Germany: Concern about radicalizing youth
Before Abi left her parents’ house in northern Germany last year, she asked her father, “Daddy, what can I bring you from my journey?” He looked up from his book and answered, “Some perfumed oil.” “Will do,” she said, hugging him goodbye.
He is still waiting, more than a year later, for her to return.
Abi, now 23, and her husband never made the trip they said they had planned to Saudi Arabia to visit Mecca and Medina. Instead they became part of a growing number of young Muslims from Germany and other European countries who travel to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region, eventually ending up in the camps of groups affiliated with Al Qaeda or the Taliban.
One German man, Eric Breininger, was later reported killed in a battle with Pakistani troops.
A Turkish-language Web site announced that in recent days nine foreign fighters were killed as they traveled to carry out operations with the Taliban. Two of them were identified as Germans, from Bonn and Berlin.
Others have been arrested on a variety of charges. In one case, several people were convicted of planning attacks against American military facilities in Germany.
Intelligence officials are concerned that the young people, most in their 20s, will be used by the militants for propaganda purposes or trained to take up arms. They also worry that some will slip back into Germany to recruit others or to join sleeper cells and ultimately commit acts of terrorism.
“This is a very dangerous situation and German security services are very nervous about it,” said Guido Steinberg, terrorism expert of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. “Al Qaeda and other organizations have put Germany on their target priority list as one of the top places.”
Security officials believe that the number of young Germans who make the trip is relatively small, perhaps fewer than 200 since the early 1990s. But they also believe the number is growing, inspired in part by German-language videos on the Internet, including some made by a group called German Taliban Mujahedeen, which promise a happy life with others committed to Shariah law.
It is difficult to pin down an exact figure because most of those headed for the border regions first leave Germany by car, to elude airport security checks; many go to Turkey and then illegally into Iran, where they meet smugglers who take them to their destination.
Security officials are also troubled because it appears that whole families are now making the move, after selling all their possessions and taking their savings from the bank.