This video is aimed at a different audience, people living in the regions under Islamic State control, particularly those who might dare to resist — such as the men from the al-Sheitaat tribe that were massacred on camera. According to various sources, up to 700 tribesmen were killed in the slaughter. And the message appears to have been heard: The tribe’s sheikh responded by begging Islamic State for forgiveness and mercy.

For those against whom Islamic State is fighting, the message is always the same: Be afraid! The panicked fear they spread has become a real weapon for the jihadis, in light of the fact that they are often outnumbered by their opponents. It has worked well in many Syrian and Iraqi towns and villages. At the beginning of August, for example, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters abandoned almost all of their positions in the face of advancing Islamic State fighters.

To spread panic even further, Islamic State often exaggerates its own bloody excesses. After the battles between June 11 and 14, when Islamic State took control of Sunni areas in northwest Iraq, the group’s PR division released videos of its atrocities. They claimed the clips showed Islamic State jihadists killing 1,700 pro-government Shiite soldiers in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, a number that quickly found its way into international media reports.

But the videos, brutal as they were, showed the murder of a few dozen captured soldiers at most. People visited several large Iraqi cities on the search for evidence of the massacre, but no mass funerals or mourning ceremonies were observed. Activists from Human Rights Watch studied high-resolution satellite photos for fresh excavation sites that could indicate mass graves. They found evidence of two mass graves, and their initial study concluded that the number of dead was between 160 and 190. The group suspects that other mass graves exist, but no proof for a higher number of casualties has yet been found.

The West has tended to take Islamic State claims of barbarity at face value, primarily because it seems so unlikely that anyone would exaggerate one’s own cruelty. But the Islamic State was likely trying to reap benefits from its own seeming exaggerations.

‘The Law of the Jungle’

The jihadists’ PR experts are adept at altering reality to best fit the message it is attempting to propagate — either by overstating its murderousness or by changing the identities of its victims. Islamic State claims to be protecting and representing the interests of Sunni Muslims. Nevertheless, the jihadists in Syria have killed thousands of Sunnis who refused to submit to their ruthless claims to power. So as to stay on message, Islamic State propagandists simply claimed in video text that those killed were “Shiite soldiers of Assad’s.”

From a technical perspective, the group’s digital jihad has “exponentially improved” in the last year and a half, says Christoph Günther, an Islam expert at the University of Leipzig. Since 2007, he has been monitoring the group’s PR strategy. At the beginning — before it adopted the megalomaniacal name “Islamic State” and proclaimed the establishment of a “Caliphate” — its presentation was modest. “Earlier, the image quality of their videos was terrible,” Günther says. Often, hours-long speeches in Arabic were simply uploaded to the Internet.

Today, he says, the situation has changed significantly, thanks partly to the companies that Islamic State now operates in the territories under its control. The improvements have also stemmed from the influx of foreign fighters who can now spread the group’s propaganda in English, French, German and other languages.

One thing, however, remains unclear: What is Islamic State’s religious message? Osama Bin Laden and his followers made an effort to justify their deeds both before and after Sept. 11, 2001, says Fawaz Gerges, a terrorism expert at the London School of Economics. “They came up with theological justifications, they pointed to the suffering of the Palestinians or they claimed they were defending Muslims.” For Islamic State, though, he says, justifications hardly play any role at all. Its only message is violence and it is aimed even at their own fellow Sunnis. “There is nothing,” Gerges says. “It’s an intellectual desert.”

For years, Gerges has been monitoring the man who claims to be Islamic State’s “official spokesman.” He calls himself Abu Mohammed al-Adnani and the US State Department added his name to its terrorist list on August 18. Adnani, from the northern Syrian town of Binnish, is thought to be around 37 years old and is among the earliest members of Islamic State. He is one of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s closest confidants and was among those sent to Syria in 2011 to gain a foothold there. Today, Adnani is considered to be the right-hand man of al-Baghdadi’s, the self-proclaimed Caliph. A speech he delivered after coalition air strikes against Islamic State began — in which he called US Secretary of State John Kerry an “old uncircumcised geezer” — was translated into seven languages.

One anecdote about Adnani is particularly insightful, Gerges says. Two years ago, Gerges relates, representatives from various Islamist groups met near Aleppo to talk about conflicts among their groups. The others agreed that a religious council should be founded to solve the conflicts in accordance with Islamic law. But the Islamic State spokesman, so the story goes, merely looked at them disdainfully. He then said: “The only law I believe in is the law of the jungle.”

“Non-Official Cover” – Respected German Journalist Blows Whistle on How the CIA Controls the Media




131404“I was bribed by billionaires, I was bribed by the Americans to report…not exactly the truth.” – Udo Ulfkotte, former editor of one of Germany’s main daily publications, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Some readers will see this and immediately dismiss it as Russian propaganda since the interview appeared on RT. This would be a serious mistake.

Whether you want to admit it or not, CIA control of the media in the U.S. and abroad is not conspiracy theory, it is conspiracy fact.

Carl Bernstein, who is best known for his reporting on Watergate, penned a 25,000 word article in Rolling Stone after spending six months looking at the relationship of the CIA and the press during the Cold War years. Below is an excerpt, but you can read the entire thing here.

In 1953, Joseph Alsop, then one of America’s leading syndicated columnists, went to the Philippines to cover an election. He did not go because he was asked to do so by his syndicate. He did not go because he was asked to do so by the newspapers that printed his column. He went at the request of the CIA.

Alsop is one of more than 400 American journalists who in the past twenty‑five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters. Some of these journalists’ relationships with the Agency were tacit; some were explicit. There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services—from simple intelligence gathering to serving as go‑betweens with spies in Communist countries. Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors without‑portfolio for their country. Most were less exalted: foreign correspondents who found that their association with the Agency helped their work; stringers and freelancers who were as interested in the derring‑do of the spy business as in filing articles; and, the smallest category, full‑time CIA employees masquerading as journalists abroad. In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations.

Like any good intelligence agency, the CIA learned from its mistakes upon being exposed, and has since adjusted tactics. This is where the concept of “non-official cover” comes into play. The term was recently described by German journalist Udo Ulfkotte, in a blistering RT interview. Mr. Ulfkotte was previously the editor for one of Germany’s main dailies, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), so he is no small fry.

“Non-official cover” occurs when a journalist is essentially working for the CIA, but it’s not in an official capacity. This allows both parties to reap the rewards of the partnership, while at the same time giving both sides plausible deniability. The CIA will find young journalists and mentor them. Suddenly doors will open up, rewards will be given, and before you know it, you owe your entire career to them. That’s essentially how it works. But don’t take it from me…




If this peaked your curiosity, read about Operation Mockingbird.

Also see my post: How Hollywood Became “Propagandist in Chief” by John Pilger

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger