Manhunt, arrest, and suicide of an IS-attacker keep Germany in suspense

Germany has been rocked by the protracted manhunt, arrest, and subsequent suicide of an IS-linked suicide bomber. The affair has not only thrown a bad light on local security forces, it has also highlighted the vulnerability of the large Syrian community caught beween the front lines of increased terrorist activity.

A convoluted arrest

22-year-old Jaber al-Bakr, a Syrian national recognised as a refugee in Germany since 2015, was arrested on October 10 after a two-day-long manhunt in the state of Saxony. In early October, American intelligence services had listened in on communications between al-Bakr and the Islamic State in Syria and informed their German counterparts of al-Bakr’s intent to carry out a major suicide operation against a German target.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article158754890/US-Geheimdienst-hoerte-Telefonate-von-al-Bakr-ab.html ))

The initial attempt to arrest al-Bakr failed, however, as the police let the suspect walk away from his apartment in the town of Chemnitz without stopping him. Al-Bakr subsequently sought refuge in the nearby city of Leipzig where he was taken in by three fellow Syrian refugees. When they became aware of his identity, the men subdued al-Bakr, tied him up with extension cables and handed him over to the local authorities.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/deutschland-entging-nur-knapp-einem-grossem-terroranschlag-14474885.html ))

Police found 1.5 kg of highly potent explosives in al-Bakr’s apartment. The substance of the type TATP was of the same make as the explosives used in recent attacks in Paris and Brussels.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/deutschland-entging-nur-knapp-einem-grossem-terroranschlag-14474885.html )) According to investigators, al-Bakr had planned to detonate himself at one of the Berlin airports, which he had scouted in late September.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/terrorverdaechtiger-amerikanischer-geheimdienst-lieferte-entscheidende-hinweise-zu-albakr-14482338.html ))

Failure to prevent the suspect’s suicide

Initial relief over the arrest quickly dissipated, however, as al-Bakr hanged himself in his prison cell two days later. After the lacklustre attempts to arrest al-Bakr, his suicide again cast an extremely negative light on local authorities, who were still under pressure for their unprofessional handling of right-wing demonstrations at Germany’s National Day earlier this month.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/tag-der-deutschen-einheit-in-dresden-draengende-fragen-an-die-saechsische-polizei-1.3189617 ))

After the arrest, it took police more than a day to begin questioning al-Bakr, for want of an interpreter. Although by the time of his death the young man had stopped accepting food and drink, torn the lamp off the ceiling of his cell, and attempted to manipulate the cell’s electric sockets, he was still not deemed to be at risk of committing suicide.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article158726169/Vor-dem-Tod-manipulierte-al-Bakr-in-der-Zelle-Steckdosen.html )) In this assessment, the prison authorities explicitly contravened the evaluation of the committing judge, who had attested al-Bakr suicidal tendencies.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/nach-dem-selbstmord-von-albakr-gefaengnis-in-leipzig-kannte-suizidgefahr/14682294.html ))

Radicalisation in Germany and contacts to the IS

Al-Bakr’s suicide complicates the ongoing investigation since no further details on his background or on potential accomplices and further members of the IS network can be obtained from him. Some insights might be provided by Khalil A., a 33-year-old Syrian in police custody: he let al-Bakr operate from his Chemnitz apartment.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/deutschland-entging-nur-knapp-einem-grossem-terroranschlag-14474885.html ))

Der Spiegel also spoke to al-Bakr’s brother, who is still in Syria. Alaa al-Bakr asserted that his brother had been radicalised after his arrival in Germany, by two imams at a Berlin mosque which he began to frequent for Friday prayers in spite of the 4-hour-long train journey from Chemnitz.((http://www.spiegel.de/video/jaber-albakr-bruder-des-terrorverdaechtigen-gibt-interview-video-1712594.html )) This view is apparently shared by German investigators. ((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/nach-suizid-von-jaber-albakr-sachsen-hat-es-nicht-verstanden-14482684.html )) So far, the identity of the imams remains unknown.

Al-Bakr’s connections to the Islamic State are becoming increasingly clear, however. Aside from the evidence drawn from the surveillance of his communications, al-Bakr appears to have spent several months in 2016 in Turkey and may have crossed over into Syria. Visits to Idlib as well as to Raqqa have been reported by some of his acquaintances.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/jaber-albakr-terrorverdaechtiger-war-monatelang-in-der-tuerkei-a-1116170.html,  , http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/nach-suizid-von-jaber-albakr-sachsen-hat-es-nicht-verstanden-14482684.html )) In spite of his travels, German intelligence services seem to have been unaware of al-Bakr’s plans until the tip-off from the American side.

Political discussion on vetting and surveillance

For the Syrian community in Germany, the past week has been a rollercoaster ride. The initial manhunt for al-Bakr once more put the refugees from the Syrian Civil War on the spot. CDU/CSU politicians demanded that all refugees be checked and vetted more thoroughly. Policing and intelligence operations for the protection against threats to public safety needed to play a more important role in all asylum procedures, or so they argued.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/is-will-deutsche-infrastruktur-angreifen-streit-um-fluechtlings-ueberpruefung-14475616.html ))

Whilst politicians from the SPD and the Greens denounced these proposals, some Syrians living in Germany supported such measures. They argued for instance that police surveillance of the social media activities of all refugees could help filter out black sheep and thus avert suspicion from the rest.(( https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/syrer-albakr-soziale-medien-101.html ))

Repercussions on the Syrian community

Syrians also celebrated their three countrymen who de facto arrested al-Bakr.(( https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/syrer-albakr-soziale-medien-101.html )). Politicians of various parties demanded that they be given asylum immediately and that they receive the Federal Cross of Merit, the highest honour bestowed by the German state.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/dschaber-al-bakr-bundesverdienstkreuz-fuer-drei-syrer-gefordert-aid-1.6320884 ))

The immediate consequences faced by the three men for their actions were, however, less benign. Before his death, al-Bakr sought to implicate them in his activities by claiming that they were his co-conspirators.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/dschaber-al-bakr-bundesverdienstkreuz-fuer-drei-syrer-gefordert-aid-1.6320884 )). While these allegations were not given credence by the police, the men have nevertheless left Leipzig and Saxony because of safety concerns.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/jaber-albakr-lka-sachsen-will-fluechtlinge-aus-leipzig-schuetzen-a-1116756.html )) Revenge might not just come from the Islamic State(( http://www.focus.de/politik/videos/begegnung-mit-terrorverdaechtigen-wollte-uns-toeten-syrer-die-zu-albakr-festnahme-fuehrten-aus-angst-untergetaucht_id_6073630.html )); al-Bakr’s brother also announced his wish to avenge the death of his brother.(( http://www.spiegel.de/video/jaber-albakr-bruder-des-terrorverdaechtigen-gibt-interview-video-1712594.html ))

This episode demonstrates the ways in which the Syrian community can easily become caught in the cross-fire between the Islamic State’s terrorist attacks emanating from a few black sheep among their ranks on the one hand and domestic political backlash on the other hand. The vulnerability of the three men that helped arrest al-Bakr highlights the need as well as the difficulties for social solidarity in the face of the terrorist threat. Having narrowly escaped its first large-scale Islamist attack, the true test for this solidarity still awaits Germany.

Dutch filmmakers make documentary about IS victims

© Long Road Ahead
© Long Road Ahead

The young Dutch filmmaker Paul Voors (21) travelled together with three other young filmmakers to the North of Iraq to film victims of the Islamic State (IS). “Once you return home and try to sleep you finally realize what you have actually seen.”

The documentary “Long road ahead” by Felix Govers (20), Pauls Voors (21), Laurens van de Geer (20), and Stephan Valkenier (27) tells the story of four IS victims in Iraq. Poignant was especially the 15 years old Yezidi girl that was kidnapped, beaten, and raped by IS. “The girl wanted to commit suicide,” Voors tells. “She changed her mind when she heard men from the IS laugh about yezidis who did. She did not want to grant them the pleasure.”

Paul’s mother worked at the charity organization Dorcas and would travel frequently to Iraq. The stories he heard from his mother were so terrible that it motivated him to do something about the situation. The four filmmakers were guided in Northern Iraq by Dorcas. “It was safer to travel under their protection but we made the film independently.”

“One of the things I found most striking was to see how the yezidis live there,” Voors tells. “The environment stinks and their living spaces are demarcated by canvas.” A refugee had showed Voors a tape they brought with them when they ran. “It showed a wedding party of several months earlier. Everyone looked gorgeous. Now they were like drifters. The women looked much older and their gaze was exhausted and hopeless.”

The men hope their documentary will attract attention to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. Voors: “The past couple of months the amount of Iraqis that are in need has risen to more then eight million people. I hope that people realize that we have much riches in the Netherlands. It doesn’t hurt to share some of that.”

Watch the trailer here:

https://vimeo.com/129705999

Video of Lotfi S. appears online after attack

Lotfi S. previously appeared in the news demonstrating in the city of The Hague, supporting IS and calling for violent attacks against Jews. (Photo: anp)
Lotfi S. previously appeared in the news demonstrating in the city of The Hague, supporting IS and calling for violent attacks against Jews. (Photo: anp)

Last week it became clear that Lotfi S. from Amsterdam is responsible for a suicide attack in Fallujah, Iraq. Now a video of him appeared online, wherein he speaks about his so-called martyrs-act. He calls it an effective weapon and calls upon others to follow his example. ‘Don’t stay behind’. In the video, Sultan B. appears next to Lotfi S. He died in a previous suicide attack in Baghdad, Iraq.

Lotfi S. previously appeared in the news demonstrating in the city of The Hague, supporting IS and calling for violent attacks against Jews.

Shouldn’t we be ashamed of our suicide terrorists?

For the fourth time in two years time, a Dutch jihadi has committed a suicide attack in Iraq or Syria. It has been said, but not yet confirmed, that Lotfi S. from northern Amsterdam has committed a suicide attack in Fallujah, Iraq.

The question is: shouldn’t we be ashamed when a fellow countryman is capable of such a deed? Or: are we ashamed at all?

According to Paul van Tongeren, professor Ethics, the answer is no, because ‘we don’t identify ourselves with these guys’. There is however a problem with this mechanism of ‘looking the other way’, as has also been stated by Ben Bot, Dutch former minister Foreign Affairs: it is our problem, because our society was not able to prevent these persons from leaving.

The attacks committed by fellow countrymen would probably have a greater impact when it was known how many victims it has caused, if among them are children or if photo’s would be published. But now it is all too abstract.

Pieter Nanninga, researcher on jihadism Rijksuniversiteit in the city of Groningen, shares Bots opinion that Dutch suicide attackers are indeed a Dutch problem too.

Van Tongeren further states that it would be a good if the Dutch government paid her condolences to the families of the victims. Otherwise the We-They distinction would become even stricter, incorporating more than only terrorists or jihadi’s.

Spanish call centers and butcher’s shops fund jihad

There is a network of at least 250 call centers, halal butcher’s shops and grocery stores in Spain funding jihadist operations in Syria and Iraq. To send donations to the Islamic State (ISIS) or the Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra, the network uses the ‘hawala’ informal money transfer system. The system avoids inspection by the authorities and moves the savings of over 150,000 Muslims, estimated at 300 million euros per year, Spanish daily El Pais quoted intelligence services as saying.
It is used by Syrian, Tunisian, Algerian and especially Pakistani immigrants. Investigators say that there are about 300 hawala terminals and clandestine ‘offices’ in Barcelona, Tarragona, Lleida, Bilbao, Santander, Valencia and Madrid used by the network to support the ‘jihadist cause’.

It is also the channel through which payments to jihadists of Spanish nationality get to Spain from camps in northern Syria. Intelligence services estimate that there are about 100 youth – mostly of Moroccan origins – that have joined ISIS, including about 15 that have been killed in suicide operations against the Syrian regime under Bashar Al-Assad.

It is also the channel through which payments to jihadists of Spanish nationality get to Spain from camps in northern Syria. Intelligence services estimate that there are about 100 youth – mostly of Moroccan origins – that have joined ISIS, including about 15 that have been killed in suicide operations against the Syrian regime under Bashar Al-Assad.

 

IS Tweet: Dutchman commits suicide attack

According to information from the website Intelligence Group, an online jihadmonitor, a Dutch jihadi committed a bombing attack. The attack is said to be committed at the entrance of a police head quarter in Syria or Iraq and to have caused tens of victims.

The National Coordinator counter-Terrorism and Safety (NCTV) cannot confirm the news and the identity of attacker remains unknown.

Relaxed photographs of ‘suicide bomber Briton’ emerge

February 14, 2014

 

Pictures of a man suspected to be Britain’s first suicide bomber in Syria have emerged showing him looking relaxed and smiling with local children. The images were sent by Abdul Waheed Majeed, 41, from Syria to his family in the Langley Green area of Crawley, West Sussex. In one picture, he is seen wearing pink Minnie Mouse-style ears while he cuddles a child. In another, he is pictured kneeling surrounded by children as they give the peace sign.

Married father-of-three Majeed is suspected of driving a lorry into a jail in Aleppo and detonating a bomb last week. Officials have not confirmed the identity of the bomber amid reports that a UK jihadi, who used the name Abu Suleiman al-Britani, carried out the bombing.

Counter-terrorism officers have searched Majeed’s home in Martyrs Avenue, which is also the ex-home of schoolgirl Sarah Payne’s killer Roy Whiting, according to neighbours. Majeed, known as Waheed, left Britain six months ago, telling his family he was going on a humanitarian mission to Syria. Majeed’s uncle, Mohammad Jamil, 65, said Majeed – who is a father of two boys and a girl aged 18, 16 and 12 – had never shown any sign of extremism.

But this week extremist preacher Omar Bakri Mohammed told the London Evening Standard that Majeed was ”a very dear brother”. He claimed Majeed had been an active student and valued member of the banned extremist Al-Muhajiroun organisation between 1996 and 2004 and had wanted to further the ”Muslim cause”. Bakri said Majeed would organise his sermons in Crawley and record the lectures and distribute them.

 

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10638651/Relaxed-photographs-of-suicide-bomber-Briton-emerge.html

David Cameron describes death of Dr Abbas Khan in Syrian prison as ‘sickening’ as doctor’s body is flown back to UK

December 22, 2013

 

David Cameron has written to the mother of a British doctor who died in custody in Syria, describing his death as “a sickening and appalling tragedy”. Dr Abbas Khan, 32, was on the verge of being released when his family were told of his death this week. His relatives have said he was the victim of a political murder, but the Syrian government have called his death suicide. His body was flown back to the UK today and will undergo a post-mortem examination. In a letter dated December 20, the Prime Minister told his mother, Fatima Khan, that he and his wife Samantha were “so very sorry” to hear of her son’s death.

He branded the regime’s treatment of Dr Khan “despicable” and claimed it was “utterly unacceptable” that the UK was not able to support him.

The orthopaedic surgeon from London was captured in November 2012 in the ancient city of Aleppo after travelling from Turkey to help victims of hospital bombings. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it transported his body from Damascus to the Lebanese capital Beirut, where it was received by his mother Fatima Khan and British officials.

Mrs Khan, who has “110%” refuted claims that he committed suicide, broke down in tears when the coffin arrived. Mrs Khan has categorically denied claims made by Syria’s deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad that he had killed himself. In the last few days the family revealed a letter in which the doctor expressed his optimism at being released, and his hopes of being home in time for Christmas.

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/david-cameron-describes-death-of-dr-abbas-khan-in-syrian-prison-as-sickening-as-doctors-body-is-flown-back-to-uk-9020741.html

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/22/abbas-khan-body-flown-uk

Religious Groups’ Views on End-of-Life Issues

November 21, 2013

 

In the following summaries, religious leaders, scholars and ethicists from 16 major American religious groups explain how their faith traditions’ teachings address physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia and other end-of-life questions. (For an in-depth look at public opinion on end-of-life issues, see “Views on End-of-Life Medical Treatments.” And for an overview of the political, legal and ethical dimensions of the end-of-life debate, see “To End Our Days.”)

Assemblies of God

The Assemblies of God, the largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States, opposes physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. The denomination teaches that life is a sacred gift and that only God should determine when life ends. “We simply feel that it is not our prerogative to end life,” says Edgar R. Lee, chairman of the church’s Commission on Doctrinal Purity. “God is the giver of life, not us.”

At the same time, the church allows that life need not be sustained at all costs when there is no hope for recovery. “We leave room for people to [reject] artificial means of life support,” Lee says. Indeed, he adds, the church “does not frown on” the use of pain medication to alleviate suffering, “even in cases where it might contribute to hastening death.”

Islam

Islamic teachings oppose physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. “Muslims believe that life is sacred and comes from God; therefore it is a sin to take life,” says David Stephen Powers, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Islam also teaches that God alone decides how long someone will live and when they will die, according to Ayman Shabana, a visiting fellow at the Islamic Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass. “There is this reluctance … to make any kind of decisions that would end life prematurely because it is believed that [these decisions] are solely in the hands of God,” Shabana says.

Islam’s views on such issues as assisted suicide and euthanasia also are influenced by the belief that suffering and other difficulties might be beneficial, Shabana says. “There is this notion that you don’t always know what’s good for you,” he says, “so it may be right that you should go through some kind of difficulty that tests your faith.” Indeed, Shabana says, “in the Islamic tradition, end-of-life suffering is seen as a way to purify previous sins so that by the time you meet God, you do so in a [more pure] state.”

While Islamic thinkers oppose hastening death, they also generally believe that the terminally ill need not employ extraordinary means and technologies to delay dying. “We are basically talking about the difference between a conscious decision to end life, which is wrong, and life ending by itself,” Shabana says, adding that the line between the two is not always clearly defined.

For more information:

Aramesh, K., and Shadi, H. 2007. “Euthanasia: An Islamic Ethical Perspective.” Iranian Journal of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, volume 6, supplement 5, pages 35-38.

 

PEW.com: http://www.pewforum.org/2013/11/21/religious-groups-views-on-end-of-life-issues/

Suicide attack of French Muslim in Syria

Liberation

A French Muslim killed himself in a suicide against the Syrian regime in Al-Hamam, a small village southwest of Aleppo, on Wednesday, according to the NGO Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH). The man in his 20s, named as “Abou- al-Qaaqaa” killed 10 soldiers in the attack by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) group.