Germans Arrested in Pakistan Flirting with Jihad?

Pakistani intelligence agents have arrested two men from Germany near the border with Afghanistan -- they are suspected of having contact with Islamic terrorists. Berlin is trying to gain access to the prisoners, and is hoping to avoid a replay of the Kurnaz case.

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Militant Islamists are thought to have camps in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now two men from Germany have been arrested there, accused of having contact with the militants.
DPA

Militant Islamists are thought to have camps in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now two men from Germany have been arrested there, accused of having contact with the militants.

For most foreign visitors, the road to Waziristan ends less than 100 kilometers (62 miles) west of Lahore, at a Pakistan military checkpoint. Beyond the checkpoint begins a journey through a mountainous no man's land dotted with small villages, past houses surrounded by high walls. Gun barrels jut from many a pickup truck with tinted windows. Getting out of the car here is not such a good idea.

Intelligence agencies are intensely interested in what goes on in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. No other area is mentioned more frequently in discussions of where exactly Osama bin Laden's hideout may be located. Pakistani intelligence agents estimate the number of terrorists in the region to be above 2,000, with most thought to come from Uzbekistan and Arab countries. "Not the right place to study the Koran," in the opinion of Ernst Uhrlau, the president of Germany's Federal Intelligence Service (BND). His agency characterizes the region as "al-Qaida's deployment zone."

In the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, it's not difficult to spot a European -- even when they're dressed in traditional garb like the two German men that showed up in northern Pakistan early this year. Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's intelligence agency, seized 29-year-old Nihad C. from Pforzheim, Germany, in Rawalpindi. Three days later an acquaintance of his, 30-year-old Michael N. from Oberhausen, was arrested in Raiwind.

A repeat of the Kurnaz case?

The area is under heavy surveillance from US intelligence agencies, and they were closely involved in the arrest of the two Germans, who have been considered a diplomatic problem in Berlin ever since. The worst case scenario would be if Pakistan proved uncooperative and decided to hand the two prisoners over to the US authorities -- then Berlin would face a replay of the Kurnaz case, in which a 25-year old Turkish citizen and German resident was arrested in Pakistan and held at the US military prison at Guantánamo, Cuba for four years. German diplomats have already taken the precaution of contacting the Pakistani ambassador on Thursday of last week and requesting the German consulate be allowed access to Michael N.

The allegations brought against the German duo by the local Pakistani authorities are extremely serious: The two are accused of having contacts with militant Islamists, and Nihad C. is also suspected of having visited an al-Qaida camp in the border region or at least having planned such a visit. The camp in question is one of several CIA Deputy Director Stephen R. Kappes recently indicated on a map during a meeting with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf.

German investigators also believe Nihad C. was looking for more than religious enlightenment in one of the countless Koran schools between Lahore and Islamabad. The Pforzheim resident, who was born in Germany but holds a Bosnian passport, first attracted the attention of the German authorities due to his connections with the Arab-German Muslim Union, an association in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg that the authorities have been keeping an eye on.

Ernst Uhrlau, the president of Germany's Federal Intelligence Service has described the border region in Pakistan as al-Qaida's deployment zone.
DPA

Ernst Uhrlau, the president of Germany's Federal Intelligence Service has described the border region in Pakistan as al-Qaida's deployment zone.

German investigators have suspected Nihad C. of belonging to militant Islamist circles at least since 2002, when he was conspicuously close with leading functionaries of the Active Islamic Youth in Bosnia, a group thought to support militant jihad. He is said to have temporarily flirted with the idea of going to fight in Chechnya. On Nov. 1, 2006, he left his two-room apartment, gave notice of departure to the town authorities and made his way to Pakistan. He arrived there about four weeks later.

The two travellers from Germany are said to have met at a Raiwind mosque run by the Tabligh-i-Jamaat missionary group. Nihad C. is said to have stated during interrogation that Michael N. whispered to him that he wanted to go to Waziristan. But the Pakistani authorities have concluded from their first interrogations that Michael N. is a hanger-on rather than a hardcore Muslim militant -- which fits his low profile in Germany.

A high school graduate without any vocational training, Michael N. kept his head above water by working odd jobs. He last worked for a call center in Oberhausen, where his job was selling hotel gift certificates for a monthly wage of €800, plus commission. A former colleague says he was a "quiet eccentric" who always showed up in a gray caftan and sported a full beard. "We all thought he was a Turk or something like that," she says.

His ties to Germany don't seem to have been very strong. Michael N. was thrown out of his apartment in Oberhausen in February of 2006 after having failed to pay his rent for half a year. He lived for eight months there, in the bleak city center. When the house caretaker cleared out his apartment, she found a green corduroy sofa in the center of the room and moldy noodles in a pot on the stove. The only constant in Michael N.'s life seems to have been his unsettledness -- and his belief in Allah, following his conversion to Islam.

Investigators are now looking into whether he gravitated towards the Tabligh missionaries, who advertize Koran courses in Pakistan throughout German mosques and who are suspected of having shuttled many a convert to the militants' camps.

The only camp Michael N. seems to have been in is the prison camp in Lahore. The Pakistani authorities have vaguely indicated they intend to deport him to his home country shortly. But when the German honorary consul went to visit Lahore Prison last week, he was turned away by the authorities.

Prisoners from Germany? Unfortunately they couldn't help him, he was told.

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