It is shortly after noon on Tuesday Nov. 6 when two men wearing leather jackets emerge from the shadows in the shopping center in Konya. "Attila Selek?" they ask.
Not bothering to wait for a response, the men grab Selek tightly by both arms. Suddenly police officers converge on the scene from all sides. The two men hold down Selek's head and force him onto the back seat of a waiting silver-gray Renault Clio.
"I am innocent!" he calls out, just as the door of the police car is about to close. Selek has now become the fourth person taken into custody in connection with a Germany-based Islamist terror cell.
Attila Selek had recognized the two men the minute he walked into the lobby of the Hotel Dedeman in Konya, a city in Turkey's Anatolian highlands, shortly before 10 a.m. that day.
The two men in dark leather jackets are police officers who had been following him for weeks. They were here in the hotel too, watching Selek as he entered the elegant lobby.
The men then followed Selek through the lobby and across the street to a shopping center. There, Selek went into a café called "Willy Wonder's" and ordered a coffee and a small jug of milk.
Selek had agreed to meet SPIEGEL in Konya because he wanted to tell his side of the story. And he certainly had a lot of explaining to do: about his alleged involvement in terrorist activities, his friendship with German Islamist Fritz Gelowicz and the apparent plans for terrorist attacks on German soil which authorities uncovered in early September.
More German Than Turkish
When the people in Konya hear Selek speak, they know right away that he didn't grow up in their native Anatolia, but in the southern German city of Ulm. "I'm more of a German," he says, smiling. "My Turkish culture is quite different from the reality in Turkey."
Nevertheless, he is known here. His name was even recently announced on Turkish television: Attila Selek, the man from Germany who is under surveillance. The terror suspect.
According to federal prosecutors in the southwestern German city of Karlsruhe, Selek is the fourth member of a cell of Islamist terrorists led by a man named Fritz Gelowicz. Authorities believe the group was in the process of making several car bombs that would have contained hundreds of kilograms of explosives. When police raided a vacation home in the central Sauerland region, they found chemicals and 26 military detonators, thought to have come from Syria. Selek's job within the group, investigators believe, was to obtain the detonators for the explosive devices.
The case, which investigators dubbed "Operation Alberich", gripped Germany in early September. The general public associates the case with the faces of two German converts to Islam, Fritz Gelowicz and Daniel S., which were plastered on the front pages of the country's newspapers. But the name at the center of the police investigation is Selek's.
The case began in November 2006 when the CIA asked German intelligence officials for assistance in identifying a man the US intelligence agency knew lived in Germany and went by the name "Muaz."
Agents from the CIA and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, have been trying to assemble the pieces of a puzzle consisting of recorded phone conversations, intercepted emails, eyewitness accounts from the wilds of the Pakistani region of Waziristan and travel records. Some of their information also comes from interrogations of suspects who had been in Pakistani training camps.
According to what the agents were able to piece together, "Muaz" and another man from Germany were supposedly in one of these camps in June 2006, a camp run by a sinister group known as the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU). According to law enforcement authorities, the IJU is a terrorist organization loosely affiliated with Al-Qaida that has made its way from Uzbekistan to Pakistan.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, one of the characteristics of the war against terrorism has been that many clues are found in the dense fog enshrouding the world of intelligence services. It is a fog that rarely lifts, not even in German courtrooms, and judges and prosecutors must simply accept that it is sometimes impossible to prove charges central to a case.
"We now know that the Americans use torture," says Selek. "So who can verify what part of this information is true and what part is false?" He also insists that he was never in a training camp, and that he is not the man known as "Muaz."
But at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, as well as at the premises of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Cologne and Stuttgart, the pieces of the puzzle revealed a different picture shortly before Christmas 2006.
Casing a US Army Base
Analysts at both agencies compared the times when an unknown person using the pseudonym "Muaz" sent emails to Pakistan, with the times that Selek was online at Internet cafés. Because the times matched, the agents were convinced that they had found the right man.
The identification of "Muaz" triggered a process that would extend halfway around the world, to Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Washington and, finally, Frankfurt am Main, where an Office for the Protection of the Constitution observation team worked overtime on New Year's Eve.
The German agents had been instructed to follow Selek and Gelowicz. They watched as a young Kurd named Dana picked up Selek and then Gelowicz, at Frankfurt's main train station. At approximately 9:30 p.m., the agents followed the Honda Accord that Dana was driving to the nearby city of Hanau, to a district known as Lamboy.
According to the observation record, the suspects "drove around the US Army barracks several times, sometimes at a walking pace, peering intently into the grounds. They were especially interested in the entrances and exits."
The report set off alarm bells in Washington. Gelowicz's photo was soon displayed on American military bases throughout Germany. Agents in Ulm were instructed not to let Selek out of their sight.
On Jan. 2, two days after Gelowicz's and Selek's New Year's Eve outing, there was an open confrontation on a busy street in Ulm.
At 9:28 a.m., according to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution's report, Selek jumped in front of the agents' car and yelled: "What do you want from me?"
"Why are you jumping in front of the vehicle?" one of the agents responded. "Are you suicidal? What would I want from you? Nothing!"
That, as it turns out, was a lie.
"If you want something from me, then ask me!" Selek said agitatedly, before the situation eased.
The real question is what Selek wanted that New Year's Eve outside the barracks in Hanau.
"It wasn't like that," Selek says after a pause. "It wasn't a reconnaissance trip." Dana, a friend he had met during a pilgrimage to Mecca in late 2004, had invited Selek and Gelowicz to celebrate the Islamic festival Eid al-Adha with him.
According to Selek's account, the three men had met on the afternoon of Dec. 31 to celebrate at an Afghan community center. Along the way, Selek says they hit upon the idea to see "how the Americans celebrate New Year's Eve. We just wanted to see what sorts of things they do, the fireworks and all that."
It is difficult to prove Selek wrong. In discussing the case, German federal prosecutors mention the "presumed consideration" that the barracks "might be considered a possible target for an attack." This convoluted language reveals how difficult it is to come up with evidence in such cases. When questioned, Dana, the driver of the Honda Accord, told the same story as Selek. And yet the intelligence agents had trouble believing that the only reason three Islamists were driving slowly around an American military installation on New Year's Eve was to watch the GIs celebrate.
The situation became increasingly tense after that night. According to Office for the Protection of the Constitution reports, Selek adopted a "very aggressive tone" and was "not averse to using violence against the observers." The agents wrote that it was only possible to keep Selek "under surveillance intermittently," and sometimes, as was the case on an evening in January, not at all.
Selek was taking a walk in Ulm. It was already dark out, and the intelligence agents were tailing him the way they did every day, like a shadow that was impossible to shake. Or was it?
Selek turned around abruptly, approached the agents' car, pulled out a pocketknife and stabbed it into one of the front tires. When asked about the incident today, Selek insists, somewhat nervously, that he is not a violent person. "I thought to myself, 'who's that following me?' And then I got scared and wanted to protect myself."
It takes a look back to 2004 to understand the troubled relationship between these two men, Attila Selek and Fritz Gelowicz, and the German state. Selek says that that was when he began spending time at an Ulm cultural center called the Multikulturhaus (Multicultural House), a notorious meeting point for radical Islamists. It was there that he met Gelowicz, after Friday prayers. "We sat together and drank tea," Selek recalls. "Fritz was always very helpful and was good at smoothing things out when other people got into arguments."
An Egyptian named Yehia Yousif was one of the key figures at the Multikulturhaus. Yousif is an imam, ideologue, mentor and, for young people like Gelowicz and Selek, a powerful authority figure. He preached jihad, and his friends at the Multikulturhaus published a newspaper called "Think Islamic."
Selek, 19 at the time, had completed a training program as an auto body painter and was selling used cars. Gelowicz was 25 and a student at a technical college. They were Yousif's foot soldiers, delivering his newspaper to mosques, says Selek. In one of the issues, the then Bavarian Interior Minister Günther Beckstein was compared with Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister. A bitter struggle had begun between Yousif's group and the government, which had already set up an investigative team, code-named "Danube," to look into activities at the Multikulturhaus.
At that point police still considered Selek and Gelowicz relatively harmless hangers-on of Yousif. But on Dec. 11, 2004, authorities began paying much closer attention to the two young men. It was 1 a.m. on a snowy night in Ulm when a security guard saw two men burning a book in front of the entrance to a factory. The guard called the police.
When officers searched Selek's car, they found a CD containing texts about jihad and singing the praises of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. They also found Yehia Yousif's teaching materials and a box full of issues of "Think Islamic."
The officers were convinced that the two were trying to destroy evidence -- the "Danube" team had begun making raids a few days earlier.
"Nonsense," says Selek. Because Gelowicz had read a fatwa, an Islamic legal opinion, that stated that books containing the word "Allah" could not be thrown out, but only burned or buried, the two had decided to burn the material. They did it "completely out in the open," he says. "We had nothing to hide."
Completely out in the open, at one in the morning? And what about the newspapers and the CDs?
They belonged to Gelowicz, says Selek, and they had planned on handing out Yousif's "teaching material." "Is that prohibited?" Selek asks.
No, it isn't. And perhaps what Selek claims is true, or perhaps his version was just a tall tale concocted on a December night in Ulm, where strange things were happening. So strange, in fact, that the "Danube" agents launched a major raid on the Multikulturhaus in early 2005.
They showed up at the house of Selek's parents, where he lived, but the son had left early that morning for Saudi Arabia, to attend the pilgrimage to Mecca known as the hajj. Selek comes from a conservative family. His parents are deeply religious and there is even a special prayer corner in their home. Selek's mother accompanied him to Saudi Arabia.
It almost seems like half the Muslims in Ulm must have been on that pilgrimage to Mecca in early 2005. Gelowicz was there with a group of fellow German converts. Selek and Gelowicz met twice in Mecca, where they were both wearing traditional white robes and talked a lot about the true faith. Dana, who would later drive the two men to the US military barracks near Frankfurt, was also there, as was Adem Y., a co-conspirator who was arrested in the Sauerland raid in September and is now in prison. In fact, almost all of the current suspects in the case attended the hajj at the same time in early 2005.
When Selek returned from Saudi Arabia, he was arrested at the airport and taken in shackles to Stadelheim Prison in Munich. He was held there for 13 days, even though the crime with which he was being charged -- incitement to hatred -- was relatively minor. The charges were later dropped.
'I Didn't Know about the Plan'
Perhaps it was already clear at the time that the story would not end well. There are many indications that a course had already been set at the time, that these young radicals from Germany, after returning from Mecca, were searching for a way to enter the mystical world of jihad.
Gelowicz traveled to the Syrian capital of Damascus in the summer of 2005, supposedly to attend a language course. An organization calling itself the Sheikh Ahmed Kuftaro Foundation even issued a certificate stating that Gelowicz attended the course between August 2005 and June 2006. Selek flew to Damascus a short time later to complete a preparatory year for attending university.
Investigators today believe that they can prove that Gelowicz traveled secretly from Syria to Pakistan in March 2006, to the Islamic Jihad Union's training camp. He apparently used a forged passport so that the visa stamps couldn't be checked. They also believe Selek went to the Pakistan camp, but they have no proof. The two young men apparently got together in Damascus. They met once or twice, according to Selek.
Investigators believe that the trips abroad are one of the keys to understanding this case. They also believe that the second phase of the radicalization of these young German Islamists began in Syria and Pakistan. It was in this phase that their rejection of Western decadence was combined with concrete ideas and practical tools.
In Pakistan, the group apparently discussed the basic elements of the plan Gelowicz and his cohorts eventually intended to carry out -- and that made Selek into a closely-watched suspect in Turkey, "even though I've never been to Pakistan," as he insists.
The evidence against the other three men, Fritz Gelowicz and his two friends, Daniel S. and Adem Y., is relatively clear. Federal prosecutors accuse them of being in contact with the IJU, but even though they are unable to prove the connection to Pakistan, there is sufficient evidence against them in the form of the seized hydrogen peroxide, the military detonators and the conversations recorded in a rental car in which they talked about killing as many Americans as possible.
Selek's case is more difficult. When it comes to political convictions, there are many similarities between Selek and Gelowicz. They even lived together for a few days in January of this year. But their paths divide at an important juncture: when the preparations for the attack became more concrete.
Selek says that he saw Gelowicz for the last time in late January or early February, at Gelowicz's wedding in a Turkish mosque on the banks of the Danube River.
Selek moved to Konya in early February. He married a young Turkish woman there in June and registered with local authorities as an official resident. He planned to start a new life.
Selek claims that he had no knowledge of the planned attack. "I can't deny that the chemicals and the arrests were real, but I didn't know about the plan," he says. Perhaps he's telling the truth. Or perhaps he knew about the idea and reached a different decision than Gelowicz, because the pressure after that New Year's Eve had become too great for a young man like him. And it could also be the case that he did his friend Fritz one or two more favors along the way.
The German federal prosecutors are now convinced that they can prove that the Islamists used a code when communicating by e-mail between Germany and Turkey. According to the e-mail evidence, they apparently arranged for the delivery of the detonators in Istanbul in late August, and one of the e-mail correspondents was believed to be Selek. But Selek denies this: "I was no longer in touch with Gelowicz, and I don't know the other two."
His attorney Manfred Gnjidic -- who also represents the German rendition victim Khaled el-Masri -- says that prosecutors can't even prove that the supposed reconnaissance mission in Hanau took place. "Now we'll see," says Gnjidic, "whether the new evidence is just as thin."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan