In a landmark case underscoring the significance of the Internet in global terrorism, a German court jailed an Iraqi man for three years for posting al-Qaeda propaganda online.
The case highlighted the difficulties of defining what constitutes terrorism
The judge jailed the Iraqi-born Kurdish man, Ibrahim Rashid, 37, for attempting to recruit supporters for the Islamist network in online chat rooms between October 2005 and October 2006.
The court in the northern German city of Celle convicted Rashid on 22 counts of recruiting on behalf of a non-German terrorist organization, which is a crime under German law.
Defendant Ibrahim Rashid in court
The court said Rashid, who has Iraqi nationality, had posted video recordings in which al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and other extremists urged attacks against the West on the Internet "and supplemented them with his own remarks."
He also uploaded videos showing car bombings and sniper attacks.
Defence lawyers had called for Rashid's acquittal, arguing he had only posted texts and videos that were already widely available and said the accused was not actively seeking new members for al-Qaeda.
His lawyers said the case risked putting the German justice system on a slippery slope that could lead to "criminal law being broadened to cover laws on political convictions."
Klaus Ruether, Rashid's lawyer, said after the ruling on Thursday, June 19, that he would appeal all the way to Germany's supreme court if need be, arguing that Internet chat constituted free speech under the German constitution.
But the court said the Internet postings had the purpose of urging others to join in the jihad, and went well beyond a mere statement of sympathy with al-Qaeda, which would have been protected by free-speech laws and would not have been punishable.
Prosecutors had said the audio and video files Rashid downloaded from the Internet and posted in the chatroom contained messages by bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Sarkawi, the now dead leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, and included the justification of terrorist attacks and incitement of hatred against Jews. The defendant himself occasionally appealed for participation in jihad, or holy war, they added.
Judge Wolfgang Siolek said the verdict set a legal precedent in Germany, with Rashid being the first person in Germany to be convicted under a law passed after the September 11, 2001 suicide hijackings by Al-Qaeda in the United States banning recruitment for terror organisations.
The Internet plays an increasingly vital role in terrorism
Siolek described Rashid as a "fanatical jihad fighter" and said he used the Internet "to create a global climate of fear of ubiquitous terror." Describing al-Qaeda leaders as his brothers meant Rashid was presenting himself to his readers as "a fanatical and incorrigible soldier for an extremist ideology," Siolek said.
Siolek said the sentence should serve as a "warning signal" for other recruiters for banned groups.
Rashid, a political refugee of Kurdish origin, arrived in Germany in 1996 and lived with his wife and four young sons in the western steel town of Georgsmarienhuette.
Authorities had monitored his activities online for a year before arresting him in October 2006. Since his arrest, he has spent nearly two years in pre-trial custody.
Although Rashid has already served half of his sentence, the court said he must remain in custody because he had shown no remorse and would likely attempt to flee the country if released. "It remains advisable that he be deported after serving his sentence," Siolek said.
Authorities in Germany welcomed Thursday's verdict, saying it broke new ground in German criminal history.
"It makes clear that people cannot simply run riot on the Internet," state prosecutor Peter Ernst said. He had called for a prison sentence of three years and 10 months.
The case, experts said, underscores the increasing significance of the role of the Internet in global terrorism. With the Web known to offer everything from sources of terror financing, the sale of chemicals and fertilizers, recruitment of members, to a complete terrorist attack how-to guide, monitoring Internet traffic has long been high on counter-terrorism experts' list.