German officials have been looking for the young man for months. It is a search that has spanned the globe, but which had largely been fruitless. Until Tuesday that is, when Eric Breininger, a young German man from the western state of Saarland, popped up in an Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) terror video claiming he is currently in Afghanistan.
In the video, Breininger -- a 21-year-old convert to Islam who has adopted the nom de guerre Abdulgaffar el Almani -- sounds little like the terrorist German officials suspect he has become. Indeed, in the six-minute-long clip, which was posted on the IJU Web site on Tuesday, he sounds more like a young schoolboy reading his homework out loud in front of the class. The mini-movie is called "A Call from Hindu Kush," and its message is clear: "I am currently in Afghanistan and am not personally planning an attack on the country of Germany," Breininger says into the camera.
The statement seems to be a direct response to growing concerns that Breininger was preparing to do just that -- and that such an attack could be imminent. Much of that fear stems from knowledge of the group Breininger has joined. The IJU had close contacts with three terror suspects arrested in the western German region of Sauerland last year. The three, Fritz Gelowicz, Adem Yilmaz and Daniel Schneider, stand accused of trying to build a bomb for at attack in Germany. The IJU was also responsible for a suicide attack in Khost, Afghanistan carried out by Cüneyit C. from Bavaria. The March attack killed four people.
It is difficult to determine from the video whether Breininger is indeed in Afghanistan as he claims, though it matches up with conclusions drawn by German authorities as to his whereabouts. Just last month, Germanys Federal Criminal Police Office launched a manhunt for Breininger after indications that he had been spotted in the Balkans and was on his way to Germany. That search was discontinued shortly thereafter.
Breininger's video is not unlike others in the genre. He accuses the German government of double standards for promoting democracy in some parts of the world but not standing up for Muslims when they are treated poorly. He says that Germany is a potential target for Islamists because the country's military, the Bundeswehr, is stationed in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan and that pulling soldiers out of those countries would reduce the danger of an attack. He warns that he and his comrades will wage "war against the occupiers" until the countries occupied are "liberated." Any country that is a military ally of the United States, he says, should expect to be attacked.
The young German also claims that he has no connection whatsoever to the two men arrested at the end of September at the Cologne-Bonn airport . The pair, both Germans with Somali backgrounds, was taken off a plane by officials on suspicion that they were on their way to terror training camps in Pakistan operated by the IJU. Both, though, were released a short time later for lack of evidence.
It is this last statement that indicates the video was produced relatively recently. It includes video images of Breininger, but also a number of static photos of him and other images, apparently intending to illustrate the text he seems to be reading. One photo, for example, includes the entire German cabinet as well as Chancellor Angela Merkel. And in one segment Breininger shows his alleged surroundings and says, "We're here in Afghanistan." He's wearing a white robe and a headscarf and can also be seen firing a machine gun.
In his last video, Breininger seemed oddly agitated, and some investigators said at the time they believed he might be on drugs. But he seems lucid in the new video.
The authenticity of the video has not yet been officially confirmed. Still, German officials are assuming it is real. The site where it could be found in the past posted videos from suicide bomber Cüneyt C. as well as Breininger's first video messages and an interview with him. At the end of the new video, it states it was produced on "October 10, 2008."
The Islamic Jihad Union had its origins as an Uzbeki Islamist organization, but it is believed that in recent years its base of operations has been in the Afghan-Pakistan border region. Most experts are certain that the IJU works together with the Taliban, and it is suspected that it also has ties to al-Qaida. Experts estimate the group includes a few hundred fighters. And although there is a dearth of information about the IJU, most experts believe the group has an ideology largely similar to al-Qaida's. Its activities are also clearly focused on the Central Asia region.
The last time German officials had reliable information about Breininger's whereabouts was in March 2008, when he was in Peshawar, Pakistan. They lost track of him there. Most analysts believe he is in Waziristan, a region on the porous Afghan-Pakistan border where IJU and a number of other militant groups operate camps and where other foreign fighters are believed to be based.
In Afghanistan, Breininger is featured on NATO's wanted persons list, and his photo has been posted at all the bases that host NATO troops across the country. Breininger's last video surfaced in April. In it, among other things, he praised Cüneyt C. for his suicide attack and called on German Islamists to follow his example and join the battle. In the new video, though, Breininger doesn't do either.