The Threat from Within A German Islamist Rises up al-Qaida's Ranks
Part 2: 'A Joyful Message from Afghanistan'
His image as a hardliner from the mosques contrasts with the outward appearance that many acquaintances describe. "He was always well-dressed," says a neighbor, "nice suits, good shirts," a polite man who always correctly introduced himself: "Hi, I'm Bekkay, I'm Moroccan!" The Harrachs lived on the first floor of a yellow apartment house. Next to the dented mailbox someone has crossed out a Star of David. Harrach's wife Elisabeth always wore a veil when she left the apartment. Bekkay was often out until late at night.
He had already become a major player on the German scene.
However, according to the intelligence agencies, he only became an internationally wanted terrorist thanks to a man who himself faces charges in Koblenz as an alleged terrorist: Aleem Nasir, a gemstone dealer from the town of Germersheim. Nasir can reportedly write letters of recommendation that serve as calling cards to hook up with al-Qaida.
After obtaining one of these handwritten references, Harrach headed east. He traveled via Turkey to Iran, where a smuggler who goes by the codename "Zain" made the necessary contacts, and in mid-March 2007, he arrived in Waziristan. In Pakistan, Bekkay Harrach, the German citizen, became "Abu Talha, the German." The metamorphosis was complete. Back in the Bonn district of Bad Godesberg, his wife Elisabeth was pregnant -- she was expecting a son, who was to be born in June 2007.
When Harrach disappeared, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution launched Operation Toledana, one of the agency's top missions, which aimed to find out what exactly was going on in Pakistan and how much of a threat this represented for Germany.
Initial reports from the ISI, Pakistan's secret service, and the American CIA gave an impression of the nature of this threat: Harrach was reportedly being personally trained by the head of planning for al-Qaida -- an Egyptian named Abu Ubaida -- in a variety of areas, including techniques for the remote detonation of bombs.
Abu Ubaida was killed in early 2008 by an American missile, but Harrach escaped unscathed. And he rose up through the ranks of the terror organization.
Despite a number of setbacks, an analysis by Germany's foreign intelligence service, the BND, says that al-Qaida currently consists of at least four functioning sections: the propaganda department, the finance section, the military division responsible for the war in Afghanistan and a committee for "foreign operations." Harrach is now apparently a member of "the section responsible for terrorist planning" and has become a "man in the central structure of the organization," as one intelligence official puts it, important enough at least to figure on the internal wanted list of the CIA and the ISI. If the Americans locate him, he can expect to be the target of a Hellfire missile launched by an unmanned drone.
In Waziristan, Harrach stands under the protection of the local warlord, Siraj Haqqani, but he is apparently well aware of the attention that the Americans are giving to him. The German now keeps all his movements secret and communicates via messengers, a commander from the Haqqani clan told SPIEGEL. He says that all the fighters in the region know the German guest.
Harrach and the warlord reportedly first met a year ago. Haqqani respects the foreigner for his technical skill in making bombs, but he is primarily impressed with his ability to draw up attack plans "very precisely on paper." No major attack of the last few months, says the Pashtun commander, has been planned without Harrach's expertise: "If we want to do something, we always ask the German for his opinion."
He has enjoyed a meteoric career. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, no other German has managed to rise so high within the hierarchy of the terror organization. He can tap into the logistical network of al-Qaida -- and this opens up a wide range of possibilities.
Harrach is now an important man in Afghanistan, not only within al-Qaida, and this makes him particularly dangerous from a German perspective. In Waziristan, south of the border city Khost, where the Pakistani government only occasionally shows much of a presence -- and even the US Army is powerless --, a lively milieu has emerged, where a number of German Islamists are just waiting for men like Harrach to give them their combat orders. German is now spoken in the training camps and in the threat videos, most recently in a 30-minute film by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which surfaced at the end of the year.
Under the title "A Joyful Message from Afghanistan," a man named Abu Adam sends greetings, in nearly perfect German, to his beloved Granny in Germany -- and then calls on his "siblings" to join the armed jihad struggle against the infidels.
The attraction of such terror groups first became evident with the advent of the so-called Sauerland cell, headed by Fritz Gelowicz, Daniel Schneider and Adem Yilmaz, who are all in custody awaiting trial. They were allegedly trained in Pakistan in 2006 by an Uzbek group called the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) as a sort of "first generation" of new Jihad disciples. Investigators say that Yilmaz acted as a one-man travel agency for terror recruits. At least seven of his acquaintances from the Jihadist scene in the German city of Langen embarked on a trip organized by Yilmaz, and two friends of Daniel Schneider's from the German state of Saarland soon followed. The most well-known is the German convert Eric Breininger, 21, from Neunkirchen, a confused young man who recently on two occasions released video messages in which he threatened to launch attacks but looked as if he were under the influence of drugs.
The fact that these recruits are interested in more than just playing religiously charged Boy Scout games is well illustrated by the case of Cüneyt Ciftci, born in Freising near Munich in 1979. Until his disappearance, he was an ordinary, reliable worker at industrial giant Bosch in Ansbach. Then, in April 2007, Ciftci left Germany with his wife and their two children, and nearly a year later, on March 3, 2008, he ended his life in a spectacular ball of fire. A huge explosion in front of the Afghan-American barracks in Khost killed five, including two American soldiers and Ciftci himself. The Turk had driven a delivery truck loaded with several tons of explosives in front of the barracks and detonated the deadly freight.
Security experts say that it is only a matter of time before the next volunteer from Germany dies as a suicide bomber.
Whether the attackers belong to an official group like the IJU, al-Qaida or the IMU is virtually irrelevant -- the circles are too tightly intertwined and their goals are too similar in the fight against the infidels. Organizations such as the IJU and the IMU have "the same allies and the same enemies," says French political analyst Didier Chaudet, who has studied the Jihadist scene in the region.
This is the brave new world of Bekkay Harrach, who also wanted his wife to come join him, but the intelligence agencies had her under surveillance. Operation Toledana became a cat-and-mouse game. An initial attempt to leave the country failed in late 2007. Elisabeth and her son waited three days in Iran for a smuggler who never showed up, so they returned to Germany. In May 2008, she made a new attempt. Elisabeth gave notice for the apartment -- but decided not to pay the last three months' rent: 340, plus heat and utilities. She gave a false address in Islamabad as her destination. This time she made it.
Another German convert from the scene is now living in the apartment in the Bonn district of Bad Godesberg. Based on information obtained from his fiancée, a German-Somali, the intelligence agencies have reason to believe that he is eager to leave Germany to fight in the Jihad.
MATTHIAS GEBAUER, YASSIN MUSHARBASH, MARCEL ROSENBACH, HOLGER STARK
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen.
- Part 1: A German Islamist Rises up al-Qaida's Ranks
- Part 2: 'A Joyful Message from Afghanistan'