Ausgabe 41/2007

The Istanbul Connection Teenager Smuggled Bomb Plot Detonators to Germany

More details are emerging in the case of the three Islamists who were recently arrested for planning a bomb attack in Germany. Investigators believe that a 15-year-old boy smuggled the detonators from Istanbul to Germany -- inside the soles of a pair of shoes.

By and

A masked policeman escorts suspected Islamist terrorist Fritz Gelowicz to Germany's Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe on Sept. 5. Gelowicz and two accomplices are suspected of planning terrorist attacks on the US military base Ramstein and on pubs in Dortmund and Mannheim.
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A masked policeman escorts suspected Islamist terrorist Fritz Gelowicz to Germany's Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe on Sept. 5. Gelowicz and two accomplices are suspected of planning terrorist attacks on the US military base Ramstein and on pubs in Dortmund and Mannheim.

The custodial judges at Germany's Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe are accustomed to all sorts of behavior. They deal regularly with dangerous criminals. But the sang-froid displayed by the three Islamists arrested in early September in Germany's Sauerland region on suspicion of terrorism came as a surprise even to experienced legal practitioners.

At the very beginning of the proceedings, 22-year-old Daniel Martin S. from Neunkirchen politely but firmly pointed out he now goes by the name of "Abdullah" and would like to be addressed by that name. He would make no statement on the allegations brought against him, he said, since he could see no purpose in doing so: "You've already made up your mind anyway."

He would however be happy to discuss "Islam and Allah," he continued, adding that "I am satisfied with my life." When the custodial judge ordered "Abdullah" to be brought back to his solitary cell in Schwalmstadt prison, the prisoner said to him: "May God guide you."

The attitude the prison officers in Schwalmstadt have grown accustomed to from Daniel S. is the same as those in the Stuttgart-Stammheim and Weiterstadt prisons are experiencing with the two other suspects, Fritz Gelowicz and Adem Y., both 28.

The prisoners, who made headlines around the world when they were arrested a month ago, usually act remarkably relaxed, despite the tight security under which they are being held. They can only leave their cells for one hour a day and can talk to visitors only through a glass panel. Moreover, a small camera has been installed in Daniel S.'s cell -- a measure his lawyer Johannes Pausch calls "disproportionate and in violation of human rights." Still the prisoners' faith in Allah seems unbroken. Originally, "Abdullah" and Adem Y. even wanted to do without lawyers.

But they certainly need all the help they can get. They are accused of founding and being members of a terrorist organization as well as planning a bomb attack. Under German law they could face up to 15 years in prison.

On the basis of what the investigators have learned so far, it appears the suspects intended to assemble three bombs weighing up to 250 kilograms (551 lbs.) from materials they purchased. Possible targets included the US military base in Ramstein and also pubs in Mannheim or Dortmund. The Islamists rejected supermarkets as targets on the basis that too many women and children would be hit; they also felt that discotheques would be less than ideal targets.

Smuggled In

The investigators have also recently discovered how the 26 military detonators which were found in the Sauerland holiday home -- and which indicated that a professional terror network was involved -- were brought to Germany. A 15-year-old German of Tunisian descent from Wolfsburg named Aladin T., who testified before the court in Karlsruhe on Monday of last week, is believed to have been the courier.

Aladin's version of events is far-fetched. Aladin told the investigating judge he travelled to Istanbul in August because his sister and her husband had invited him to attend a family celebration. One day around lunchtime, he went to pray at a mosque on the Bosporus and was approached by a Turk who was apparently from Mannheim in Germany. They met again the next day and -- seeing as they were getting along so well -- the stranger asked Aladin whether he would mind taking a white plastic bag back to Germany. The bag contained a pair of shoes and a pair of jeans. The Turk told Aladin a friend of his had forgotten them in Istanbul and that they now needed to be taken to Braunschweig.

Aladin claims the man gave him €100 ($141) to cover his travel expenses. At the end of August, Aladin travelled from Istanbul to Munich by bus and from there to Hanover by night train. The Turkish stranger had told him he would be approached in the mosque in Braunschweig. And so he was: When Aladin entered the mosque at the agreed time of day on Aug. 26, a German convert to Islam approached him: Fritz Gelowicz.

Pressure To Act

Gelowciz and Aladin drove from Braunschweig to Aladin's home in Wolfsburg by car to pick up the pair of shoes. The investigators later found the same shoes, sawed apart, at the Sauerland holiday home: The Islamists had hidden the detonators inside the soles. The devices, originally manufactured in Eastern Europe, appear to have come from a stockpile in Syria. The investigators also found four additional olive-green detonators of a different kind and two detonators with red cables attached.

The pressure to act must have increased significantly for the trio during those days in late August. The investigators intercepted a message from Iran written by a person using the pseudonym "Jaf," who is thought to be a member of the mysterious Islamic Jihad Union -- the group to which the three Sauerland plotters belonged. In the message, "Jaf" urges that the "test" be "taken" soon.

On Aug. 24, a concerned Adem Y. told his friend Gelowicz: "The boss thinks we have to do this thing within 15 days, otherwise we have to go back." But things never got that far: On Sept. 4, the trio was arrested.

More than one investigator feels Aladin's story sounds too implausible. The officials speculate that the stranger in the Istanbul mosque may not exist, and that Aladin's brother-in-law may have played a role instead. The brother-in-law, who is Tunisian, is considered an Islamist and is said to have spoken out strongly in favor of a radical interpretation of Islam.

But at present the German investigators have no way of asking the brother-in-law whether or not he was the one who supplied the detonators: The Turkish authorities recently deported him to Libya, where he is currently being held in prison.


© DER SPIEGEL 41/2007
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