A young German who allegedly fought for the "Islamic State" faces trial. Western countries are desperately searching for ways to stop the spread of Islamist propaganda and the growing number of young jihad recruits.
Germany on Monday will try its first alleged "IS" fighter in a court of law.
Twenty-year-old "Kreshnik B." was arrested upon his return to Germany in December, 2013. While "there is not enough evidence that he sought to carry out attacks in Germany," according to a court spokesperson, he stands trial for allegedly training and fighting for a terrorist organization - one that Germany officially blacklisted on Friday, September 12.
Born in Bad Homburg, Hesse, to a family from Kosovo, authorities believe he was recruited to Germany's growing Salafist movement through the Internet. It is believed he was in Syria from July to December 2013, where he received combat training and participated in first aid and stakeout missions and later in combat.
"Motivated by radical religious convictions, his aim was to participate in armed jihad against the regime of Syrian President [Bashar al-]Assad and help to create a state based solely on Sharia law," German news agency dpa reported the federal public prosecutor as saying.
Increase in (extremist) Sunni sympathizers
Around a dozen German citizens have been arrested since the end of last month as suspected terrorists. Most recently, three were arrested at Germany's largest airport in Frankfurt upon arrival from Kenya. They are believed to have ties to the Somalian terrorist group al Shabab.
In December 2012, Salafist terrorists carried out a botched bomb attack at Bonn's main train station
Like "Islamic State," al Shabab seeks to create an Islamic state based on Sharia law. Both groups belong to the Sunni branch of Islam and preach aggressive, ultraconservative values colored by "Wahabism." This is what they regard as the original, pure form of the religion. The closest form of this school in Germany is known as Salafism, the most common form of Islam in Saudi Arabia.
According to a report published by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, there is a growing number of Salafists in Germany, with currently over 6,000 members - up from 1,800 in the year 2011.
"Salafism in Germany and internationally is currently the most dynamic Islamic movement," the report reads. So far, 400 of those Salafists have travelled to fight alongside the "IS" militant group.
Salafists in Germany sympathize with the suffering of majority Sunni Muslims in Syria; propagandists take advantage of this sentiment and spread videos and material online, in which Salafist preachers call upon all Muslims to fight for the cause of their Syrian brothers - either by taking up arms or by giving donations - saying it is their obligation as a Muslim.
While the report points out that the vast majority of Germany's Salafists seek to implement a state of law based on Sharia through political means and reject the use of violence, a minority support the militant jihad option to obtain the same objectives.
The distinction becomes blurred, however, when the two groups work together - such as on fundraising events for Syria, which are held on a large scale in Germany.
The vast majority of Salafists in Germany denounce the use of violence, but nearly all terrorist activity in Germany has been conducted by people with a Salafist background.
There is great evidence "that the philosophy spread by Salafists in Germany provides a breeding ground for Islamist radicalization, for 'jihadization,' and finally recruitment for militant jihad," the domestic German intelligence agency concludes. "Furthermore, the Salafist philosophy and messages that are spread on the Internet pose an enormous threat," as they target young people, such as Kreshnik B.
Aggressive recruitment strategies, Internet savvy
The German scene has moved on from aggressive da'wah (proselytizing/ recruitment) strategies such as handing out copies of the Koran on a large scale, which caused an uproar among many Germans only two years ago. Now, Islamists seek to attract recruits using the limitless possibilities of the Internet.
The "IS," for example, has been described as deploying a team of Internet "savvy" people to target jihadist hopefuls on social media sites such as Twitter, Google and Youtube. It has a team responsible for managing Internet content, which includes propaganda videos of attacks available in multiple languages and most recently the beheadings of, among others, two US journalists.
This "jihadi journalism," according to German sociologist Andreas Armborst, has been very effective in attracting new recruits and is easy to spread on the web. The IS "is producing high-quality content for a mass audience." Initially, its videos were aimed at integrating itself with local communities in Iraq and Syria, but the recent footage of beheadings is a new form of political communication, Armborst explained.
With the broad reach of the Internet and a seemingly endless supply of funding - originally from donors and sympathizers mostly in wealthy Gulf states and now through a rudimentary taxation in the vast areas of Syria and Iraq it controls, oil sales and ransom payments - the IS has the capacity to target an ever growing number of people. Most of them are young, mostly male, live abroad and tend to have a criminal past as well as a poor education and work record, according to the German newspaper Berliner Morgenpost.
According to the newspaper, one third of recruits are between the ages of 21-25, only 26 percent of German recruits have completed school. And only two percent have gone to university.
The most prominent convert is former German rapper Denis Cuspert, aka. Deso Dog, from Berlin, who now fights for the Islamists in Syria under the name Abu Talha al-Almani and whose fame has the potential to attract even more young people to the jihad scene.
Charges of unlawful asssembly have been brought against 11 men who "patrolled" the streets of Wuppertal last week, causing an outrage
Leaders in Europe are also pondering the potential danger posed by jihadists who return.
"We have to assume … that there may well be people who return and commit attacks," said Hans-Georg Maaßen, head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency.
Britain, which is home to around 400 fighters in Syria, is seeking to squelch the spread of Islamism by reaching out to religious schools and prisons. At the beginning of this month, influential imams there issued a fatwa against IS militants and called upon British Muslims to "oppose its poisonous ideology." The government is also increasing online censorship of propaganda messages spread by IS and similar groups.
Many European countries, including Germany, are also considering a ban on re-entry to the country on fighters in Iraq and Syria. Some politicians, such as Christian Democrat Thomas Strobl would like to see jihadists expatriated. Neighboring France - which has "exported" Europe's largest number of jihadists at 900 - plans to seize passports of would-be jihadists.
Amid a necessary crackdown on recruitment and cash flow to Islamist jihadist groups, and perhaps as an evitable side-affect of IS brutality, there is a growing anti-Muslim sentiment across Germany and the rest of Europe.But the majority of Muslims are law-abiding and peace-loving citizens. Hopefully, the trial of Kreshnik B. will address the underlying issues that make young, poor and uneducated people prime targets for extremist ideology.