Cablegate: Terrorism Arrests Demonstrate Threat of Homegrown
PP RUEHAG RUEHROV
DE RUEHRL #1767/01 2621047
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 191047Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY BERLIN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9307
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNFRG/FRG COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAHLC/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEFHLC/HOMELAND SECURITY CENTER WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BERLIN 001767
STATE FOR EUR/AGS, EUR/PGI AND S/CT
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/17/2017
TAGS: PTER PGOV PREL KHLS KJUS GM
SUBJECT: TERRORISM ARRESTS DEMONSTRATE THREAT OF HOMEGROWN
REF: A. BERLIN 1681
B. BERLIN 1398
C. MUNICH 218
Classified By: DCM John M. Koenig for Reasons 1.4(b) and (d).
1. (C) The September 4 arrests of three terrorist suspects,
two of whom are German citizens who converted to Islam, has
given Germany its first high-profile case of homegrown
Islamic terrorism and focused attention on the southern
German area of Ulm/Neu-Ulm, which authorities have long
identified as a hotbed of radical Islam. The arrests of
Gelowicz and Schneider, both ethnic Germans and life-long
residents of Germany, have changed public perceptions
concerning the threat of Islamic extremism in Germany and
raised questions within political circles as to what
potential measures should be taken to more closely monitor
extremists. Furthermore, the news that the three suspects
received instructions from Pakistan-based Islamic Jihad Union
(IJU) leadership has generated a new awareness and
recognition of the need to increase surveillance capabilities
as well as enhance cooperation with international partners.
The Interior and Justice Ministries are preparing legislation
to strengthen the capabilities of prosecutors and increase
the investigative powers of security officials to counter the
homegrown terrorist threat. End Summary
Germany's First Homegrown Islamic Terrorists
2. (U) The September 4 arrests of three suspects planning
large-scale attacks in Germany has sent shockwaves through
Germany, given that two of the alleged terrorists, Fritz
Gelowicz and Daniel Martin Schneider, were German citizens
with non-immigrant backgrounds who converted to Islam as
teenagers (Ref A). Previous terrorist cases over recent
history have typically involved individuals with immigrant
backgrounds and/or dual nationalities who were generally
raised as Muslims from birth. Although there has been at
least one previous instance in which a German convert has
taken up arms in the cause of Islam (e.g., Thomas "Hamza"
Fischer who died fighting in Chechnya in 2003), the current
case is the first in which such converts were planning their
attacks on German soil against German (and U.S.) targets.
3. (U) Media coverage and editorials immediately following
the arrests have expressed shock at how Gelowicz and
Schneider, who had been raised in unremarkable typical German
circumstances, managed to adopt an Islamic extremist ideology
and plan violence against their fellow citizens. There has
been much hand-wringing and anxious speculation on how many
other potential homegrown terrorists in Germany might be
planning similar attacks. A poll (by the national polling
firm Emnid) taken shortly following the arrests indicated
that 85 percent of the public believe the threat of terrorist
attacks in Germany has increased. This same poll showed that
56 percent of the public believe a strengthening of security
legislation is the best response to the new threat.
4. (U) As the arrests have highlighted the homegrown
terrorist threat, there have been calls for government
monitoring of German converts to Islam, who number in the
thousands each year. Though not likely to see the
legislative light of day (see Septel), this proposal is a
reaction to the perception that converts often tend to be
more zealous believers in their new faith compared to those
born into the religion. Minister Schaeuble, who leads the
Federal government's "German Islam Conference" initiative,
which attempts to promote an intercultural dialogue with the
Muslim community, commented that "One thing is certain:
fighting the abuse of Islam and exaggerated fundamentalism
is, above all, a task for the Muslims themselves."
Ulm/Neu-Ulm - Centers of Radicalization
5. (U) The Federal Prosecutors Office has identified a number
of German cities as centers of Islamic associations and
potential sites for extremism, including Ulm, Neu-Ulm,
Braunschweig, Cologne, Berlin and Muenster. Of these, the
neighboring cities of Ulm and Neu-Ulm have figured the most
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prominently over the past decade as breeding grounds for
Islamic extremists. Ulm, a mid-sized city (population
120,000) in Germany's relatively conservative southern state
of Baden-Wuerttemberg, is a leading center for scientific
research and birthplace of Albert Einstein. Ulm was rated as
Germany's most healthy city by the health-oriented magazine
"Healthy Living" in a nationwide survey last month. Neu-Ulm
(population 51,000) is located on the eastern side of the
Danube river in Bavaria.
6. (U) The cities received an influx of Muslim refugees from
Bosnia in the mid 1990s, adding to their existing Muslim
communities which came mainly from Turkey. Despite their
traditionally moderate take on Islam, Bosnian Muslims
developed ties with international extremists who were often
viewed as the first to respond in Bosnia's hour of need.
During the 1990s, the region was seen as a staging point for
Muslim extremist fighters going to Bosnia. More recently,
Ulm and Neu-Ulm have both hosted organizations that have
played central roles in Germany's radical Islamist spheres.
7. (C) The Multicultural House (MCH) in Neu-Ulm was founded
in 1996 and in the nine years that it was open attracted a
series of noteworthy individuals and Islamic extremists
-- Mahmoud Salim, Osama Bin Laden's chief of financial
operations who visited in September 1998.
-- Reda Seyam, alleged to be one of the planners of the Bali
attacks of 12 October 2002.
-- Dr. Yehia Yousif, an Egyptian who first came to Germany in
1988 as a researcher but later became a jihad recruiter and
hate preacher who took on a leading role at the MCH. Yousif
left Germany in 2002 as investigations of his activities
increased. Yousif's oldest son, who is alleged to have spent
time in a Pakistan terrorist training camp, was deported
after investigators found bomb-making instruction manuals in
-- Khaled al-Masri was a visitor to the MCH.
-- Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 terrorist pilots, is
reported to have visited the MCH.
-- Fritz Gelowicz is reported to have been a frequent visitor
of the MCH.
8. (C) Following prolonged observation and investigation,
Bavarian officials finally closed the MCH on 28 December 2005
and banned it on grounds that it promoted activities hostile
to the constitution. Bavarian authorities indicate that MCH
members had used the facility as a recruiting station for
global jihad and distribution source of extremist literature.
The ban was subsequently confirmed by the courts in January
2007 (Ref C).
9. (C) The Islamic Information Center (IIC), founded in 1999
and located in Ulm, has developed into a center of extremist
activity particularly following the closure of the MCH.
Given its location in a different federal state,
Baden-Wuerrtemberg security officials monitoring the IIC have
needed to overcome coordination issues with their
counterparts in Bavaria to ensure that extremists cannot
escape observations by merely crossing the Danube river.
Baden-Wuerttemberg authorities have listed the IIC as an
extremist center since 2003. Fritz Gelowicz is reported to
have joined the center in 2005 under the name Abdullah after
following an introduction by his co-worker Tolga Duerbin.
10. (C) Authorities searched the IIC in conjunction with the
September 4 arrests and hope that materials collected will
enable them to close the center. Baden-Wuerrtemberg Minister
of Interior Heribert Rech commented that he is confident that
these materials will be sufficient to close the IIZ
permanently. Ulm's mayor has also expressed the desire to
close the center.
Links to International Networks
11. (C) All three of the terrorist suspects arrested
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September 4 are believed to have trained in Islamic Jihad
Union (IJU) camps in Pakistan, and shortly following the
arrests IJU leadership issued a statement confirming that the
three had indeed been operating under IJU direction. The
confirmation of this connection between an overseas terrorist
organization and the Germany-based suspects demonstrates that
the terrorist threat to Germany had reached a new level.
Previous Islamic terrorism cases in Germany have not reached
this level of sophistication and organization.
12. (C) The arrests in Pakistan and subsequent deportations
back to Germany of multiple German citizens, or those with
German residency permission, in the past few months has
proven just how potentially widespread the links are between
Germany-based Islamic extremists and overseas terrorist
leadership. Some of these individuals, such as Tolga
Duerbin, have been arrested on their return to Germany while
others, such as Aleem Nasir and Nihad C., have been permitted
to remain free. In any case terrorist training camp
returnees are cause for concern among security officials.
13. (U) In a September 16 interview Minister Schaeuble summed
up how the arrests had changed the political debate, saying:
"We now know better than before that we are very much in the
focus of Islamist terrorists." Since the arrests, Schaeuble
has increased his calls for quick cabinet agreement on a
number of legislative proposals to enhance the powers of the
Federal Criminal Police (BKA) in counterterrorism
investigations, as well as to permit the surveillance of the
computers of terrorism suspects (Ref B). This proposal for
on-line computer investigations has been particularly
controversial due to privacy concerns but Schaeuble has
remained adamant, stating "We will not submit a BKA bill
without including the option of on-line searches."
14. (U) Separately, the Justice Ministry has drafted a
proposal that would significantly increase prosecutorial
powers aimed at those who train in foreign terrorist camps as
well as permit authorities to take earlier action against
those in the planning stages of a terrorist attacik (see
Septel for analysis).
15. (U) This cable has been coordinated and developed jointly
with Consulates General Munich and Frankfurt.