When Emrah was furious at Germany, he used the name Schmitz and called the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). He said that al-Qaida was planning to attack the Reichstag, the German parliament building in Berlin. It was during the autumn of 2010, and Emrah was often making calls to Germany, his old home, which he had left to fight against. It was a fight for al-Qaida, against the West.
Emrah was the first Islamist to attract the attention of Germany's interior minister. After his call, Thomas de Maizière had metal bars installed at the Reichstag and ordered police officers carrying submachine guns to patrol train stations. The fear of Islamist terror had reached the Platz der Republik, the public square in front of the Reichstag building -- and it was Emrah's fault.
Emrah, a 27-year-old convicted terrorist, is now back in Germany. His journey, which began in the western German city of Wuppertal and took him to Asia and Africa, ended in a cell in a Frankfurt maximum-security prison, with 17-meter (56-foot) walls, barbed wire, motion detectors and surveillance cameras. Emrah's cell in Unit B measures 11 square meters (118 square feet), has gray bars in front of the windows, and is furnished with a blue mattress, a water kettle, a refrigerator and a radio. Emrah now communicates with the German state through a metal button he can push in his cell.
Now that he has returned from fighting abroad, a new battle has begun. At the center of this new struggle is Emrah the returnee, his future, and security in Germany. It is a battle being waged by Islamists like Bernhard Falk, extremism experts like Claudia Dantschke and prison chaplains like Mustafa Cimsit. They are fighting for the souls of Emrah and his brothers in spirit.
For some of them, the goal is to ensure that men like Emrah don't find new brothers in German prisons, brothers they could recruit for terrorism. For others, the goal is to ensure that the struggle against all things Western continues, and that Emrah doesn't give up. And for Germany, the goal is to ensure that the country continues to avert terrorist attacks, that Germany never has to see bombs exploding in suburban trains, as occurred in Madrid, or on buses like the ones that were targeted in London, that journalists are not executed the way they were in Paris, and that people are not shot dead the way they were in Brussels. But the real issue is that the German state has many demands but is doing nothing to ensure they're met.
Forces of Good and Bad
Emrah is looking for help. From his cell, he writes a letter with a blue pen on white paper. He wants to be put in touch with Claudia Dantschke, a woman he saw on TV and whose voice he heard on the radio. He hopes that she can help him. Dantschke is Germany's best-known expert on extremism. She has advised German President Joachim Gauck in his office in Bellevue Palace and attended a security conference in Washington hosted by US President Barack Obama. She's a chain-smoker, likes to wear denim shirts and travels around Germany to train prison guards in how to handle inmates like Emrah. She also responded to his letter.
She has been fighting for young men like Emrah for years, determined not to lose them to war abroad or to extremists at home. But pulling him in the opposite direction are people like Bernhard Falk. He doesn't want to see Emrah and his brothers return to civil society. He wants them to serve as soldiers in his war.
Falk is a large man with a long beard. He typically wears a black shirt and dark trousers that never reach beyond his ankles, so that they do not come into contact with the dirt of the streets, in accordance with Muslim religious laws. Falk is a former left-wing extremist who spent twelve and a half years in prison for attacks he had committed against German politicians in the 1990s. Today he is an Islamist extremist considered by German security officials to be a significant "threat" within the German Islamist community.
Falk attends terrorism trials in German courts, analyzes judges, writes letters to convicted terrorists in prison, finds the right attorneys for them and comforts their mothers. Falk doesn't see Emrah as a terrorist, but as a "political prisoner of the Federal Republic of Germany." His rhetoric doesn't seem to have changed much since his left-wing extremist days.
Falk wants to support and "strengthen" Emrah. He doesn't want him to believe that everything he did may have been a mistake, and to give up fighting against the West and Western life. For Falk, men like Emrah are "jetsam." The Germans, he says, cannot sell their weapons around the world without expecting terror to return to their soil, to their cities, streets and prisons.
In recent months, Emrah often sat across from Mustafa Cimsit -- during Friday prayers, in the prison's group room and in his cell. Cimsit, an imam, is also fighting for him. He has told Emrah that it was cowardly to travel to a faraway place and fight a war that has nothing to do with him.
Cimsit is a Muslim prison chaplain, and the only one in Germany who preaches behind bars five days a week, with his own office and a transponder on his key ring. The imam is a short man, but he says that he doesn't need to be any taller. He has a soft handshake and a calm voice, sports a beard and wears a bomber jacket and tight jeans. When he walks through the prison's security doors, Cimsit looks like one of the guards, except that he is wearing a turban.
Radicalizing and Going to War
Emrah is one of the first returnees to have found their way back from the Islamist war to Germany. He and his story represent a new generation of young men who become radicalized in cities like Bonn, Ansbach and Wuppertal and then go to war. Since the conflict in Syria began, the Islamists' fight has moved closer to Europe. It's no longer restricted to Afghanistan or the mountainous regions of Pakistan. The war is now only a few hours' flight away. Ever since this war became so close, up to 700 young Germans have left the country to join it. A third of them have now returned.
They are greeted by prosecutors and indicted on terrorism charges, and their wives, friends and relatives are investigated. There are more than 300 suspects nationwide who stand accused of funding terror, being members of foreign terrorist organizations or fighting abroad and possibly killing people. But what they have done abroad isn't the only issue on the minds of German judges these days. One of their objectives is to determine whether they are looking at disillusioned fighters who have returned to Germany disenchanted and reformed, or whether these young men are potential killers, members of terrorist sleeper cells who pose a mortal threat to Germany.
Much depends on the answers to these questions -- for Germany, for its security and future, and for the way people view life in their own country, one where 82 percent of citizens believe that these returnees pose a serious threat.
The real battle for Emrah and his brothers doesn't take place in the courtroom, but outside it, even if society hardly takes notice. Individual players are competing with one another, insiders like Falk, Cimsit and Dantschke. They know that it doesn't make sense to place a social problem solely in the hands of the courts; they know that parking returnees in prisons doesn't help; they can see how an anxious society is worried about the fact that it cannot keep men like Emrah behind bars indefinitely, and that the returnees will eventually be released back into society.
Prison is a platform of missed opportunities, even in Germany. Prison is also an important battlefield -- and not just in Germany.
Two of the Paris attackers met in prison.
Omar El-Hussein had only been out of prison for a few days when he swore allegiance on Facebook to the leader of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and killed two people in Copenhagen.
Mehdi Nemmouche, who shot four people to death at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, had returned from Syria a few days before committing the murders.
Almost all these perpetrators have one thing in common: They started out as petty criminals and only became extremists while behind bars. In prison, they became fanatics willing to commit acts of violence.
'I Have Zero Prospects'
In a letter dated Jan. 1, 2013, Emrah writes: "I don't know what will happen to me when I get out of here. I don't have a job or a qualification, and I have zero prospects in the job market." The letter is addressed to the Interior Ministry of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Emrah writes that he had heard something on the radio about a program for reformed Islamist extremists. Emrah ordered brochures and catalogues, keen to read up and speak out. "I practiced a very strict interpretation of Islam and gave up my career as a criminal. I asked myself a thousand questions after my brother's death. I am very interested to know and read about what you have to offer."
In the letter, Emrah describes bits and pieces of his life, and his words seem to contain a first inkling of regret. He says that his radicalization didn't happen overnight; it was a journey that happened in stages and was littered with traps. "I was naïve and young," Emrah writes, "and untrained in matters of human understanding and the future." But then, he says, he saw this woman who tries to "help people like me. If you can find the address of the woman I have described, please send it to me."
The woman is Claudia Dantschke. Emrah's letter sat on a desk at the Interior Ministry for a while and only reached Dantschke four weeks later. To this day, she is furious about the missed opportunity. She replied to Emrah's first cry for help immediately, but he never responded. German bureaucracy held up his letter for so long that her reply came too late. Dantschke knows that windows can open for short periods of time, but then they close forever.
Dantschke isn't trying to whitewash men like Emrah, and she's no bleeding heart. But she does want to free them from the clutches of extremists and turn them into "ex-extremists." She doesn't like the fact that Germany treats its extremists like foreign bodies, and that the country wants nothing to do with the causes of radicalization, and with the question of why young men are willing to join a faraway war against the kafir, or infidels, against the West and against Western ways.
Sitting in a German high-speed train, Dantschke sticks a nicotine patch on her shoulder, opens her laptop and reviews a PowerPoint presentation. She's on her way to a lecture. Of the two phones lying on the table in front of her, at least one is always ringing.
The calls are usually from mothers who are in despair, because their sons are now refusing to enter rooms when women are present. From teachers who complain that their students are refusing to say "Je suis Charlie" and are saying "Je suis Muslim" instead. And from fathers who are worried that their children will soon leave Germany to go to war. Dantschke asks them which mosque their children attend, which books they are reading and what they have on their walls. She wants to know if they have changed the way they dress and what websites they are visiting. These are all elements of a rough checklist she uses to determine how radical the children of these despairing parents already are. Her conversations with them sometimes go on for hours.
Learning A Script By Heart
She tells parents to remain calm and not to criminalize their children. She doesn't want them to lose touch with their children and simply let go. She knows that there are far too few people like her -- advisers, prison chaplains, experts. She knows that they can patch things up but cannot be there constantly. "If people have close bonds with their families, it becomes more difficult for them to leave," she says. To ensure that they decide to stay, the parents need to ask the right questions.
Dantschke trains them. She knows exactly when the German community of militant Islamists began to take shape. She knows the leaders of the movement and which jihadist organizations in Syria have just disassociated themselves from which others. She provides the parents with the information they need on the terrorists' war, and she quotes verses from the Koran that forbid it. She wants parents to help their children begin to question their decisions to leave and join terrorist groups.
Dantschke runs Hayat, an advice center against radicalization. The word hayat means life in Arabic, and the group's telephone hotline is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. Dantschke organizes weekends for the parents of returnees and brings them together with parents of young people who have left Germany and are still abroad. She wants them to learn from each other. After the meetings, they tell their children, when they call from war zones, that it's time to say goodbye forever. They explain that they, the parents, are infidels who will go to hell, while their children, the fighters in faraway countries, as jihadists, will end up in paradise.
Dantschke writes scripts for the parents, who learn them by heart. It sounds simple, but it works. "Everyone gets homesick," she says. Many parents have Dantschke's personal mobile phone number, and they call her when she's giving a seminar in Vienna or visiting parents in Berlin. Sometimes she uses her phone to quickly search for a gas station at the Syrian border, where a lost son has told his father to meet him and bring him home from the war. She uses Google Maps to give the father directions to the gas station. She types quickly.
Dantschke is often under great stress, but she's determined to be there for her callers. They are German parents, and they are desperate. Most of them are only familiar with Turkey as a vacation destination, and their only experiences with terrorism date back to the days of the left-wing Red Army Faction (RAF) terrorist group in Germany. With Dantschke's help, these parents are now traveling to a war zone to bring back their children, to a Germany that doesn't know what to do with them.
Dantschke also wants to help Germany to better cope with the situation. She wants people to finally understand that they are not losing men like Emrah to Islam but to militant Islamism, to a new extremism that is dubbed jihadism, and that the debate revolves around a religion with which it has little in common.
'We've Seen All This Before'
She is standing at a lectern in the Pfalzgalerie Museum in the southwestern city of Kaiserslautern. She opens her laptop, checks the sound, puts her right hand into her pocket and holds a microphone in her left hand. "We are no longer talking about Superman, but about Supermuslim," she says. She wants her audience to understand that this is a new youth culture, one with its own codes, an environment in which extremists fish for recruits, and do so successfully. Young men like Emrah leave Germany, she says, because they are unsuccessful there. They leave a world in which rappers like Bushido receive awards for promoting integration and convicted criminals are awarded internships in the German parliament.
The Islamists also want to make history, if not in Germany then in the Middle East, as the first generation in a new caliphate, even though, as Dantschke is convinced, most of them are "theological and ideological illiterates." She clicks through her slides, rattling off terms like: obedience, structure, community, identity, rebellion and protest. At some point, an older man says: "It's beginning to dawn on me. We've seen all of this before. This is the RAF."
For Dantschke, these are the moments when she feels that it's worthwhile to drive around Germany and explain to people that men like Emrah are not some import from abroad, but products of German society. She is pleased to see her listeners nodding their heads and taking notes. It gives her the strength she needs for days when she has to sit down with mothers, hold their hands and say to them: "Your son is most likely dead. He isn't coming back from Syria." At times like these she needs to be both a psychologist and a family counselor. Sometimes it gets to be too much for her. But she won't give up. Such conversations are often on her mind, on the train, on the phone or at night, standing outside a hotel, smoking, after giving yet another presentation. "Sometimes I think to myself: It's good that I don't have any children."
Dantschke was born in the eastern city of Leipzig in 1963. She was 13 when she started leafing through picture books about New York and began dreaming of distant places. She joined the Young Pioneers, an East German youth organization, and she later went to college and majored in Arab Studies, hoping to work abroad as a translator. She was never pious, having grown up in East German society, where religion was frowned upon. She worked for a news agency and remained in East Germany. When the Berlin Wall came down, she went to Berlin and ended up working for a Turkish news channel in the Neukölln neighborhood, operating out of the back room of a travel agency.
She speaks fondly of those days. "The Turks integrated me into West Germany," she says, with a laugh. She soon began doing research on right-wing Turks and Islamist movements. Dantschke doesn't like it when people try to tell others how to live their lives. Her exposés led to the banning of radical groups and the removal of certain newspapers from the market. She became an expert, so well-known that even Emrah, in his prison cell, heard of her.
Pressing the Reset Button
Emrah was only 17 the first time he went to prison. In a piece he wrote for a Salafist publication, he described how he found God in his prison cell: "I did a lot of bad things in my youth, everything imaginable. Complaints were constantly being filed against me, there were letters and summons, and I was in and out courtrooms." Emrah was involved in robberies and drug and alcohol use, and he stopped attending school. He sold drugs and he beat up his competitors.
While in prison, Emrah prayed to God and promised that he would be a good boy if he would only get him out of prison. It worked. Emrah was released early. He continued to pray and he made new friends, whom he called his "brothers" and who took him along to lectures. He became religious, and his father was pleased. But it didn't last, and he ended up back in jail. No one visited him, not his friends and not the girl he had fallen in love with. Emrah felt ashamed and wept a lot. "I thought to myself: Come on, it's time for you to change everything! Completely! I thought, either I live like an animal, or I serve Allah."
Emrah turned his cell into a "madrasa," a prayer school, and practiced "Da'wah," inviting fellow inmates to Islam. "My time came while I was in prison, and I don't regret a single day I spent there. I became a man in prison. I gained inner peace and I felt so good. Two inmates became Muslims in jail, many prayed, and I learned a lot." He became an extremist himself, encouraging others to delete their old lives, not unlike pressing the reset button in a computer game -- a way to start all over again.
When Emrah was released on probation, he traveled to the Pakistani border with his wife and child, and stayed in Mir Ali, an al-Qaida stronghold in a region where Sharia law prevailed, NATO convoys were being attacked and the United States was hunting terrorists with drones.
Emrah's younger brother Bünyamin died in one of these attacks, from a head wound inflicted by shrapnel from a missile. He was the first German citizen to be killed in the American drone war. Emrah buried his brother in Pakistani soil, and then called the BKA in Germany to announce Al-Qaeda's plans for terrorist attacks, and then went to Somalia. He was arrested in Tanzania and extradited to Germany.
Containers have been set up on Berlin's Platz der Republik since his call made in the fall of 2010. Anyone wishing to enter the Reichstag has to place their bags on a conveyor belt for inspection and pass through metal detectors. Islamists like Bernhard Falk refer to the array of containers as the "Emrah checkpoint."
A Growing Islamist Prison Population
On a cold Saturday in March, Falk is walking through downtown Wuppertal. "Child murderer," young women shout as he passes them. "We'll get all of you, you goddamn terrorists, IS, you sons of bitches, go to hell," others shout. On this day, downtown Wuppertal resembles a catwalk for Germany's extremists. Hooligans clash with the police, while Kurdish activists and right-wingers stand in front of a barrier. They are united in their hatred of Falk and his entourage, who are staging a rally "to protest injustices against Muslim prisoners."
Falk pushes his way past them. He is a tall man, almost 1.90 meters (6'3"), clad in a long, gray Islamic robe, which he likes to wear on special days. Police officers lead him to a tent. He is asked to remove his shoes, and they search his bags. Everyone wants to interview Falk, who is accompanied by camera flashes. His supporters are also holding up their mobile phones. He comes across as a pop star, someone who likes to be the center of attention.
He keeps walking, past young men standing in a prayer line, their heads bowed, and past the Kurds in front of the barrier, who are now lighting firecrackers and throwing eggs at the stage. One of the imams reads letters from Islamist prisoners into the microphone, holds up a €500 bill, begins to weep and calls out: "I want each of you to donate." Then an assistant walks through the audience and collects donations.
Falk also passes through the audience, shaking hands and handing out flyers wrapped in airtight bags to keep them from becoming creased. He likes things to be orderly. "Call me," he says. His services are listed on the red flyers: "Writing requests to make prison visits, assessment of the situation in various German prisons, observation of attorneys (live) during trials, propagating the refusal to give evidence."
Since the number of Islamists in prison has gone up, so has the number of the sympathizers. Just as supporters of right-wing and left-wing extremists looked after their prisoners for decades, the Islamist inmates also have their supporters and collective letter-writers, the most famous being Bernhard Falk. He believes that the German state has unjustly locked away his "brothers and sisters."
He is referring to cases like that of a woman named Karolina, who sent her husband €11,000 in Syria, together with cameras and night-vision goggles. The husband is fighting for IS. Karolina is an inmate in the Vechta women's prison, together with her two-year-old son. Falk calls the boy Germany's youngest political prisoner.
There are cases like that of Marco, a German convert who spied on right-wing politicians and deposited suitcase bombs at the Bonn train station -- a polite boy, says Falk, who acted according to his "gut feeling" and is now on trial in a Düsseldorf court.
Or men like Mohammed, who was on his way to Syria and was arrested on the A8 autobahn. His case is being tried in the Stuttgart Higher Regional Court.
And cases like that of Andrea, who lived in Bavaria's Allgäu region and tried to go to Syria to serve as someone's second wife. Falk calls her a "very courageous woman." Her case is being tried in the Munich Higher Regional Court.
The Head Teacher of German Islamists
Falk knows them all. He visits them in prison, writes them letters and prints their life stories on flyers. Falk has also been under growing stress since the number of returnees has increased. Like Claudia Dantschke, he too is often traveling on trains around Germany, his mobile phone also rings constantly, with calls from despairing mothers and speechless fathers. But they aren't interested in determining how radicalized their children have become. They are farther along the scale of despair. They need attorneys, and they want to know what to tell the neighbors now that state security officials have broken down their doors. They often need money, because investigators have frozen their accounts, which is where Falk comes in. He drives from city to city for them, collecting donations, making house visits and appearing at trials.
He is walking along Kapellweg in Düsseldorf on a Tuesday, past an allotment garden, crowing roosters and men wielding submachine guns, until he reaches a large, concrete building, the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court. The police officers checking passports greet Falk by his name. He is a familiar figure to them. In courtroom II, young men in handcuffs are led to blue chairs behind a glass wall. They wave to Falk, who is one of only four people in the public gallery. A BKA investigator is standing in the witness box.
Falk is taking notes with a blue fountain pen, using ink eraser to correct his mistakes. Falk doesn't like mistakes. He notes that password security is no longer worth anything today, because the extremist community is being observed with software from California. Later on, he will post a warning on his Facebook page, "Falk News," a service he provides for his community. He warns them not to send too many text messages, not to spend too much time chatting and to avoid providing "the government" with evidence, merely for the sake of "gossiping."
Falk comes across as head teacher of German Islamists, although he refers to himself as a religious warrior and claims that his work is somehow "pastoral." When the hearing in Düsseldorf ends, he leaves the courthouse and walks across the parking lot. He even knows the license-plate numbers of individual attorneys whose cars are parked there. Very few trial lawyers are recognized in the Islamist community. Falk knows them all and is constantly providing them with new cases. The attorneys give him rides in their cars or in taxis, buy him train tickets, give him copies of indictments, sit with him in train stations, drinking hot chocolate with whipped cream and complaining about judges and the naïveté of defendants. Falk says that he needs humor to keep him going, and that it isn't easy for him to constantly return to this place, where he himself was discharged, in July 2008.
Evolution of a Radical
Falk was only 10 when the RAF murdered Hanns Martin Schleyer, the powerful head of the Federation of German Industries, Palestinian terrorists hijacked the Lufthansa aircraft "Landshut" in an effort to secure the release of RAF leaders in prison and the subsequent suicide by terrorist group founder Andreas Baader and other key figures in a Stuttgart prison. The headlines fascinated him, he says, as he leafed through the papers in his father's newspaper shop, but the series of events known as the German Autumn were of no interest to his family. His mother was a teacher who described herself as a "Catholic humanist," and his father was a former Nazi who had served in the Waffen-SS and was constantly giving little Bernhard lectures about "sub-humans" -- Russians, Poles, Jews. In short, the whole Nazi package.
Falk found refuge in the church, where he prayed to God and served as an altar boy. His priest nicknamed him Lucifer, because he liked playing with fire. He secretly read Marx. He has claimed that he only consumed alcohol once in his life, when he was in 11th grade. The administration of US President Ronald Reagan was bombing Tripoli when he graduated from high school.
"The West, as a military power, attacks and imposes its order on the world," he says. He never liked the West's arrogance and its view of itself as a class of "superior human beings," an attitude he had already experienced at home. He still loved God, in his own way, but he soon recognized the Catholic Church as "an element destroying the Soviet Union." His religion somehow didn't fit to his worldview, to the spirit of resistance that motivated him, and he soon came to see it as nothing but window dressing for baptisms, burials and weddings. "My Christianity was at a low level," says Falk.
Falk attended the University of Aachen, where he studied physics, and he kept a photo of Ulrike Meinhof on his night table. He fell in love with an Iranian woman and converted to Islam. He felt that Germany's far-left fire had gone out, and wanted to be different. He founded a militant group called the Anti-Imperialistic Cell, or AIZ, which would go on to commit nine attacks in three years. The group set fire to the Rechtshaus building in Hamburg and detonated bombs in Düsseldorf filled with iron staples. The authorities believed that the AIZ posed a greater threat than the RAF. Falk never testified.
He was placed in solitary confinement and went on hunger strikes, but his leftist brothers had forgotten him. Prison became "a place for conversations with myself," says Falk. But he soon made new friends. Turks and Kurds had heard about this new fellow inmate of theirs, who wore tracksuits that were too tight, was a German but somehow also a Muslim. The prison guards brought him bags of gifts from his new friends, who were sending him pocket mirrors and nail clippers. He wrote pamphlets and spread Islam.
It wasn't difficult to turn himself from a left-wing extremist into an Islamist, says Falk. No one can stop history, he adds. "Either you sit at the front of the train, in the locomotive, or you sit at the back and suffocate," says Falk. For him, Islamism is the locomotive. He believes that it is no longer the left that provide anti-imperialistic resistance but organizations like Hamas and al-Qaida.
When he was released from prison, a German convert named Miriam was waiting for him, recommended by his new community. He moved in with her in Munich, where he worked in a call center, sold newspaper ads and worked in customer service at Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom. Whenever his employer discovered who he was, he was shown the door. The convert couple moved to Ludwigshafen, to a neighborhood of row houses with neatly trimmed hedges, and into a living room with brown cabinets and a brown floor, where Falk filed his past into black binders.
Thinking in Broader Terms
They are spread out on a green velvet sofa and on the rug. Falk says that he ought to buy some shelves and sort things out, but he doesn't have time. There are too many arrests and too many cases to attend to. And then there is his second wife in Dortmund and the three children they have together. He spends alternating weeks in Dortmund and Ludwigshafen. The shelves will have to wait, he says.
He flips through the mail he has received from Islamists in prison. They thank him for writing to them and tell him that he is the only one who never forgets them. They write about how they would like to see their children married to his, and use green ink to draw verses from the Koran between the lines. The letters are sentimental and rarely political. It used to be different, says Falk, when he would receive letters from former RAF members Brigitte Mohnhaupt and Christian Klar.
The Paris attacks, says Falk, were actually an opportunity to explain to the world why the resistance will never stop. But his fosterlings aren't ready yet, he adds. He has been irritated a lot recently, by attorneys who refuse to issue statements to the press, by parents who don't want him to publish their names, and by defendants who turn their heads away from the camera instead of showing their faces to the world.
Their resistance consists of not standing up when a judge enters the courtroom, or reading the Koran while fines are being imposed against them for contempt of court. Falk knows that this "tit for tat" isn't very effective, but he tries to be patient, hoping to teach them that how they wear their veils isn't that important, that no one is about to "faint from eroticism," and that they shouldn't worry whether the beef they eat is from cattle that were raised in an "Islamic context." He wants them to think in bigger and broader terms.
Falk believes that his Islamists will eventually work more efficiently, which is why attacks in Germany are inevitable and cannot be prevented. He has no sympathy for victims. Falk says that he takes democracy seriously, and that as long as the Germans vote for the politicians they elect, they will have to live with the consequences. Falk has never voted. He says that he doesn't want to take away the Germans' church or introduce Sharia law in Bonn. The Americans, he says, should be allowed to continue eating their bagels and drinking their orange juice from aluminum cans, but they should stop fighting Islamist resistance around the world.
He has a low opinion of the Islamic State. He likes al-Qaida, but he doesn't want to abandon the IS returnees, merely because they have lost their way. Falk categorizes his young Islamists as either "compulsory cases" or his "favorites." Emrah is one of the latter. Falk still remembers the day he heard about his arrest. He found Emrah immediately intriguing, the boy from Wuppertal who went to a Taliban area. His was a story involving American drones and dead Germans. "Global politics under a microscope," he says.
He never missed any of Emrah's court appearances, and he always waved to Emrah, who smiled in return. Falk is proud of Emrah, because he didn't allow himself to be "milked" by the BND, and because he refused to testify and didn't take the judge seriously. Falk likes it when German judges become frustrated by their defendants, mispronounce Arabic words and reveal their prejudices against Muslims.
He knows exactly how far he can go without breaking the law. And as long as the authorities accept his requests to visit prisoners, he will go to German prisons, proclaim the Islamic greeting of peace, tell the inmates that they should be patient and, most importantly, that they should understand that they are different from their fellow inmates. He tells them that they are in prison because they are fighting for a good cause. He tells them to pray and wait, and that he is there for them and their families. He was often on the phone with Emrah's wife, suggesting that she hire new attorneys, telling her how much longer a trial would last and preparing her "emotionally" for Emrah's seven-year prison sentence.
A Formidable Adversary
It infuriates Falk that Claudia Dantschke travels around Germany claiming that Islamist prisoners are losers and poor excuses for human beings. Yet he doesn't perceive her as a real threat, noting that she isn't even a Muslim. He is more concerned about men like Mustafa Cimsit, a man who is fighting the same battle as Dantschke, but behind prison walls instead of on German streets. Cimsit is a formidable adversary.
As he walks along the hallways of the Frankfurt Correctional Facility, he opens cell doors, greets inmates, locks them up again and continues on his way. Prisoners call out "As-salamu alaykum," "peace be upon you," and invite him to join them for a meal. They like their imam. Mustafa Cimsit has a full schedule, working eight hours a day, five days a week. Every morning he walks through nine security doors to reach his office, where a sign on the entrance reads "Consultation room, B.2.160, Imam." Prayer rugs and Korans are stacked on the shelves and pieces of paper covered with Arabic writing hang on the walls.
One in four inmates at the Frankfurt prison is a Muslim. Every Friday, Cimsit dons his white robe, kneels in the prayer shrine and holds his Koran in his hand. The altar is shrouded in a piece of white material that covers the holy water, and the chairs for Christians services are placed in the room next door. A figure of Jesus on the cross is put away on a shelf, and the red prayer rugs are unrolled. For a few hours, the prayer room, with images of sunbeams pasted on the walls, is transformed into the prison mosque.
In recent months, Emrah also sat on the red carpet and listened to Cimsit's sermon. The imam liked him, saying that he was a sincere boy who frequently embraced him, was funny and very polite, unless the talk turned to Jesus or Buddha. Cimsit told the inmates that perhaps they too had been sent by God, and that human beings then equated them with God. Buddha, a prophet? It was too much for Emrah. He called it heresy and left.
Cimsit let him go and didn't follow him. He didn't punish him but merely sent him greetings, always including something Islamic to read and a chocolate bar. It took Emrah three weeks, but he eventually returned, embraced Cimit and said that he was sorry that he couldn't agree with his view, but that he accepted it.
Someone to Talk to
"Most people come to my sermon because they want to talk," says Cimsit. They talk about feeling homesick and about upcoming visits. They talk about the attacks in Paris and the cartoons mocking their prophet. About the caliphate and the beheadings. About conspiracy theories. Perhaps the Americans were behind the Paris attacks? Or the Jews? These are absurd questions, but if they couldn't discuss them with Cimsit, they would only discuss them with each other, and no one would challenge them.
After the sermons, he often spends time with the inmates in his group room, which has a flat-screen TV, a stereo and a wooden table with a vase of red tulips. Cimsit makes them tea and coffee, brings along kebabs, sometimes his wife's cheesecake, tiramisu or Turkish sweets. He says that trust is important. And so is food. The inmates respect him for the fact that his wife cooks for them, and it helps them open up to him.
Cimsit talks while they eat cake. He has heard that some of them feel that the IS beheadings are "not so bad." He explains to them that a good Muslim blindfolds an animal about to be slaughtered, so that it cannot see the blood from the other animals. He says that Muslims use a sharp knife in order to kill the animal as "gently" as possible. This, he says, is written in the scriptures and is the law. Then he tells them to think about how it could possibly be compatible with their religion that IS barbarians behead people with "blunt" knives, and post images of these executions on the Internet, when true Muslims even blindfold animals to minimize their suffering.
A few months ago, an inmate came to Cimsit and said: "Hey, imam, I'm going to Syria when I get out of here." It took Cimsit weeks to convince the man that no one in Syria needed him. Yes, he said, Muslims are being treated unjustly in other countries, but why would someone who is unfamiliar with the language, doesn't know his way around and has no combat training want to go to Syria?
Cimsit often preaches the same message, in Friday prayers, in the corridors, in one-on-one conversations, and he has also done so in Emrah's cell. But the real battle begins at home. God has his reasons for putting Muslims where they are, he says. He calls going to war in another country instead of looking for a training position at home "lazy."
Cimsit says that during these types of conversations, he sometimes feels like a psychologist, a big brother or a social worker. With men like Emrah, he explains, Islam is not the primary issue, but rather extremism, which infects those who feel redundant. Cimsit wants to draw them out of their role as victims, but by using a different approach. He wants them to learn to fight injustice by filing petitions and going to school, not by wielding a Kalashnikov.
When men like Emrah are unwilling to listen to him, Cimsit says: "I am a Muslim and you are a Muslim. You are sitting in a cell, while I have my own office here in the prison so that I can help you. Think about it." Emrah did think about it, says Cimsit.
The Impossibility of 'Express Healing'
The imam, 43, was born in a small village in eastern Turkey, and grew up in the town of Hettenleidelheim in Germany's Palatinate region. He was a devout boy, the son of guest workers and the only Turk in his high school. After finishing school, he sold software for a while, but the work felt meaningless, so he went to school to study theology.
Cimsit is convinced that the number of Islamists in German prisons will continue to rise. Even those who do not enter prison as Islamists are in danger of becoming radicalized, through inmates like Emrah and false friends like Falk.
Cimsit says the time he spends in the prison is an opportunity to influence the confused so that they don't become perpetrators. Radicalization is a long process, and anyone who has undergone the process is unable to extract himself from it that quickly again. "Express healing" is not to be expected, he says.
The battle for Emrah's soul was a tough one, he says, requiring many hours of conversation. Cimsit met with Emrah's wife and played with his children, who are only permitted to see their father through a glass divider. He spent a lot of time alone with Emrah, hoping to give him the confidence to voice his regrets out loud. Emrah often wept when he talked about his brother and the war, and when he did Cimsit would embrace him, even though prison rules forbid physical contact with inmates. But much has changed since he began walking through the corridors of the Frankfurt prison. Cimsit spends every day fighting, but with his tools.
It is a question of Emrah and his brothers not finding even more brothers in German prisons. It is a question of Germany being spared from terrorist attacks, bombings on trains and buses, and people being shot to death. And it's also a matter of the German state having many demands but doing nothing to ensure they're met.
In 2013, Germany's state and federal justice ministers adopted a resolution stating that programs to de-radicalize prison inmates had to be established, but nothing much has happened since then. Only in recent months have many relevant offices and government agencies begun to address the issue. And while Claudia Dantschke gives presentations, Mustafa Cimsit tends to the needs of the Islamists who happen to end up in his prison, and Bernhard Falk continues to write letters, federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière appears on talk shows debating the issue.
But when asked about the concrete plans that exist and the funds that have been allocated to prevent radicalization in German prisons, De Maizière has no answers, except to say that prisons are the responsibility of the individual states.
When state officials are asked, they offer a potpourri of responses. Lower Saxony has some sort of a Muslim pastoral care program, while Bavaria and Berlin have been begun paying more attention to the problem since the Paris attacks. As state justice ministries continued to assess, observe and plan pilot projects, police conducted raids in Bremen and the state of Hesse, arresting potential attackers. In Dresden, a demonstration was canceled due to warnings of possible attacks, while the city of Braunschweig cancelled its entire Carnival parade. Meanwhile, police officers are once again patrolling German train stations.
Mustafa Cimsit said goodbye to Emrah a few weeks ago. They embraced again and again, and Cimsit told Emrah that God would protect him. May God protect you, imam, Emrah replied. Emrah was transferred to the city of Hagen in western Germany.
But Cimsit wasn't about to entrust Emrah entirely to God. He called the Hagen prison and asked to speak to its imam, so that he could give him a few tips and tell him to be patient with Emrah. The woman on the phone said the Hagen prison had no imam. Cimsit, pausing for a moment, asked if perhaps the prison chaplain could help. After waiting for a while, he heard a crackling noise on the line, but the chaplain never picked up the phone. Eventually Cimsit hung up.
He sat there for a moment in silence. Then he prayed to God, for Emrah and for Germany.