A German Islamist who apparently wants to renounce militancy and return home has been arrested in Pakistan. The German authorities are divided over how to deal with such former insurgents.
The Taiba Mosque in Hamburg is considered a meeting point of militant Islamists
Pakistan's northwestern Bannu district borders the tribal agency of North Waziristan, a haven for al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents. Pakistani security forces recently arrested a man hiding in a burqa there. He told them he was German and his passport and other papers had been stolen. He wanted to surrender to the German authorities.
The Pakistani intelligence agency ISI detained him. Although his identity has not been officially confirmed from the Pakistani side, German news magazines have reported he is 32 year old German-Syrian Rami M. According to these sources and reports, he had earlier called the German embassy in Islamabad to ask for new travel documents.
In Germany, Rami M. is known as a leader of a group of militant Islamists with ties to a radical mosque in Hamburg that was frequented by the 9/11 attackers. He went underground in March 2009. The German media have reported that both German and Pakistani intelligence agencies are convinced that he received training in a militant camp on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan and learned how to make suicide vests. Insiders also believe that he fought against international troops in Afghanistan.
Reuters news agency reported it had received a phone call from a spokesman of the Pakistani Taliban, terming the detained a "comrade" who had been taking part in the holy "Jihad" in Pakistan together with other Germans.
German militant Eric Breininger was reportedly killed in Pakistan earlier this year
Security officials estimate that last year alone, around 30 young Germans traveled to Pakistan to receive training as insurgents. Several of them are said to have formed a group of so-called "German Taliban Mujahedeen" in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. Ever since the trial against the "Sauerland Cell" exposed plans for devastating bomb attacks to be carried out in Germany by Islamist terrorists, these groups are considered a major threat to Germany's security.
Unclear how to deal with defectors
There is not a clear policy in Germany on how to deal with such potential terrorists. The Interior Ministry is setting up a program to convince young Islamist militants to defect from radical groups. It is going to target those people in particular who are considering going to the training camps on the Afghan-Pakistani border.
In addition, there is disagreement over how to handle those who have been to the terrorist camps and now want to go back home. The actions of the German authorities in the case of Rami M. highlight this problem. After his call, the German embassy in Islamabad contacted the German foreign and interior ministries. But according to media reports, they couldn't agree on what to do. The Foreign Office wanted to call Rami M. to the embassy in Islamabad, it is said. But the Interior Ministry strictly opposed this due to security concerns and informed the Pakistani authorities about his planned visit. It was on the basis of this information that Pakistani security forces then arrested Rami M.
Ever since, the arrest is being hotly debated in Berlin, writes the "Spiegel" news magazine. While some praise the successful anti-terrorism operation, others criticize the fact that the German authorities deliberately denounced Rami M. to the Pakistanis, possibly even "to avoid having to do the dirty work themselves". They also argue that Germany might have missed a chance to get first-hand information about the German jihadist colony in Waziristan.
The Pakistani army has intensified its operations against the Taliban
The number of German militants willing to return might well rise. According to information obtained by the "Focus" weekly magazine, the secret services have concluded from e-mail messages, chats and tapped phone calls that the fighters are scared and are losing faith in their mission. Rami M.'s phone calls were tapped, too. In them, he apparently complained about having to march through difficult terrain with heavy weapons. He also mentioned snakes and scorpions.
Author: Ana Lehmann / tb
Editor: Grahame Lucas