Germany In Terrorist Crosshairs

By Yassin Musharbash

Spiegel Online

August 22, 2006

Islamist terrorists appear to be setting their sights on Germany. Authorities have already prevented three planned attacks since Sept. 11, 2001, not including a recent plot to strike two regional trains. How great is the threat to Germany? Berlin - The words "Infectious Materials" on Markus Kaiser's 17-inch monitor are a gag, but one with serious undertones. Kaiser is a member of the "Islamism Taskforce" at the German state of Baden-Württemberg's internal intelligence agency, and although Islamism isn't exactly infectious in a medical sense, it can certainly be viewed as an infectious ideology.

Today Kaiser, with a background in combatting right-wing extremism, and Benno Köpfer, an expert on Islam, monitor Islamist Web sites and investigate possible links to Baden-Württemberg. And these links certainly exist. The two men are constantly discovering new, hate-spouting extremist Web sites, some of which are headquartered in their own state. "The most pervasive poison," says Köpfer, "is the dissemination of al-Qaida's ideology."

Herbert Landolin Müller, head of the taskforce, is equally cognizant of the potential danger. "I believe it will happen. But what we don't know is where or when," says Müller, when asked whether Germany can expect an attack from Islamist terrorists in the coming year.

Although Islamist terrorists haven't managed to stage an attack on German soil yet, experts agree that this doesn't mean they won't succeed in the future. Indeed, they have already made three attempts:

In 2002, a terrorist cell tied to now deceased Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi planned to launch attacks on Jewish and supposedly Jewish facilities in Berlin and western Germany's Ruhr region.

In 2003, Tunisian national Ihsan Garnaoui apparently planned to stage an attack during a protest march in Berlin.

In late 2004, intelligence agents tracked down a group of Iraqi Kurds who were members of terrorist organization Ansar Al-Islam and apparently planned to assassinate then interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi during a state visit in Berlin.

Another frustrated attack was added to the list just last week, when officials uncovered a failed plot to detonate explosives in two regional trains bound, respectively, for the two central German cities of Koblenz and Dortmund. One of the would-be attackers, a Lebanese man, was arrested over the weekend, solidifying fears that an Islamist terrorist plot was in the works in Germany.

Attacks on German soil are now seen as a realistic scenario. But who is organizing them? Who is devising the plans? In the last five years, authorities have identified about 200 "high-level threats" living in Germany. The category includes all known Islamists whose prior history suggests that they could be capable of planning and executing terrorist attacks.

Not very high up on the al-Qaida list

After Sept. 11, 2001, German authorities, first under then Interior Minister Otto Schily, a Social Democrat, and now under the current interior minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, a Christian Democrat, characterized the threat level in Germany as "abstractly high." When three ethnic Pakistani Britons and a Jamaican convert to Islam blew themselves up in London in July 2005, it became clear that a new generation of attackers has joined the ranks of those Islamists traditionally viewed as potential threats. The planned attacks on aircraft departing from London that were thwarted in August and the plot targeting German regional trains uncovered last week have made the threat seem all the more imminent.

But why is Germany in the crosshairs of international jihadism? After all, al-Qaida's two major attacks in Europe to date were attributed to the fact that the governments of Spain and Britain were involved in the Iraq war, which Germany is not. And Germany itself was not the direct target of the previously thwarted attacks. In one case it was an Iraqi politician and in the second it was German Jews, who Islamists planned to attack because of their religious affiliation, not their citizenship.

In fact, Germany is not exactly high up on the list of targets of al-Qaida and its ilk. Osama bin Laden, for example, has only mentioned Germany twice, which places the country in the lower half of states apparently of interest to the al-Qaida leader. By comparison, bin Laden has mentioned countries like Morocco, Great Britain, Jordan, Pakistan, Australia and the Philippines between four and seven times, while Sweden and Nigeria have each received only one mention so far.

But this hardly means that there is no threat. "What role does this war play for Germany, if not as a war of unfaith and as a crusade," the founder of al-Qaida said in October 2001, and in so doing added Germany to his own "Axis of Infidels." Almost a year later, he added: "What drives these governments to take part in the war against us? Those most worth mentioning are Great Britain, France and Italy -- but also Germany and Australia."

The war bin Laden referred to was the US-led campaign against Afghanistan launched after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in which, unlike the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Germany was involved. This involvement has made Germany and its citizens potential targets of terror ever since.

When three terrorists shot German national Hermann D. in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh in May 2004, it became clear that this status continued to apply after the beginning of the Iraq war. "The mujahedeen in Riyadh have killed a Western infidel who was a German citizen," wrote the Saudi branch of al-Qaida in a letter claiming responsibility for the killing, adding that one should "remember that Germany is one of the central countries in the international alliance against Islam."

Such passages are reason enough for any militant Islamist seeking justification for an attack in Germany or against German interests. In other words, the fact that there are no German tanks stationed in Baghdad has by no means made Germany exempt from attack. Radical Islamists are convinced that Germany is indeed deeply involved in the Iraq war, partly because Berlin has diplomatic relations with the new Iraqi government and is helping it train its security forces. For al-Qaida and like-minded groups, this is tantamount to directly supporting the United States.

Germany as an adversary

Susanne Osthoff was the first German national in Iraq to feel the effects of German policies firsthand, when she was kidnapped in the country's north in November 2005. Perhaps her kidnappers were nothing more than a criminal gang. But in the videotape they released of their hostage, the group demanded that the German government cease all cooperation with the Iraqi government. When two months later German engineers René Bräunlich and Thomas Nitzschke were kidnapped in January 2006, their captors also demanded an end to German support for Iraq.

All of this points to the notion that Germany does not enjoy a reputation in Islamist circles as a peaceful power. This fatal impression was only intensified by a scandal in which it was revealed that Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the BND, supplied the United States with information during the Iraq war, as well as by the German government's lukewarm approach to the CIA kidnapping of Khaled al- Masri, a naturalized German citizen of Lebanese descent. . In part because of these incidents, Islamist discussion forums on the Internet treat Germany as an enemy state.

Besides, Germany's special relationship with Israel often leads to the perception that the country is one-sided in its support for the Israelis. In view of the current crisis in Lebanon, this perception could very well have inspired a Lebanese man living in Germany to plan an attack against Germans. It's been rumored that a few weeks ago Israeli troops killed a brother of the suspect who was arrested in the northern German city of Kiel last week.

If the plot on German regional trains had been carried out, Germany would have joined the Netherlands, Spain and Great Britain as European nations that have fallen victim to "third-generation" attackers -- that is, attackers who, with no apparent direct connection to a network like al-Qaida, quickly become radicalized and take matters more or less into their own hands.

Murder of an editor-in-chief narrowly prevented

This profile describes Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh's murderer, Muhammad Bouyeri, who was born in 1978, slid into Islamic radicalism within months, became increasingly hostile to his supposed native country, the Netherlands, and finally turned into a killer. Before murdering 52 people in July 2005, the four London attackers had followed a similar path from apparent integration to open hatred.

Several incidents in the recent past have triggered these new types of ad hoc attacks, which appear to have replaced complex operations modeled after Sept. 11. One example was the Danish cartoon controversy that kept the world on tenterhooks in early 2006. Al-Qaida deliberately attempted to exploit the incident to foment hatred of the West. The group's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was the first to do so. And in April 2006, Osama bin Laden also branded the cartoons as an attack on Islam. Almost concurrently, the Iraqi Ansar Al-Islam network devoted a special edition of its online magazine to the topic -- and listed the names of European newspapers and magazines that had reprinted the cartoons. The list included Die Tageszeitung, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Die Welt.

Just how quickly the seeds of violence, once planted, can sprout became clear in May 2006, when it was revealed that a Pakistani student living in the western German city of Mönchengladbach had tried to make his way into the Berlin headquarters of publishing giant Springer, apparently in an attempt to attack the then editor-in-chief of Die Welt, Roger Köppel. A murder modeled after the Amsterdam killing of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was narrowly prevented.

Germany has been spared -- so far. "We have a healthy self-confidence," says domestic intelligence official Müller. "But we are also the first to be criticized the minute something happens here." His comments evoke something an IRA terrorist once famously said: "For you to succeed, you must prevent every attack. For us to succeed, we only have to be successful once." In Germany, terrorists have never come as close to that single success as in recent weeks.,1518,432829,00.html