Have thousands of Taliban members fled to Germany? The country’s federal public prosecutor is investigating 70 cases of alleged radical Islamist fighters. Strangely, many have previously admitted their guilt.
Did he carry a Kalashnikov? And if so, did he fire at Afghan police? These are two questions that Wajid S. had answered with a "yes" only a few months ago. That's why the 28-year-old Afghan went on trial in Berlin on Wednesday. There were sufficient grounds to accuse him - as a member of the Taliban - of violating Germany's Military Weapons Control Act, the federal prosecutor's office stated. In addition, he is charged with "attempted joint murder in two cases."
Wajid S. supposedly joined the Taliban in 2009. Initially, he only supplied his unit with food and ammunition; from 2014, however, he allegedly took part in attacks against Afghan police in Kapisa province, northeast of Kabul. That's what the young man himself told the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), and that is why he was arrested in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt in October last year. Afterwards, Wajid S. repeated his account of Taliban membership in front of German police.
'No other choice'
Why would someone admit to having committed felonies? In the case of Wajid S., it was because of hope for a better life in Europe, his lawyer Daniel Sprafke told DW. Wajid S. fled to Germany in 2015 for economic reasons, he said: "Arriving here, he did not expect to receive a regular visa. He had no other choice but to concoct a story which would help him to obtain refugee status at some point."
Sprafke, assigned to represent Wajid S., planned to read out a statement in court according to which his client objects to all counts against him: "It will then be the federal public prosecutor's duty to prove that he was a member of a foreign terrorist organization. And in my view, the federal public prosecutor has relatively little evidence at his disposal." That is why Sprafke expects an acquittal - which, in turn, could lead to his client's deportation.
Four? 70? Thousands?
The case of Wajid S. is not an isolated one. German authorities are investigating more than 70 cases of alleged Taliban fighters; the federal prosecutor has pressed charges against four of them, with a fifth charge currently in the works. But according to German news magazine "Der Spiegel," this could be followed by numerous other cases. In hearings pertaining to their asylum procedure, "a medium-range, four-digit number of persons" had claimed vis-a-vis the BAMF that they were in contact with Taliban or had even fought on the group's behalf.
In a statement to DW, the BAMF confirmed "that persons state in the course of their hearings to have been Taliban members." Some claimed, the statement continues, to have been compulsorily recruited by the radical Islamist group before they could flee. In other cases, it was claimed "that asylum applicants had distanced themselves from the Taliban based on their own experiences only before they fled." Whenever the BAMF, in the course of hearings, acquired information on criminal offenses, it was passed on to the appropriate law enforcement authorities. If there was proof that refugees had participated in war crimes or crimes against humanity, the BAMF did not issue a residence permit.
But what happens if a refugee states that he did work for the Taliban but was not involved in criminal activity? After all, the Taliban is not considered to be a terrorist organization by the United Nations. In this context, the BAMF stated that Taliban membership alone was not the decisive factor in an asylum procedure.
However, if the applicant is threatened with human rights violations due to his former membership, "a grant of protection could be considered," according to the BAMF. After all, in Afghanistan and Pakistan Taliban members could - in a worst-case scenario - face execution. On Tuesday, four people convicted of being Taliban fighters were hanged in a military prison in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
In Berlin, German judges now have to determine whether Wajid S. committed crimes, or whether he lied out of sheer desperation. In passing, they will probably determine as well whether the Taliban should be classified as a "foreign terrorist organization" or not.
A Taliban fighter could thus receive his well-deserved punishment. Or, alternatively, an odyssey could come to an end - that of a man who pursued a better life in Germany and, in the process, got caught in a web of lies.
It will only be the first in a whole series of similar cases.