Germany and the Jihadist Threat

The appearance in an al-Qaeda video of Bekkay Harrach (AKA Abu Talha the German) speaking fluent German and possessing knowledge of the German social and political fabric brought to the forefront the preexisting jihadist threat to Germany. His video, released concurrently with a Taliban suicide bombing outside the German embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on January 17, 2009, was celebrated on jihadist forums. Indeed, virtual jihadist groups, such as the Global Islamic Media Front and the Jihadist Brigades to Invade the Internet, launched a campaign for its distribution to German internet forums and German citizens via e-mail and Facebook groups. The video is the first produced in the German-language by al-Qaeda’s media arm, as-Sahab; however it is not the only propaganda piece by a jihadist group threatening Germany or its interests abroad. By virtue of it being a Western state, compounded with its republication of the Danish cartoons insulting the Prophet Muhammad and its military presence in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, Germany is considered a prime target by the jihadist community.

Republication of Cartoons

In July 2006, two men of Lebanese descent, Jihad Hamad and Yusef Mohammed al-Hajj Dib, placed suitcases containing homemade explosives on two trains in Cologne, Germany. The devices, however, failed to explode. Six men, including Hamad and Dib, were arrested as suspects in the bomb plot, which, according to Hamad, was motivated by the publication in Germany of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, drawings which originally appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. One of the suspects, Saddam al-Hajj Dib, was reportedly killed in May 2007 amidst clashes in the Nahr al-Bared camp near Tripoli, Lebanon between Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese military.

Outrage amongst Muslims towards the cartoons was most palpable within the jihadist community, including al-Qaeda and militant leaders and members of jihadist forums. The publication and republication of the cartoons was viewed as an act of defiance against Islam, a demonstration of disrespect to Muslims and their sanctities. For example, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second-in-command of al-Qaeda, called for reprisals in the face of the republication in a speech released March 4, 2006, four months prior to the attempted train bombings in Germany. In the speech, al-Zawahiri stated:

  "They have directed insults to the Prophet and have purposefully continued in this and refused to apologize… It is insufficient to merely go and join some protests and burn a few embassies and then return home to our normal lives… But facing their insults requires a real defense that will thwart the Crusader campaign against Islam in all ways. This requires that we ask ourselves a dangerous question: Are we ready to sacrifice ourselves and what we own in the name of Allah?... If we are ready to sacrifice ourselves and what we own, then we must seek jihad against this criminal Crusader campaign that targets our creed, land, and resources."  

The issue persists three years later, as Bekkay Harrach, allegedly a former German resident now operating with al-Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, referenced the cartoon publications in his videotaped speech, produced in October 2008. Harrach, using the alias “Abu Talha the German,” noted the publishing of the cartoons by Der Spiegel, Die Velt, and ZDF, as a campaign “waged intentionally and deliberately to test the readiness of the Muslims.”

Another jihadist group, the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), also referenced the cartoons in its video released on April 15, 2008, which contains footage of a suicide bombing carried out by a Turkish fighter from Germany, Cuneyt Ciftci (AKA Sa’ad Abu Furqan). IJU, which is active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, says in the video’s introduction: “This film is revenge upon those who insulted the Messenger, peace and prayers of Allah be upon him. We say to the brothers of monkeys and pigs, just wait, just wait, we will come to your homeland.”

Military Presence in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan

The threat to launch strikes on enemy soil, evidenced by the German train plot in July 2006, materialized again in September 2007 when three IJU members were arrested by German intelligence over a plot to strike multiple targets in Germany. These targets included Frankfurt International airport, US military installations such as Ramstein Air Base, and bars and nightclubs. Two of the men, Fritz Martin Gelowicz and Daniel Martin Schneider, both German converts to Islam from Christianity, are reported by German investigators to have trained in a Pakistani camp operated by IJU. IJU released a statement on September 11, 2007 indicating the strikes were to be implemented at the end of 2007, hitting Uzbek targets as well. In this message, the group stated:

  "With these operations, our purpose was to clearly express that we are against the oppression by the United States and Uzbekistan, two countries who are leading the cruelty against Islam and Muslims, and it would have been a warning to remove the German air base that is located in Termez, Uzbekistan, from Uzbekistan…. If the infidels do not decide to make peace and do not stop their slaughter of Muslims, we feel obligated to protect ourselves and our Muslim brothers, and to retaliate for the murder they have committed."  

The alleged encroachment on Muslim sovereignty, as cited by IJU in the September 2007 statement, and German participation in the war in Afghanistan have been stated repeatedly to be the primary contributing factors for jihadist actions and rhetoric aimed at Germany. Al-Qaeda leaders, including Usama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and leaders from the Taliban and IJU, have repeatedly demanded Germany and other US-allies withdraw from Afghanistan and cease support to the Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai. In his speech, Bekkay Harrach focuses on the German military presence in Afghanistan and advises that any financial rescue plan in German will be useless so long as Germany maintains the military presence in Afghanistan. He also threatens that, should the German military persist in its role in Afghanistan, it will be struck in the German homeland. Harrach says:

  "Germany, with its 3,500 soldiers, is the third largest military presence in Afghanistan. The British, as the second largest military presence, had the first taste, and if the Germans think naively and lightly – which I do not expect – that they, as the third largest forces, will be left alone, then the presence of Germany politicians in the Bundestag is misplaced."  

Harrach addresses his words to the German people, aiming to create popular pressure on the German government to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, especially in the Germany federal election in September 2009, stating:

  "I believe that the German people will take the right decision and will thereby avoid unnecessary problems. The Germans have a new hope for the return of security, sleep, shopping, and peace of mind without continuous fear that the bearded foreigner or Germany may be a bomb. The entire solution is in your hands alone."  

  "If the Germans do not follow this path, then they will have passed judgment on themselves. If the democratic order commits the minority to accepting laws legislated by the parliament, such as the laws on health and taxes, so, too, must the minority suffer the consequences of the hostility of the majority. This is a democratic principle."  

IJU, through a German fighter in its ranks, has also directed threats at Germany over its presence in Muslim countries. Eric Breininger (AKA “Abdul Gaffar the German”) commented in an IJU interview, released on a Turkish jihadist website on May 23, 2008, that Germany should expect attacks organized by Islamic organizations. He also cites the military base in Termez, Uzbekistan, adding:

  "[Germany] is helping Americans by permitting them to build a base in the country. Americans are using these bases to fight against the Muslims. As long as this continues, Germany and all other occupying countries should expect operations organized by Muslims. Whoever wants the war, will get it."  

Breininger first appeared in an IJU video released on April 28, 2008, speaking in German and encouraging Muslims in Germany to participate in and support jihad. His next appearance came on October 21, 2008, in a video titled, “An Appeal from the Hindukush,” in which he denies media reports that he is inside Germany planning attacks. Such reports, he explains, are used to spread panic amongst Germans, while the real danger comes from the presence of German soldiers in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.  Abdul Gaffar declares that war is proclaimed against every country aligned with the United States against Muslims, adding: “The German people must turn to their own government if they wish to continue and be spared of Muslim attacks in Germany.”

Other jihadist groups also direct messages to the German government and its people to affect withdrawal, some taking measures such as capturing Germans as a means of pressure. For example, a group in Iraq calling itself the “Arrows of Righteousness,” released three videos between March and September 2007 threatening to kill a German mother and son, Hannelore Marianne Krause and Sinan Krause, unless German forces were pulled out of Afghanistan. In the second video, released on April 2, Hannelore Krause speaks in German, pleading to the German people and her family to secure the release of her and her son, stating:

  "Germany was safe before it allied with America in this devilish alliance against what is called terrorism. What terrorism is this? Did the Afghan people attack Berlin and destroy its factories? Did any Muslim explode on bomb in Germany? Do our politicians want us to be victims of the way of which we have nothing to do? All of us will pay the price for this through our economy and through our security. And I will be the first victim if you don’t agree to the demands of these men [in the Arrows of Righteousness]."  

Hannelore was ultimately released in July 2007, but the fate of Sinan is unknown.

The Taliban in Afghanistan has also used hostage-taking as a means to pressure the German government. On July 18, 2007, the Taliban captured two German engineers, Rudolf Blechschmidt and Ruediger Biedrich, in Wardak province and threatened to kill them unless Berlin heeded its demands, which included the withdrawal of German forces from Afghanistan. Three days later, the group announced in a statement posted to a jihadist website that as their conditions were not met and the prisoners were executed. Their claim would later be found spurious; Blechschmidt was released on October 10, 2007 after Germany paid a ransom and the Afghan government released four prisoners.

The Taliban has also directed messages to German citizens, warning that their government’s refusal to withdraw German soldiers from Afghanistan will warrant more attacks against these soldiers. In the 32nd issue of its electronic magazine al-Samoud, released on jihadist forums on February 3, 2009, the Taliban addressed a message to Germans in an article titled, “A Message to the German People and to its Rulers Who Side with the Americans.” In it, the Taliban states that German leaders, Chancellor Angela Merkel in particular, stand with American soldiers in their alleged assault on Afghans civilians. They argue that the suicide bombing against the Germany embassy in Kabul on January 17, 2009 was a means to punish German rulers for their ignorance of the Afghan plight, stating:

  "This martyrdom-seeking operation was a clear message to the German people to punish their rulers who side with the Americans. [These rulers] abused the trust given to them by the German voters, and they preferred the interests of foreigners over the interests of Germans. Also, it is a message warning those rulers ignorant to the painful Afghan situation."  

Another group, a virtual jihadist media organization known as the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), also addressed messages to Germany through its German-offshoot, threatening attacks if Germany does not withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. The first of these videos was released March 10, 2007 and also addressed Austria. Though the GIMF does not claim to have a military arm, it works with groups that do operate on the ground, such as the Army of Islam [Jeish al-Islam] in Gaza and the Shabaab al-Mujahideen (Young Mujahideen Movement) in Somalia, and distributes media extensively to indoctrinate and incite Muslims. In the message, GIMF warns:

  "O German government, Germany is a strong economic country, and until recently, it was a safe land. Why do you want to lose all of this Bush and his gang?... With your assistance and limitless support for America, terrorist calls are motivate to attack you. Thus, you destroy your security by your own hands. This is our advice to you: Remove your soldiers from the Muslim lands and take back your support for Bush and his people, because this is surely in your interest."  

A second video from the German GIMF was released on November 21, 2007, also addressing both Germany and Austria. To Germany, the group reiterates its demand for withdrawal, stating:

  "The German soldiers remain still in Afghanistan and we repeat against the call of the last video, that Germany must remove its troops from Afghanistan, which serves your own security in your country. The same applies to Austria, also. The mujahideen have spared you so far, as the number of your dead soldiers is not particularly high, but this will soon be otherwise, as the Taliban has announced a winter offensive and this offensive stretches to the north [of Afghanistan]."  

Calls to German Muslims

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a jihadist group active in Central Asia that has carried out attacks in Afghanistan, has produced propaganda aimed at German Muslims, encouraging them to migrate to Afghanistan for jihad. Such participation would apparently include military training that also threatens the German state. Several individuals speaking in German appear in an IMU video posted to jihadist forums on January 10, 2009 produced sometime in September 2008. The video, titled “A Joyous Message from Afghanistan,” boasts of the success of the mujahideen in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and like other jihadist productions, portrays jihad as a duty incumbent upon Muslims. One of the mujahideen appearing in the video, identified as “Abu Abdullah from Germany,” sits amongst children, two of whom carry rifles, and urges German Muslims to come and practice jihad with their entire family. He says: “Dear brothers from Germany, as you can see, this has become a family-friendly place. Bring your wives and children along with you; there is place to live far from the front. There are hospitals, pharmacies, and schools.”

Another of the mujahideen in the video, identified as “Abu Adam from Germany,” makes a similar exhortation, stating:

  "My dear Ummah in Germany, you who are glad with Allah as your Lord: You have been obligated to fight. Fighting is destined for you. And Allah knows best… But perhaps something is holding you back, even though this is good for you… Don’t you want to be in Allah’s favor? Don’t you want Him to forgive your sins?... Brothers, don’t you know? What is the problem with this transaction? What bothers you with this business exchange?"  


Since 2006, there has been an increase in the tempo in which jihadists have targeted Germany with actions and threats. The threats from al-Qaeda and IJU highlight an existing threat not only to German soldiers stationed in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, was also to the German state. Indeed, individuals like Bekkay Harrach, who states during his speech that “detonating myself in the path of Allah is my desire since 1993,” whose appearance could be inconspicuous in Germany, may represent a greater danger to Germany than that of the Taliban, which has not expressed a desire to launch attacks outside Afghanistan. After the release of Harrach’s video, as-Sahab released a German-subtitled version of its video documenting the suicide bomber who struck the Danish embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan on June 2, 2009. That video, originally released on September 4, 2008, declared the suicide bombing to be an act of revenge for the Danish cartoons insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Its distribution, in tandem with the distribution of Harrach’s video, exacerbates the jihadist threat to Germany.