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Berlin's Worst Nightmare: Germany's First Suicide Bomber in Afghanistan?

By , Yassin Musharbash and

A young German-born Turk could possibly have carried out an attack in Afghanistan that killed two US soldiers. The Islamic Jihad Union claims 28-year-old Cüneyt C. from Bavaria was responsible for the March 3 attack, now the German authorities are desperately trying to find out the bomber's identity.

His last mission began at exactly 4.04 p.m. on March 3. The driver pulled up his blue Toyota Dyna truck in front of the Sabari district center in the eastern Afghan province of Khost. The motor was still running when he hit the detonator. The force of the blast shook the earth and caused the guard post to collapse, trapping dozens of US soldiers under the rumble. The explosion was so forceful that eye witnesses assumed there had been a rocket attack on the building that the US army had built just two months previously.

Chaos followed the explosion. Fighters armed with AK47s lunged at the US soldiers at the entrance hoping to storm the building, but the soldiers were able to defend themselves. Hours after the attack doctors and soldiers, who had been deafened by the blast, were digging in the rubble, while helicopters flew the injured away. Two US soldiers were pulled out dead, dozen others were seriously injured. It was the worst attack on the ISAF forces this year in Afghanistan, just one hour away from the Pakistan border.

Cause chaos and confusion with a bomb, then attack with armed fighters and try to storm -- this has been a typical Taliban tactic since the bloody and symbolic attack on Kabul's luxury Serena Hotel in January. And the script was followed after the attack too, with a spokesperson for the religious warriors quickly boasting about the attack. As is so often the case, he exaggerated the number of victims and was extremely pleased with the attack on one of the US army's symbolic projects in Khost.

Since March 6, German investigators have also been looking into the incident. Ever since experts at the Berlin-based Joint Counter-Terrorism Center (GTAZ) discovered an Internet message that included the photograph of a grinning bearded man they have been pulling out all the stops to investigate the case. There are indications that the Khost bomber was no Afghan or Pakistani radical. In fact it is likely that the perpetrator was a Turkish citizen from Bavaria, born in Freising and regarded as a dangerous Islamist. If it was him, it would be nightmare for the investigators -- the first suicide bomber from Germany.

'Exchanging a Life of Luxury for Paradise'

The investigators first regarded the Internet message as pure propaganda. The terrorist group Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) wrote in Turkish that they had attacked "the military camp of the occupying force of the unbelievers," with 4.5 tons of explosives, "fully destroying" the US camp. The site gladly quotes the Taliban, who helped prepare the operation, and its reports of helicopters that took away the bodies. Instead of the two dead US soldiers, the IJU speaks of 60 victims.

The text then gets more flowery but also very concrete when it comes to details. Cüneyt C., also known as Saad Ebu Furkan, had "successfully carried out" the attack -- "a brave Turk, who came from Germany and exchanged his life of luxury for paradise." According to the text, "our brother" always prayed "to cause great damage to the unbelievers." With this attack Allah had now heard Cüneyt C.'s prayer. The message is signed "the Press Office of the Islamic Jihad Union."

This possible martyr from Germany is no fictitious character. Cüneyt C., a 28-year-old German-born Turk, is known to be an Islamist and to have had links with the so-called "Sauerland Cell" led by Fritz Gelowicz and Adem Yilmaz. He had been regarded as dangerous since their arrest last year on suspicion of planning a terror attack in Germany. "Ismail from Ansbach," as C. was called by his friends had already left Germany by then. He left Ansbach with his wife and two children on April 2, giving up his apartment, quitting his job and even going to the local registration office to inform them he was leaving the area.

The investigators have since regarded C. as belonging to a group who have travelled from Germany to Pakistan in order to receive training as Jihadists. In the eyes of the German authorities this makes them extremely dangerous.

This group, some of whom have German passports, are friendly with each other. The young father from Ansbach was a friend of Adem Yilmaz from the Sauerland group. The investigators suspect that Yilmaz organized C.'s trip to Pakistan via Turkey and Iran. Yilmaz seems to have run a sort of travel agency, he knew the routes and the contacts to get to the terror training camps.

The Sauerland Connection

The Islamist from Bavaria even left his Renault Twingo with his Jihadist friends in southern Germany, which the police had already bugged. The plotters drove the car a few weeks later looking for Americans so they could smash up their cars, before selling it in June. By that stage the investigators were already hot on their trail, after receiving a tip from the US about the trio's terror plans.

The IJU claims the German-born Turk Cüneyt C. carried out a suicide attack in Afghanistan earlier in March.

The IJU claims the German-born Turk Cüneyt C. carried out a suicide attack in Afghanistan earlier in March.

Now this message on the Internet seems to have confirmed the investigators worst fears. Every thing fits: the young Turk, who went to Pakistan and then possibly met his fate in Afghanistan, and the message on a still highly cryptic IJU Web site which has also commentated on the arrest of the Sauerland Group. The German authorities have long assumed that the IJU leadership at least promoted the planned attacks in Germany and encouraged the trio to take action.

If it does turn out to be C. he would be the second Islamist from Germany to die in the fanatic fight against the unbelievers in recent months. Sadullah K. a young German from the state of Hesse, also recruited by Adem Yilmaz, was killed in October in an air strike by the US Air Force on the Pakistan-Afghan border after, like C., undergoing training in an IJU camp. In the case of K. the CIA provided the proof of his death. This latest case would confirm suspicions that those travelling to Pakistan are prepared to do anything.

The investigators assume that C. met up with the IJU in Pakistan by the end of April at the latest. A certain IJU commandant known as "Sule" sent an e-mail to Fritz Gelowicz on April 26, mentioning "two families" were with him and who had been sent by his brothers in Germany. The IJU camp is thought to have been in a place called Mir Ali, in the Pakistan-Afghan border region.

Then they lost his trail. The authorities did receive word that he had been killed in fighting along the border with Afghanistan, but this could not be verified. The first analysis of the pictures on the IJU Web site revealed that the man could definitely be the young Turk from Germany.

Since March 6 the German authorities have been doing everything possible to determine if it was "Ismail from Ansbach" who pushed the detonator. In Kabul the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) is working with local authorities in order to get all the possible information about the man who drove the lorry. Meanwhile attempts are being made through other channels to get DNA material or finger prints from the US troops and the Afghan intelligence agency (NDS) to make a positive identification. However, so far the NDS has only been able to say that the attacker probably wore black clothes.

'Not Just a Propaganda Gag'

So far the efforts to get definite proof have been without success -- particularly because the explosion was so big that there was hardly any evidence left. "We have no 100 percent proof that our man was there," a German official told SPIEGEL ONLINE, "but the story is too plausible to be just a pure propaganda gag."

For the German investigators the results of the current probe could also have some bearing on the case against the Saurland cell. Proof from Afghanistan of an IJU connection to Germany could be used in the prosecution case against the three men. So far the IJU has remained pretty nebulous. The prosecutors don’t have much apart from some information from Uzbekistan and the cryptic e-mails to Gelowicz and Co. And the role of those giving the orders would be particularly important in securing a conviction.

Guido Steiberg, terrorism expert at the Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, sees the current case as "further proof that this IJU organization actually exists." In his view the group is "young, numerically small and not very strong, but it exists." It is obvious too that the group is "trying to use its publications on the Internet to raise its profile."

The IJU has announced that it will provide further material and perhaps proof of the participation of Cüneyt C. in the attack. It says a video testament will be put online in the next few days.

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© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2008
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