The German government is alarmed about a growing number of its citizens carrying out suicide bombings on behalf of the "Islamic State" (IS) in Iraq and Syria, reports a research team including journalists from the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" newspaper as well as German broadcasters NDR and WDR. The team says it could confirm five separate attacks by Germans and is currently looking into a further three to four incidents.
Almost all of the attacks were carried out this year in Iraq - primarily in the northern Kurdish region and Baghdad, claims the team in its report published on Wednesday. It further cites information from Western intelligence agencies that the number of suicide strikes carried out by Europeans has quadrupled since March, attributing the Islamist militia's increased deployment of Westerners in part to propaganda purposes.
"We don't want death being sent from Germany to Iraq. Exporting terror is unconscionable and must be stopped," said German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere to the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" in response.
Putting faces to deeds
Signs point to one of the suicide bombers being 21-year-old Ahmet C. from the western German town of Ennepetal, the report adds, citing video analysis, German intelligence sources and interviews with those close to the youth whose family has Turkish roots. Within the last year, Ahmet C. began forging ties with Germany's Salafist scene before suddenly leaving for Turkey in early June and joining the "Islamic State."
On July 19, 2014, an individual detonated a vehicle loaded with explosives at a security checkpoint in Baghdad, killing 54 people, including many children in a school bus. Shortly thereafter, Ahmet's family received a brief telephone call from an unidentified speaker telling them their son had died in Iraq. At the time, Iraqi media cited an IS declaration that Abu Al-Kaakaa al-Almani carried out the act of "martyrdom." Part of the name, al-Almani, translates to "the German."
The media reports about Ahmet C. follow the opening of a widely covered court case earlier this week involving a 20-year-old German man accused of having travelled to Syria in July 2013 to join the IS terror group.
Meanwhile, the German government has already banned providing support to the "Islamic State" group in an effort to have legal recourse against returnees associated with the group. That move came in the wake of reports that an estimated 400 German nationals and residents have joined the militant group in Syria and Iraq. Now the question for security officials is how to prevent the outflow of German jihadists and sympathizers in the first place.
That agenda is reflected in the interior minister's comments about putting a stop to the export of terror, which were echoed by the chief official for domestic security in Ahmet C.'s home state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
"We're looking at the security situation in Germany, but we also have a responsibility toward the people who live in Syria and Iraq," commented Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which deals with domestic security at the federal level.
In recent weeks, Maassen and lawmakers have said that Germany faces a general threat from radicalized residents who have taken part in extremist campaigns in other parts of the world.
"Many will come back here and commit attacks," Maassen warned, adding that many Islamists would like to see jihad waged in Germany.
Under current law, Germans who perpetrate crimes as members of terror groups abroad can be prosecuted at home, but their citizenship cannot be revoked. The state is permitted to revoke citizenship only when individuals voluntarily join a foreign state's armed forces without approval from German authorities.
Some have proposed changing that law to make it possible to withdraw the citizenship of those proven to have joined foreign militias such as "Islamic State."
Failed and foiled attacks at home
Islamists have thus far carried out no large-scale terror attacks on German soil. However, security officials say a number of plots connected with Muslim extremists have been thwarted or have failed within the last decade.
Four men were arrested this spring for allegedly planting a pipe bomb that failed to detonate at Bonn's central train station in December 2012. Similarly, two men were later arrested and charged for placing explosives in luggage on board regional trains near the city of Cologne in July 2006. Those bombs also failed to go off as planned.
Germany's first and only deadly strike rooted in Islamism took place on March 2, 2011, when two US soldiers were killed and two others severely injured at the Frankfurt airport. 24-year-old Arid Uka was later convicted of the crime, seen as motivated by his desire for revenge for US campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.