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Terror in Germany: An interview with Guido Steinberg

16/03/2011

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.