Bünyamin E.'s fate shows how precarious passing on information can be. Shortly before his departure from Wuppertal, where neighbors say he was always a friendly and open-minded young man, he allegedly bragged about planning a suicide attack. After he had left the country, German intelligence notified the Americans and also provided them with information about other recruits from Germany. They included Bünyamin's German mobile phone number, the mobile phone number of a contact in Turkey and, later on, the address of a café in Mir Ali where "Bünno," as friends called him, sometimes went.
In Mir Ali, the group of German Islamists met Sher Maula Khan, a Pakistani who owns and rents out apartments in three buildings in the Waziristan death zone in the Afghani-Pakistani border region, where most Islamists live. Sher Maula Khan is "a completely normal local" and a member of neither the Taliban nor al-Qaida, claims Frankfurt Islamist Rami Makanesi, who had also rented an apartment from Khan in Mir Ali. "He has a pharmacy and a grocery store," says Makanesi, noting that Khan preferred renting to Germans instead of Arabs. The Arabs, according to Makanesi, have "a bad reputation, because they are quickly targeted in drone attacks."
The target of the October strike was apparently a Taliban commander believed to be behind an attack on a US base in Khost in December 2009, which killed seven American intelligence agents. There are many indications that the CIA knew exactly who was staying in the building outside Mir Ali. The Americans apparently accepted the possibility that Bünyamin E. and the other Islamists from Germany would also be killed in the drone strike. However, their actual target, the Taliban strategist, had left the property before the attack.
The deadly drone attack has already changed the way the German and US governments interact. The German Interior Ministry has issued new, more restrictive rules and has instructed the BfV to stop providing the Americans with current information that would make it possible to determine the location of German citizens.
Although telephone numbers are still being passed on, details on exact locations are not. If the information ends up on the Americans' so-called "Capture or Kill" lists, the Germans note that it can only be used to arrest suspects.
When providing information, the German intelligence agencies include wording to the effect that the Americans can use it "for intelligence purposes only" or "to protect against threats" -- in other words, not to hunt people down. According to a German official, these instructions "rule out the possibility that German information could be used to plan a drone attack."
This will hardly put an end to the discussion of drone attacks. More than 30 Islamists from Germany are still in Waziristan. It is only a matter of time before another drone attack claims the lives of German citizens.