Two stories surfaced over last weekend which I have only now gotten around to processing properly – first is the case of Jan Schneider, the latest convert linked to the infamous Sauerland group that has the Bundeskriminalamt (BKA) on high alert, and second is the case of Khalid Kelly, former head of Al Muhajiroun in Ireland (or at least one of its more prominent activists) who has now surfaced in the Swat valley.
Both stories are amusing in their own way thanks to their predictability. Jan Schneider is merely the latest in a list of sons of Germany linked to the Sauerland group who have gotten Germany’s security services into a high state of tension. An earlier scare with Eric Brenniger turned embarrassing when he released a video of himself running around an Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) training camp, ridiculing BKA concerns. And just before the elections, Bekkay Harrach, a young German-Moroccan, released a series of threatening videos which seemed to suggest that AQ or the IJU had a terror attack planned in the weeks after the recent elections. Nothing, however, surfaced which might mean nothing, or might mean everything (there was an earlier discussion about this on Free Rad!cals). This time concerns are focused that Schneider may do something in Afghanistan, maybe follow in the footsteps of Cuneyt Ciftici, another member of the broader Sauerland group network nicknamed the ‘Bavarian Taliban’ who has the dubious honour of being Germany’s first known suicide bomber.
The Khalid Kelly case is instead amusing for the bluntness of his “coming out” interview in the Sunday Times. In it he states “I’m already on the path to jihad….next week, inshallah, I could be in Afghanistan fighting a British soldier,” and if he is unable to locate a British one, he will “settle” for an American. Charming as they may be, such comments are not entirely new for a chap who once said “Osama bin Laden is a good man,” and who wishes that he had “been on those tube trains” on July 7, 2005. One imagines not in a passenger role.
Kelly is a known quantity and has been active in Al Muhajiroun circles since he came back from Saudi Arabia a changed man in 2002. Initially migrating to Saudi as a nurse, he was incarcerated for bootlegging and while inside converted to Islam. Upon returning to the UK, he started attending Omar Bakri Mohammed’s lectures and became an activist with his group. Schneider appears to be a brighter sort of chap: German authorities claim he is one of the intellectual figures on the Islamist scene with others seeking him out for advice, making him a possible leader. A German born in Kazakhstan (during the war Stalin brutally relocated Germans living in the Soviet Union to Kazakhstan as a pre-emptive measure), he uses the name “Hamza” (powerful), has a young family and apparently studied in Saudi Arabia for a while.
Tactically both cases are interesting in that they suggest two known European support networks feeding fighters to Afghanistan remain active. The converts angle is also interesting, however, as it highlights the high proportion of converts who appear in radical groups. Most major plots in the UK have counted a convert amongst their ranks – something that was explained to me as the product of the fact that often a convert can have a catalytic radicalizing effect on a group. Any individual who chooses to convert is clearly already very zealous – and if they are attracted towards an extreme path, it stands to reason that this zeal will follow them down this road. This in turn might drive those around them to greater lengths to prove their piousness.
It is unclear how useful Kelly will prove to be in Swat – by his own admission he is out of shape, 42 years old and seems a little under-prepared with only five hours training on an M-16. Schneider may seem scarier, but at the same time, the German government’s regular shouting of wolf about individuals in this network appears not to have been answered with any attacks, something one suspects is probably beginning to dull public belief in them.