By Yassin Musharbash, Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark
It was a Sunday in September when they lost their son Jan*. He gave his parents a particularly tight hug, his father recalls, a long and intense embrace. The father says that he could sense that this was no normal goodbye, and that it was about more than the supposed vacation trip to celebrate the couple's first wedding anniversary -- which was the story that Jan, 24, and his wife Alexandra* had cooked up for him.
It was the day of the German parliamentary elections in 2009, and the autumn sun was shining in Berlin, but Jan and Alexandra weren't interested in who would govern the country. They were going to leave Germany. They had rejected this society and this state. Jan and Alexandra packed their things into a rental car, picked up another couple, and the four friends headed off into exile. One of their traveling companions was 17 years old and six months pregnant -- her husband had just turned 20. Their child would not be born in Germany.
The two married couples headed to Budapest, where they boarded a plane for Istanbul. Jan placed one last call to his parents from a hotel.
Since then there have been only sporadic e-mails. These have been loving messages to his father and mother. But he also writes things that frighten his parents. He is living among brothers and doesn't need much money, Jan writes. No, they can't visit him -- it would be too dangerous, he says. And no, he can no longer imagine returning to Berlin, to a life among the kuffar, the infidels.
Then, in December, he wrote that he didn't know if he would live to see the next summer. Since then his parents have been looking in their mailbox every morning -- and every morning it's the same: nothing. They can hardly bear the uncertainty.
German intelligence agencies presume that Jan and Alexandra are now living in the Afghan-Pakistani border region. It is a world in which al-Qaida and the Taliban are strong and the state is weak, where conflicts are resolved according to the rules of the sharia and local chieftains. This is also allegedly the last refuge, at least for the time being, of Osama bin Laden.
In this remote mountain region, a colony of Germans has sprung up -- expats who have severed all roots and found a new homeland in the Hindu Kush. Germany's Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) maintains a list of suspects who have taken off to Afghanistan or Pakistan -- or at least tried to leave -- over the past few years. The list has nearly 100 names. It's a directory of the third generation of Islamist terrorists after the 9/11 suicide pilots and Germany's so-called "Sauerland Cell". Like their predecessors, they are eager to fight the holy war and die a martyr's death. Intelligence agencies are now wondering who among this generation will become the next Mohammed Atta or the next Fritz Gelowicz, the ring leader of the Sauerland Cell -- or who will emulate former Bosch employee CŁneyt Ciftci, who hailed from the quiet southern German town of Ansbach and carried out a suicide bombing in Afghanistan in March 2008, blowing himself to pieces and killing four people.
The list includes Jan and Alexandra from Berlin, Michael W. from Hamburg -- who tried to slip away last spring but was arrested in Pakistan and sent back -- and the 19-year-old Berliner Omar H., who disappeared with his girlfriend last January. They are driven by the dream of a life that they see as a pure reflection of the teachings of Islam. They want to exchange the Western world for an archaic life in barren huts, where they only occasionally have electricity and where the Koran stands above everything.
The first two generations consisted of angry young men who yearned to go into battle, and opted to leave their women behind. The third generation is different, though. They are younger and highly ethnically mixed, often men and women who leave Germany together -- or even shortly before the birth of their children -- on their way from the Berlin district of Wedding to Waziristan, the porous border region skirting the Afghan-Pakistani border.
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