By Jörg Diehl and Michael Fröhlingsdorf
The last movement in the life of novice motorcyclist Mustafa B. was a twist of his right hand. His red Honda Fireblade, which had a 178-horsepower engine and a top speed of 290 km/h (180 mph), accelerated with a roar and shot past the cars. Seconds later, the biker smashed into a tree. He died at the scene of the accident, a four-lane street in the northwestern German city of Bremen. A statement later issued by the police blandly stated that "no third party was to blame."
Nevertheless, investigators took a particularly close look at the victim's motorbike to check for possible sabotage. After all, 38-year-old Mustafa B., who was Kurdish, was considered a leading light in Bremen's organized crime circles. The police therefore had good reasons to suspect that some people might have had a vested interest in his demise.
Mustafa B. had challenged the Hells Angels, the legendary bikers' club. Members of the Hells Angels have long been believed to play an important role in the city's underworld. In August, Mustafa B. and almost two dozen members of his clan had founded a local chapter of the Mongols, an international motorcycle club. It was the first time in Germany that members of a Muslim immigrant clan which is believed to be involved in organized crime have been active in this area.
Investigators in Bremen now fear the move will herald the outbreak of another bloody biker war that could quickly spread to other cities. Another, no less comforting, possibility is that the Hells Angels and the Kurdish gang will join forces. "We're keeping an eye on both developments with great concern," says Bremen police detective Harald Habethal.
Bikers Without Motorbikes
One thing is certain: The immigrants are not interested in emulating an "Easy Rider"-type lifestyle. According to investigators, the new bikers have neither motorbikes nor the requisite motorcycle license. Whenever they cruise through Bremen's downtown area, they drive powerful cars. Mustafa B. was the only member of the clan who had actually gotten his license, two weeks before his untimely death. "We suspect that the members of ethnic clans are interested in developing new structures and trading channels," says Andreas Weber, the head of Bremen's State Office of Criminal Investigation. The Mongols are believed to be involved in drug dealing in the US and southern Europe. The Bremen Mongols could therefore have much to gain from cooperation with gangs elsewhere.
The Bremen police believe that the Kurdish clan already controls the city's drugs trade. The clan is part of a group of Mhallamiye Kurds who emigrated to Germany from Lebanon in the 1980s. They have made little effort to integrate into German society, and primarily live off welfare and shady businesses like drug dealing and prostitution. Most of them live in Bremen, Berlin and the western city of Essen. Police estimate that the Bremen clan has at least 2,600 members. They are already investigating about half of them. A total of 66 family members are considered to be particularly hardened criminals.
Most of the members of the Bremen Mongols chapter also have extensive police records. Ibrahim M., the man investigators believe succeeded Mustafa B. as the head of the club, has been associated with no fewer than 147 crimes, ranging from grievous bodily harm to illegal possession of a weapon.
It certainly seems to be an ideal time to expand their operations. The Bremen chapter of the Hells Angels is currently relatively weak. Although they were able to drive the rival Bandidos gang out of the city four years ago, many of their members are currently on probation, and the Kurds are seen as particularly ruthless.
So it's hardly surprising that peace talks are apparently already underway. The head of the Hells Angels in Hanover, Frank Hanebuth, is said to have offered the Mongols 250,000 to join him, at least according to the leader of the Mongols in Germany, Bernhard Denzinger, who runs a club in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg. The Kurds apparently rejected Hanebuth's overtures, however.
Hanebuth denied having made any such offer. "We never offered anyone money," he said. "We absolutely don't need to do that."
A similar tactic by the Hells Angels proved successful in Berlin. At the start of 2010, they were able to convince a particularly brutal group of Bandidos led by a man identified as Kadir P. to leave the club. The Hells Angels incorporated the defectors into their club. Now they call themselves the Hells Angels Nomads Turkiye.
The police in Bremen want to take a tough stance against the bikers. Weber says criminals will be prosecuted quicker and the clubs may possibly be banned. Mongols chief Bernhard Denzinger also says he won't allow criminal elements to endanger his club, although he admits that some of the new members "overdid things a bit" in the past. He is also demanding that all his members get a motorcycle license by early May at the latest.
As such, it may not be the police who put an end to the club's activities, but the department of transportation.
Translated from the German by Jan Liebelt
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