A man who fought in Syria and took part in an attack on Aleppo's central prison was convicted in Germany. In court, he pleaded guilty and chatted about his fellow fighters - much to the delight of the prosecutors.
The attack was well-planned: In February of last year, 1,600 jihadis stormed the central prison of Aleppo, in northern Syria. The assailants were armed with heavy machine guns and accompanied by tanks. Two wardens and five inmates died in the attack.
Harun P. was among the attackers. He fought for the terrorist group Junud al-Sham, a rival of "Islamic State." When Harun P., who was born in Afghanistan, tried to return to Germany a year later, he was arrested in Prague.
On Wednesday, the Higher Regional Court of Munich sentenced the 27-year-old German to 11 years in prison for membership in a terrorist organization and attempted murder during the attack in Aleppo. It is the first long-term prison sentence for a German returnee from Syria. The verdict is meant to discourage other young people who romanticize terrorism.
A godsend to security agencies
The trial was an absolute godsend to the German federal prosecutor general and his team of terrorist hunters. Harun P. divulged extensive information in court: His lists of names of other jihadis became part of the public record, and furthermore, he also gave precise details of responsibilities and the hierarchical positions within the terrorist group al-Sham. Harun P.'s revelations have already been used in two other terrorism trials. Security experts listened closely as the scope of the German jihadi's confession was unprecedented and will provide prosecutors with a great deal of material for further criminal cases.
Germany is currently trying several terrorism cases for Syria returnees. In this year alone, the federal prosecutor general has filed charges against 23 men; the rest of the verdicts are still pending.
More trials against Syria returnees
The personal histories of the other alleged jihadi defendants bear many resemblances to each other: Most of the men are young, have immigrated to Germany and become radicalized at some point in time. They usually traveled to Turkey to cross the border into Syria and join militant groups. After their arrival in the Syrian war zone, most of them completed weapons training. According to the indictments, they served in many positions: as fighters, smugglers, money couriers, recruiters of new members or producers of propaganda videos.
Security specialists have said they expect the wave of trials to continue to grow as new findings from current trials will likely lead to more indictments.
The fascination with jihadism in Germany and Europe shows no signs of waning. The German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation assumes that 700 Germans have already gone to war zones in Syria or Iraq to fight for terrorist organizations. Some 230 jihadists are said to have already returned to Germany. Most of the returnees caught by the police often insist that they only wanted to "offer humanitarian aid."
Police and intelligence services currently know little about what compels these people to return to Germany. Some appear to be traumatized by the cruelty of war while others are reportedly disappointed by the everyday life of jihadis. The authorities' greatest concern is the number returnees who are still active militants as they remain dangerous - even in prison. There, they often can find easy prey: aimless young men who can easily be inspired by the alleged adventures of the jihad.
Harun P. said he does not count himself among them. He has attracted the hatred of the jihadist scene because of his extensive confession. The court in Munich took his situation into account while issuing his sentence.
The verdict passed down by the Munich court conveys the following message: Whoever leaves Germany to join the jihad will be severely punished. But those who help authorities fight jihadis can at least count on a bit of leniency.