The Bomb Plot Terror from the German Heartland
Part 3: Joining the Jihad
"Gelowicz is about as tough and forceful as anyone I have ever met," says Schultz. In the ensuing lawsuit, he rejected all settlement offers, refusing to solicit his attacker's apology. The case went all the way to the German Federal Court of Justice, and in the end the anesthesiologist was awarded 25,000 ($36,000) in damages for pain and suffering -- money which he has never been able to collect. Gelowicz had submitted a sworn affidavit early on stating that he had no assets. And by 2004, when Schultz was still waiting for his money, Gelowicz's attention had long moved elsewhere.
He told his friend Adem that by late 2003, he had already reached the decision to join the jihad. He described it as an epiphany. He was sitting in front of a kebab restaurant enjoying his meal when he suddenly realized that he was wasting his time. Other fellow Islamists had already joined the jihad, Gelowicz said. That was when he thought to himself that he too, inshallah, had to join the jihad at some point.
This happened at a time when the Islamist community in and around Ulm was at a turning point. In 2003, a convert from Ulm was killed fighting in Chechnya. The next year Yehia Yousif, an elderly man with glasses and silver-gray hair, and a former informant for the state intelligence office, went underground. Yousif was a sect leader and honorary chairman of the local Islamist community, which had found a home in a commercial building on Zeppelinstrasse known as the Multicultural House.
"Yousif had assembled a group of young students, to whom he provided instruction every week, and Fritz was one of them," says Reda Seyam, one of Germany's best-known Islamists and himself a target of German intelligence scrutiny. The group published a radical little magazine called "Let's Think Islamic!" Gelowicz and his friend Attila Selek, who would later be one of the four suspects in the bombing plot and is now in prison in Turkey, as well as Tolga, who was the deputy chairman of the Multicultural House for a period of time, helped distribute the publication.
By then Gelowicz was studying industrial engineering at the Neu-Ulm University of Applied Science. At the suggestion of his former teachers, Brüker and Maier, he went to night school, where he earned his high-school diploma, receiving an overall grade of 3.0 ("satisfactory"), a grade of 2.0 ("good") in Politics and a grade of 4.0 ("adequate") in Physics. In July 2004, he applied for temporary removal from the register of students, "because I do not expect to be able to attend classes for one semester," he said.
It was time for Gelowicz to get serious, and he did so at breakneck speed.
He began to travel frequently. He went to Turkey in August 2004 and made a pilgrimage to Mecca in early 2005, where he and his friends, wearing white robes, stayed in a pilgrim hostel. As one of his friends said, they were now very close to Allah. Attila Selek was a member of the group completing the Hajj that year.
They were the next generation of Islamists, and as they sat in the Multicultural House, drinking tea, they realized that it was time to make a decision: Would they let themselves be intimidated and simply return to middle-class life? Or would they emerge from Yousif's shadow and assume the leadership of the group, for Allah's sake?
Investigators conclude, based on the wire-tapped conversations, that the final decision to bring the jihad to Germany was made in a Pakistani training camp in 2006. During the car trip to the Black Forest, Gelowicz told his friend that he and his friends hadn't wanted to return from Pakistan at all, that they had "in fact, wanted something different." The investigators believe that he was referring to the armed conflict in Afghanistan or Pakistan. "But," Gelowicz said, "Allah showed us the way."
The Will of Allah
Allah, Gelowicz told Yilmaz, has a task for everyone. It's called Qadr. Perhaps fulfilling one's Qadr and surrendering responsibility to a higher power makes life easier, Gelowicz said. In the end, he said, one's own decision was no longer important. The important thing was the will of Allah. We can attribute many things to the will of Allah, Gelowicz said, "as long as we remain on the path."
Today, Reda Seyam believes that banning the Multicultural House was a big mistake. From then on, says Seyam, "everyone acted on his own" and the community became dispersed. "This kind of pressure doesn't make us give up our religion," Seyam claims. "It only makes us believe more deeply."
And that was apparently the case with Gelowicz. He is alleged to have used a computer owned by Yousif's son Omar to print "Let's Think Islamic!" It was as if a relay runner had passed on the baton to the next racer on his team. Now it was Fritz's and Attila's Qadr. The police caught the two men, on a winter night in 2004, as they tried to destroy evidence by burning a book. They were also found with one of Yousif's propaganda CDs.
By the end of 2004, Gelowicz's parents realized that perhaps it was already too late. In an attempt to save his son, the father even went to the police, in the spring of 2005. It was an appeal for help. He told the authorities that his son was in danger, because he was "under the influence of such groups."
But Fritz Gelowicz refused to talk to the police. When they tried to question him in 2005, as one of the defendants in the Yousif trial, he laughed at them while still on the phone, telling them that he had no intention of testifying. Was he truly that hard-nosed?
On a January evening in 2007, after his apartment had been searched, he submitted a written statement at a police station in Ulm. "I am innocent," he wrote. "I have neither planned nor have I committed a crime. Furthermore, I wish to state that I have not understood exactly what it is that I am being accused of" -- remarkably brazen words for someone who had only returned from a Pakistani training camp three months earlier.
'A Big Thing'
When Gelowicz was arrested on Sep. 4, 2007, he was flown to the south-western city of Karlsruhe in a helicopter. He seemed shaken and nervous, and yet he still had enough energy for one of his rhetorical little games. He asked the agents whether they were from the BKA or the State Office of Criminal Investigation. The BKA, the agents responded.
That was "interesting," said Gelowicz, because the BKA doesn't waste its time with minor criminals. In that case, he said, it had to be "a big thing."
In fact, this "big thing" had apparently been planned for October 2007, to coincide with a vote in the German parliament, the Bundestag, on whether to extend the German military's mandate as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan. That, at least, was what the investigators concluded after finding a notebook in the vacation home in which the date 10/13/2007 was noted, with a question mark next to it. Gelowicz also mentioned the date in a conversation, knowing that it coincided with the expiration of the military's mandate, and added that there would be enough time, God willing. Gelowicz was opposed to choosing the period around Sept. 11 for the planned attack, arguing that it would be too close to the beginning of Ramadan.
The start date for Gelowicz's trial has not yet been set, but it is already clear that it will not happen until at least the end of the year. The central charges are difficult to deny: the purchase of bomb-making equipment, the taped conversations about possible targets and the attempt to concentrate hydrogen peroxide solution. But there are still unanswered questions.
Were the three men truly part of an international terrorist organization, as the federal prosecutor's office argues? Did they find their own way to the Pakistani camps, or were other, as yet unknown, middlemen involved? Could they have brought their bombing plans to fruition, plans for which the BKA estimates they spent about 9,000 ($13,000)? And would the death machines they were planning to build have even worked? According to a BKA report, most of the 26 detonators the would-be attackers procured were "not suitable for initiating explosives." Apparently the detonators had gotten wet.
Gelowicz is, for the most part, kept in isolation in prison. He even spends his one-hour weekday walk in the prison yard alone, in a specially roofed inner courtyard. He is never alone with his family, and a pane of glass separates him from his visitors.
For an Eternity
Both Gelowicz and Yilmaz know that they planned to commit a crime of diabolical and inhuman proportions. In fact, they talked about in that taped conversation on July 20, 2007, as they were driving to the Black Forest together.
"Achi, you know what? If they catch us, you know what we'll say? Nothing at all. It's much better that way," Yilmaz suggested. "I say: No, I regret nothing. All I regret that I didn't succeed, Achi." The two men talked about what would happen to them if they were caught, where they would be taken and for how long they would be incarcerated. "Definitely Guantanamo," said Yilmaz. And then Gelowicz said: "For an eternity, forever."
And how are they dealing with things now that they have been caught? Now that they were unable to execute Allah's supposed wishes? Fritz Gelowicz is apparently looking for answers in a familiar place. Shortly after being incarcerated, he asked for a Koran.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: Terror from the German Heartland
- Part 2: An 'Intelligent Kid' Turns to Radical Islam
- Part 3: Joining the Jihad