German courts seek to move beyond counter-terrorism measures in path-breaking trials of fighters from the Syrian battlefields

From organisational to substantive criteria

Over the past few months, German prosecutors have cautiously embarked on new paths to bring to justice crimes committed in the Syrian Civil War. Like most of their European counterparts, German investigators had so far remained focused on offences against counter-terrorism provisions (codified in Germany under §§129a and b of the country’s criminal code).(( https://dejure.org/gesetze/StGB/129a.html ))

Consequently, until now verdicts were based on charges of terrorist conspiracy (Bildung einer terroristischen Vereinigung) and thus on purely formalistic criteria: what was penalised was only the formation or support of a terrorist association, not the substantive rights violations that perpetrators had committed in the Syrian war zone.

However, amidst the increasing rates of the return of German foreign fighters – of the more than 750 that have made their way to Syria, more than 250 returned ((https://www.icct.nl/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/ICCT-Report_Foreign-Fighters-Phenomenon-in-the-EU_1-April-2016_including-AnnexesLinks.pdf , pp. 25 f.))– and against the backdrop of the growing number of Syrian refugees in the country, prosecutors are apparently seeking to enable more ambitious judicial proceedings taking the commission of international crimes – violations of fundamental human rights and of international humanitarian law – into account.

The case of Aria L.

In July 2016, the German national Aria L. was sentenced to two years imprisonment for war crimes by the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt. Having travelled to Syria in spring 2014, L. had not directly participated as a fighter in the Civil War – at least not to the court’s knowledge. However, pictures of L. posing next to the severed heads of two Syrian government soldiers made their way on to Facebook. ((https://olg-frankfurt-justiz.hessen.de/irj/OLG_Frankfurt_am_Main_Internet?rid=HMdJ_15/OLG_Frankfurt_am_Main_Internet/nav/d44/d4471596-ad85-e21d-0648-71e2389e4818,3ed60b46-2d1d-d551-d064-8712ae8bad54,,,11111111-2222-3333-4444-100000005004%26_ic_uCon_zentral=3ed60b46-2d1d-d551-d064-8712ae8bad54%26overview=true.htm&uid=d4471596-ad85-e21d-0648-71e2389e4818 ))

The Court viewed L.’s actions as fulfilling the criteria for war crimes set out in §8.1.9 of the Code of Crimes against International Law (Völkerstrafgesetzbuch), the code translating the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court into domestic German law: L. was condemned for having treated a person protected under international humanitarian law – a category which includes enemy forces that are hors de combat – in a gravely degrading manner. ((https://olg-frankfurt-justiz.hessen.de/irj/OLG_Frankfurt_am_Main_Internet?rid=HMdJ_15/OLG_Frankfurt_am_Main_Internet/nav/d44/d4471596-ad85-e21d-0648-71e2389e4818,3ed60b46-2d1d-d551-d064-8712ae8bad54,,,11111111-2222-3333-4444-100000005004%26_ic_uCon_zentral=3ed60b46-2d1d-d551-d064-8712ae8bad54%26overview=true.htm&uid=d4471596-ad85-e21d-0648-71e2389e4818 ))

From foreign fighters to Syrian nationals

Significantly, the Völkerstrafgesetzbuch also contains provisions of universal jurisdiction; i.e. provisions allowing German courts to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes even if they are committed by foreign citizens abroad. Normally, national courts do not have the authority to adjudicate on acts that have no connection either with the national territory (territorial principle) or with national citizens (principle of nationality). ((http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/vstgb/__1.html ))

Consequently, the code offers the possibility to bring to justice not just ‘foreign fighters’ (German nationals or residents that have travelled to the Middle Eastern theatres of battle) but also Syrian nationals that have sought refuge as asylum-seekers in Germany after having committed international crimes. In fact, at least one trial against a Syrian national is ongoing in front of a German court, and another in preparation. The offences involved include attacks on protected persons, torture, and pillaging. ((http://www.ejiltalk.org/justice-for-syria-opportunities-and-limitations-of-universal-jurisdiction-trials-in-germany/ ))

Information from within a divided Syrian community

Syrian refugees are by now systematically asked whether they have witnessed crimes against humanity or other offences justiciable under the German code, or whether they can even name perpetrators of such offences. Asylum authorities have sent 25 to 30 tips to prosecutors per day, amounting to over 2000 indications of international crimes over the course of 2015. ((http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-01/refugee-influx-spurs-germany-to-tackle-syrian-war-crimes/7374152 , http://www.ejiltalk.org/justice-for-syria-opportunities-and-limitations-of-universal-jurisdiction-trials-in-germany/ ))

At the same time, some of these tip-offs is either not verifiable, based only on rumour, or reflective of the distrust and recriminations prevailing between different groups fleeing the ravages of the Syrian war. Investigators noted that informants sometimes accused members of other ethnic or religious groups of having perpetrated war crimes without being able to furnish concrete evidence for these claims. ((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/kriegsverbrechen-101.html ))

Challenges of evidence collection

This highlights the challenges involved in the collection and evaluation of testimonies and evidence. These challenges only grow in importance due to the fact that investigators have of course no access to the sites of crimes in Syria. Often, evidence is insufficient for the opening of legal proceedings but substantial enough that suspicions remain, leaving a bitter aftertaste among prosecutors as well as among Syrian human rights groups striving to bring perpetrators of international crimes to justice. ((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/kriegsverbrechen-101.html ))

A related concern is that prosecutions under the provisions of the Völkerstrafgesetzbuch only target a small sub-section of war criminals from the Syrian battlefields. First of all, those responsible for the large-scale orchestration of fundamental rights violations have not left Syria and asked for asylum in Germany – meaning that German prosecutors must confine themselves to go after the small fry only. ((http://www.ejiltalk.org/justice-for-syria-opportunities-and-limitations-of-universal-jurisdiction-trials-in-germany/ ))

Moreover, there is a concern that the henchmen of Bashar al-Asad will by and large escape judgement under these provisions, since comparatively few of them have asked for asylum in Europe. ((http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-01/refugee-influx-spurs-germany-to-tackle-syrian-war-crimes/7374152 )) This does not obviate the need to bring to justice fighters and commanders of other factions, above all of the more brutal Islamist and jihadist groups. Yet given the fact that it is still above all the Asad forces that have “shredded the laws of warfare”,(( https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/06/24/syrian-refugees-help-nab-suspected-war-criminals-europe )) a failure to prosecute government personnel means a heavily lopsided judicial treatment of the Syrian quagmire.

Thus, while the activation of the substantive provisions of the Völkerstrafgesetzbuch constitutes a step forward compared with the prosecution under the blanket terms of counter-terrorism legislation that punishes a formal status rather than actual offences committed, bringing justice to bear on the perpetrators of international crimes in Syria remains fraught with difficulties.

New French documentary on radical Islam sparks controversy

A new documentary on the rise of radical Islam in France has sparked controversy among the French public, with viewers’ opinions ranging from praise to outrage. The filmmaker has been slammed as ‘sensationalist’ and ‘provocateur’ by the head of the town in which part of it was filmed.

The first episode of new show “Dossier Tabou” titled “Islam in France: the failure of the Republic” was aired on Wednesday, September 28 on the M6 channel. Watched by some 2.4 million viewers, it immediately grabbed public attention, topping of Twitter discussion trends.

The documentary revolved around the financing of Islamism by foreign powers, such as Saudi Arabia, its organization and its internal divisions, as well as the training of imams. In a manner of illustration, it showed excerpts from sermons by a confirmed radical cleric named Mohamed Khattabi, who had been under house arrest for nearly three months after the attacks in France in November 2015.

A part of the documentary was filmed in the northern French city of Sevran, in the department of Seine Saint Denis. The city has been regarded as a place of widespread Islamist recruitment, after at least 15 young men left it to go and fight within the ranks of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Syria and Iraq since 2014. Six are known to have died there.

Bernard de La Villardiere, the French journalist, radio and television presenter who authored the documentary, could be seen getting into a heated argument with local youths outside the town’s mosque which is suspected of links to Islamism and is currently being probed by authorities. The argument ended in a brawl.

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.

Cell of French women behind failed Notre Dame attack

A cell of radicalized French women guided by Islamic State commanders in Syria was behind a failed terrorist attack near Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral last weekend and planned another violent attack this week before they were intercepted by police, the Paris prosecutor has said.

The women, aged 19, 23 and 39, were arrested in Boussy-Saint-Antoine, a small town 30km southeast of Paris, on Thursday night after they were linked to the discovery of a car packed with gas cylinders parked near the cathedral last weekend. Officials said the women had been planning an imminent violent attack on the busy Gare de Lyon station in Paris and were stopped after a police and intelligence operation described as a “race against time”.

 

The car had no plates and was left with indicators flashing in a narrow alley. From the insurance sticker on the car, police traced it back to a father of five daughters originally from the Seine-Saint-Denis area north of Paris.

One of the daughters, aged 19, who was named by news agencies as Ines Madani, was known to intelligence agencies and had been on a radicalisation watchlist for her wish to leave to join jihadis in Syria. At the time the car was found, she had been missing from home for several days.

Police on Thursday traced Madani and two other women to a flat in Boussy-Saint-Antoine in the Essonne area south of Paris. They arrested the three women when they left the flat. During the arrest, one of the women stabbed a police officer with a large kitchen knife, and Madani jumped on another officer attempting to stab him. The police opened fire and Madani was injured. When she was arrested, Madani had the keys to the Peugeot 607 in her handbag and a note pledging her allegiance to Isis and a reproduction of an Isis text vowing “we will attack you on your territory to attack your spirits and terrorise you”. Isis propaganda was found on her computer at her home.

A 15-year-old girl, who is the daughter of one of the three women arrested, Amel S, was separately detained on Friday morning in Clichy-sous-Bois, north of Paris. The prosecutor said the teenager could have been implicated in the planned terrorist attack.

The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, had said of the three women detained on Thursday that they were “radicalised and fanaticised” and believed to have been preparing “new and imminent violent action”. He said there had been a “race against time” to stop them, involving a vast police and intelligence operation.

“France is confronted with a terrorist threat of unprecedented scale,” he added. The changing threat took different forms and was very hard to detect, he added, calling for the “vigilance of all citizens”.

The Paris prosecutor, François Molins, said one of the women arrested, who he referred to as Sarah H, aged 23, had been engaged at different times to two French extremists who themselves had carried out deadly attacks this year.

She had been engaged to Larossi Abballa, who in June murdered a police commander and his police officer partner at their home in Magnanville outside Paris in the presence of their three-year-old son. He filmed the aftermath on Facebook Live before dying in a police raid. She was also betrothed to Adel Kermiche, who slit the throat of an elderly French priest during morning mass in Normandy in July. Her current fiancé was arrested on Thursday, Molins said.

The prosecutor said the cell of women terrorists showed that Islamic State “intends to make women into fighters”. He said that if women had previously been “confined to family and domestic tasks” by the militant group, that vision was now strongly out of date. “Their aim was to commit an attack,” he said of the women.

The group’s first attempted attack involved parking a Peugeot 607 car packed with gas cylinders near the cathedral in the heart of Paris and trying to blow it up. The car was also found to have contained diesel canisters and a barely-smoked cigarette had been thrown into the car near a canister with traces of hydrocarbons. Molins said the perpetrators had clearly tried to blow the car up and if they had succeeded it would have led to the explosion of the whole vehicle.

The car had no plates and was left with indicators flashing in a narrow alley. From the insurance sticker on the car, police traced it back to a father of five daughters originally from the Seine-Saint-Denis area north of Paris.

One of the daughters, aged 19, who was named by news agencies as Ines Madani, was known to intelligence agencies and had been on a radicalisation watchlist for her wish to leave to join jihadis in Syria. At the time the car was found, she had been missing from home for several days.

Police on Thursday traced Madani and two other women to a flat in Boussy-Saint-Antoine in the Essonne area south of Paris. They arrested the three women when they left the flat. During the arrest, one of the women stabbed a police officer with a large kitchen knife, and Madani jumped on another officer attempting to stab him. The police opened fire and Madani was injured. When she was arrested, Madani had the keys to the Peugeot 607 in her handbag and a note pledging her allegiance to Isis and a reproduction of an Isis text vowing “we will attack you on your territory to attack your spirits and terrorise you”. Isis propaganda was found on her computer at her home.

A 15-year-old girl, who is the daughter of one of the three women arrested, Amel S, was separately detained on Friday morning in Clichy-sous-Bois, north of Paris. The prosecutor said the teenager could have been implicated in the planned terrorist attack.

The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, had said of the three women detained on Thursday that they were “radicalised and fanaticised” and believed to have been preparing “new and imminent violent action”. He said there had been a “race against time” to stop them, involving a vast police and intelligence operation.

“France is confronted with a terrorist threat of unprecedented scale,” he added. The changing threat took different forms and was very hard to detect, he added, calling for the “vigilance of all citizens”.

The French president, François Hollande, said: “There’s a group that has been annihilated, but there are others. Information we were able to get from our intelligence services allowed us to act before it was too late.’’

Speaking on Friday morning, an interior ministry official told Reuters: “An alert has been issued to all stations, but they had planned to attack the Gare de Lyon on Thursday.”

The train station, one of the busiest in Paris, is in the south-east of the capital.

The discovery of the Peugeot 607 near Notre Dame carrying seven gas cylinders, six of them full, led to a terrorism investigation and revived fears about further attacks in a country where Islamic militants have killed more than 230 people since January 2015.

Several people have been arrested and questioned in the case of the car of gas cylinders. A 27-year-old man and a 26-year-old woman were detained on Wednesday south of Paris and a second couple, a 34-year-old man and a 29-year-old woman, were detained on Tuesday.

Earlier this week, Florence Berthout, the mayor of Paris’s fifth arrondissement, said the discovery of the car highlighted the need to increase security in the French capital. “Police and army staffing must be stepped up,” she told news channel BFMTV.

The vehicle was left in a zone where parking is strictly prohibited and had remained there for about two hours before it came to the attention of police after being reported by a waiter at a nearby restaurant, she said.

Thousands of extra police and soldiers have been deployed to protect sensitive sites across France. A state of emergency declared after the coordinated attacks on Paris last November remains in place and gives police extra search and arrest powers, but there has been a continuing political debate about security levels since 85 people were killed when a man driving a lorry ploughed into crowds celebrating Bastille Day on 14 July in Nice.

Number of French jihadists in Syria and Iraq decreases

The number of French citizens traveling to join Islamic State in 2016 has dropped drastically from last year, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Tuesday, putting the fall down to military reverses suffered by the militant group.

Speaking to security agents at the ministry, Cazeneuve said there had been a “fourfold decrease” with just 18 French people recorded traveling to the area in the first six months of the year compared with 69 in the corresponding period in 2015.

The depletion, he said, was explained by the group’s recent losses on the ground but also by France’s “enhanced anti-terrorism efforts.”

According to interior ministry figures released on Tuesday, 689 French citizens are still in the region, including 275 women and 17 underage fighters.

More than 900 people have been identified as having either attempted to travel to the region or expressed a desire to go there, the ministry’s figures showed.

Muslims attend Sunday Mass after priest’s murder

Muslims attended Catholic mass in churches around France in solidarity and sorrow following the brutal murder of a priest in an ISIL-linked attack.

More than 100 Muslims were among the 2,000 who gathered at the cathedral of Rouen near the Normandy town where two teenagers killed 85-year-old Father Jacques Hamel.

“I thank you in the name of all Christians,” Rouen Archbishop Dominique Lebrun told them. “In this way you are affirming that you reject death and violence in the name of God.”

Nice’s top imam Otaman Aissaoui led a delegation to a Catholic mass in the southern city where Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel carried out a rampage in a truck on Bastille Day, claiming 84 lives and injuring 435, including many Muslims.

“Being united is a response to the act of horror and barbarism,” he said. The Notre Dame church in southwestern Bordeaux also welcomed a Muslim delegation, led by the city’s top imam Tareq Oubrou.

“It’s an occasion to show [Muslims] that we do not confuse Islam with Islamism, Muslim with jihadist,” said Reverend Jean Rouet.

The Muslims were responding to a call by the French Muslim council CFCM to show their “solidarity and compassion” over the priest’s murder on Tuesday.

“I’m a practising Muslim and I came to share my sorrow and tell you that we are brothers and sisters,” said a woman wearing a beige headscarf who sat in a back pew at a church in central Paris:

Giving her name only as Sadia, she added softly: “What happened is beyond comprehension.”

 Prime Minister Manuel Valls called on Sunday for a new “pact” with the Muslim community in France, Europe’s largest with around five million members.

“Islam has found its place in France … contrary to the repeated attacks of populists on the right and far-right,” he said, condemning “this intolerable rejection of Islam and Muslims”.

Also on Sunday, dozens of prominent Muslims published a joint letter warning that “the risk of fracturing among the French is growing every day.”

The signatories, who included academics as well as medical professionals, artists and business leaders, pledged: “We, French and Muslim, are ready to assume our responsibilities.”

Both of the 19-year-old attackers – Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean – had been on intelligence services’ radar and had tried to go to Syria.

 Meanwhile, a Syrian refugee who was taken in for questioning after a photocopy of his passport was found at Kermiche’s house has been released, a source close to the investigation said. “Nothing suggests he had any involvement” in the attack, the source said.

However, Petitjean’s 30-year-old cousin was to appear before an anti-terrorist judge later on Sunday.

Prosecutors said they have asked that the suspect, named as Farid K, be charged with “criminal association in connection with terrorism”. The suspect “was fully aware of his cousin’s imminent violent action, even if he did not know the precise place or day”, the Paris prosecutor said in a statement.

Media reports, meanwhile, said investigators had established that Petitjean and Kermiche met through the encrypted messaging app Telegram.

Kermiche described the modus operandi of the attack on the priest in an audio posted on Telegram just a few days beforehand.

‘I am fed up with this evil’: How an American went from Ivy League student to disillusioned ISIS fighter

Washington Post:

In late October 2014, the FBI received an unusual email from a young man named Mohimanul Alam Bhuiya.

Bhuiya, then 25, had joined the Islamic State. Now the longtime Brooklyn resident was desperate and looking for a way out. He wanted the FBI to rescue him.

“I am an American who’s trying to get back home from Syria,” he wrote in his email, according to federal court documents unsealed last month. “I just want to get back home. All I want is this extraction, complete exoneration thereafter, and have everything back to normal with me and my family.”

He added: “I am fed up with this evil.”

The FBI was still verifying his identity when Bhuiya managed to escape about a week later. He returned to the United States, where he was promptly arrested and charged with providing material support and receiving military training from the Islamic State.

In a closed courtroom in Brooklyn, he pleaded guilty to both counts on Nov. 26, 2014, according to the court filings. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

Bhuiya’s name is redacted in the documents, but several U.S. law enforcement officials confirmed his identity. His lawyer did not return a message, and efforts to reach his family were unsuccessful.

Prosecutors told the judge that redacting his name was “necessary to protect the integrity of the ongoing government investigations and the safety of the defendant and his family.” But NBC News in May ran an interview with Bhuiya, with cooperation from the Justice Department, in which he appeared under the name “Mo” with his face completely unobscured.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn declined to comment.

Bhuiya was not your average wayward Islamic State recruit. Unlike many of the people the Justice Department has charged in connection with the terrorist group, Bhuiya appeared to have a bright future. He attended Columbia University before he fell under the sway of the Islamic State.

“A young man from an Ivy League school challenges the conventional wisdom of a typical American ISIS recruit,” said Seamus Hughes, the deputy director at the program on extremism at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber & Homeland Security and a former National Counterterrorism Center staffer.

Bhuiya went to high school in Brooklyn. He seemed to be a well-adjusted student who took a serious interest in Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, according to a 2008 essay he wrote for the school newspaper entitled “Sample College Essay: My Superhero.”

He praised President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, who “fought a worldwide battle against the evil supervillain Adolf Hitler.”

In the essay, he said he wanted to major in psychology. He concluded: “I believe that I have greatness in me,” he wrote. “I want to be a superhero.”

According to a Columbia University spokesman, Bhuiya attended the School of General Studies. He was enrolled for one semester from January to May 2013 and did not earn a degree.

Bhuiya had come to the attention of the FBI before he traveled to Syria. According to court documents, investigators with the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York learned in June 2014 that the young man might be planning to travel to Syria.

When authorities interviewed Bhuiya at his home in Brooklyn, he told investigators that he was interested in events in Syria and supported “rebel groups.” But he claimed he lacked the money to travel to Syria and “did not know what he would do if he got there.”

Days later, he flew to Istanbul and then managed to enter Syria. He had little interest in fighting.

He implored Islamic State commanders not to “send me off to the front lines because I can be useful in other ways,” according to the NBC interview. “It seemed to me that it would, you know, save my skin.”

Bhuiya said he quickly became disillusioned and described the Islamic State as “dystopia.”

“You could see madness in their eyes,” he recalled. Bhuiya decided to flee. In the email to the FBI, he said he did not have a passport because the Islamic State had taken it. He asked if someone could pick him up at the border.

“Please help me get home,” he told the FBI.

According to court documents, Bhuiya managed to escape across the border into Turkey and make his way to a U.S. State Department outpost in Adana, which is in the southern part of the country.

He admitted that he had joined and worked for the Islamic State. He said he carried a weapon but had never been involved in fighting.

It is not clear where Bhuiya is being held as he awaits sentencing.

Court documents indicate that prosecutors, at Bhuiya’s request, had been exploring the possibility of going public with his story.

 

Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/i-am-fed-up-with-this-evil-how-an-american-went-from-ivy-league-student-to-disillusioned-isis-fighter/2016/06/29/155e777e-3e07-11e6-80bc-d06711fd2125_story.html

Extremism in Luton: Mosque launches anti-ISIS classes for Muslim children to combat online grooming

British Muslim children as young as 11 are being given classes to prevent them

being radicalised by violent Islamic State (Daesh) jihadists. This comes after

community leaders feared they were being targeted by extremist online

propaganda.

Imams and Islamic teachers warned a war of ideologies is currently being fought

in their own mosques, communities, and on social media following the rise of

terror groups in Syria and Iraq.

IBTimes UK visited one Islamic school in Luton – a town infamous for both far-

right and Islamic extremist groups – as it taught a new syllabus to tackle children

being groomed by IS fighters.

The Al-Hira mosque, home to one of the largest madrassas in Luton, is in its first

year of giving anti-Daesh classes for pupils aged 11 to 16.

Started eight months ago, the classes are described by the mosques leaders as

part of a new grassroots strategy which they say has become more effective than

the governments own anti-extremism programme.

Most of the young people from aged nine are on social media and they know

what Isis are – its very easy for them to go down the wrong path, Dawood

Masood, senior manager of Al-Hira, tells IBTimes UK.

http://www.ibtimes.co.in/extremism-in- luton-mosque- launches-anti- isis-

classes-for- muslim-children- to-combat- online-grooming- 682898

“I reported Omar Mateen to the FBI. Trump is wrong that Muslims don’t do our part.”

Non-Muslim members of the community watch a special prayer at the American Muslim Community Center Monday, June 13, 2016, in Longwood, Fla., after the mass-shooting at the Pulse Orlando nightclub.

Donald Trump believes American Muslims are hiding something.

“They know what’s going on. They know that [Omar Mateen] was bad,” he said after the Orlando massacre. “They have to cooperate with law enforcement and turn in the people who they know are bad. … But you know what? They didn’t turn them in. And you know what? We had death and destruction.”

This is a common idea in the United States. It’s also a lie. First, Muslims like me can’t see into the hearts of other worshipers. (Do you know the hidden depths of everyone in yourcommunity?) Second, he’s also wrong that we don’t speak up when we’re able.

I know this firsthand: I was the one who told the FBI about Omar Mateen.

I met Omar for the first time in 2006 at an iftar meal at my brother-in-law’s house. As the women, including his mother and sisters, chatted in the living room, I sat with the men on the patio and got to know him and his father. Omar broke his Ramadan fast with a protein shake. He was quiet — then and always — and let his dad do the talking.

[Rep. Jim Himes: Why I walked out of the House’s moment of silence for Orlando.]

I’d seen them before at the oldest mosque in the area, the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce. We have a lot of immigrants in our community. They grew up in other countries, often with different sensibilities. A few don’t understand American culture, and they struggle to connect with their American-born or American-raised kids.

I came here from Pakistan in 1979 when I was 6 years old, grew up in Queens (like Omar) and Fort Lauderdale, went through the American education system, and assimilated well. So I was able to make better inroads with young people in our community, including that introverted teenager I met at the iftar. I tried to stay in touch with the younger generation, acting as a mentor when I could.

I saw Omar from time to time over the next decade, and we developed a relationship because most of the other Muslim kids in his age group went elsewhere for college, and he stayed behind. We mostly spoke over the phone or texted with one another a half-dozen times per year. We talked about the lack of social programs at the mosque, especially for teens and young adults like him. I often played pranks on him. Once, around 2009, I attached LED lights to the tires of his car, so when he drove the wheels glowed neon. He laughed when he figured it out a few days later.

Soon after Omar married and moved to his own home, he began to come to the mosque more often. Then he went on a religious trip to Saudi Arabia. There was nothing to indicate that he had a dark side, even when he and his first wife divorced.

But as news reports this week have made clear, Omar did have a dark outlook on life. Partly, he was upset at what he saw as racism in the United States – against Muslims and others. When he worked as a security guard at the St. Lucie County Courthouse, he told me visitors often made nasty or bigoted remarks to him about Islam. He overheard people saying ugly things about African Americans, too. Since Sept. 11, I’ve thought the only way to answer Islamophobia was to be polite and kind; the best way to counter all the negativity people were seeing on TV about Islam was by showing them the opposite. I urged Omar to volunteer and help people in need – Muslim or otherwise (charity is a pillar of Islam). He agreed, but was always very worked up about this injustice.

[Trump’s new favorite slogan was invented for Nazi sympathizers.]

Then, during the summer of 2014, something traumatic happened for our community. A boy from our local mosque, Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, was 22 when he became the first American-born suicide bomber, driving a truck full of explosives into a government office in Syria. He’d traveled there and joined a group affiliated with al-Qaeda, the previous year. We had all known Moner; he was jovial and easygoing, the opposite of Omar. According to a posthumous video released that summer, he had clearly self-radicalized – and had also done so by listening to the lectures of Anwar al-Awlaki, the charismatic Yemen-based imam who helped radicalize several Muslims, including the Fort Hood shooter. Everyone in the area was shocked and upset. We hate violence and were horrified that one of our number could have killed so many. (After an earlier training mission to Syria, he’d tried to recruit a few Florida friends to the cause. They told the FBI about him.)

Immediately after Moner’s attack, news reports said that American officials didn’t know anything about him; I read that they were looking for people to give them some background. So I called the FBI and offered to tell investigators a bit about the young man. It wasn’t much – we hadn’t been close – but I’m an American Muslim, and I wanted to do my part. I didn’t want another act like that to happen. I didn’t want more innocent people to die. Agents asked me if there were any other local kids who might resort to violence in the name of Islam. No names sprang to mind.

After my talk with the FBI, I spoke to people in the Islamic community, including Omar, abut Moner’s attack. I wondered how he could have radicalized. Both Omar and I attended the same mosque as Moner, and the imam never taught hate or radicalism. That’s when Omar told me he had been watching videos of Awlaki, too, which immediately raised red flags for me. He told me the videos were very powerful.

After speaking with Omar, I contacted the FBI again to let them know that Omar had been watching Awlaki’s tapes. He hadn’t committed any acts of violence and wasn’t planning any, as far as I knew. And I thought he probably wouldn’t, because he didn’t fit the profile: He already had a second wife and a son. But it was something agents should keep their eyes on. I never heard from them about Omar again, but apparently they did their job: They looked into him and, finding nothing to go on, they closed the file.

[Glenn Greenwald: The FBI was right not to arrest Omar Mateen before the shooting.]

Omar and I continued to have infrequent conversations over the next few years. I last saw him at a dinner at his father’s house in January. We talked about the presidential election and debated our views of the candidates that were running – he liked Hillary Clinton and I liked Bernie Sanders. This banter continued through texts and phone calls for several months. My last conversation with Omar was by phone in mid-May. He called me while he was at the beach with his son to tell me about a vacation he’d taken with his father to Orlando the previous weekend. He’d been impressed by the local mosque.

What happened next is well-known. We’re still in shock. We’re totally against what he did, and we feel the deepest sadness for the victims and their families. If you don’t agree with someone, you don’t have the right to kill them. We are taught to be kind to all of God’s creation. Islam is very strict about killing: Even in war – to say nothing of peace – you cannot harm women, children, the elderly, the sick, clergymen, or even plants. You can’t mutilate dead bodies. You can’t destroy buildings, especially churches or temples. You can’t force anyone to accept Islam. “If anyone slew one person, it would be as if he killed the whole of humanity,” says the Koran.

I had told the FBI about Omar because my community, and Muslims generally, have nothing to hide. I love this country, like most Muslims that I know. I don’t agree with every government policy (I think there’s too much money in politics, for instance), but I’m proud to be an American. I vote. I volunteer. I teach my children to treat all people kindly. Our families came here because it is full of opportunity – a place where getting a job is about what you know, not who you know. It’s a better country to raise children than someplace where the electricity is out for 18 hours a day, where politicians are totally corrupt, or where the leader is a dictator.

But there’s so much suspicion of Islam here. The local paper published an unsigned editorial called “Leave our peaceful Muslim neighbors alone,” and the comments were full of hateful lies – that the Boston bombers had visited the area, that the Sept. 11 bombers came from here, that we were a hotbed of violent ideology. None of this is true. Donald Trump didn’t create these attitudes, but he plays on them and amplifies them.

I am not the first American Muslim to report on someone; people who do that simply don’t like to announce themselves in to the media. For my part, I’m not looking for personal accolades. I’m just tired of negative rhetoric and ignorant comments about my faith. Trump’s assertions about our community – that we have the ability to help our country but have simply declined to do so – are tragic, ugly and wrong.

[Editor’s note: A federal law enforcement official confirmed the author’s cooperation to The Washington Post.]

Switzerland to Muslim Students: Shake Your Teacher’s Hand or Pay $5,000

25 May 2016

When two teenage Muslim students from Syria told their school in Switzerland that to shake their female teacher’s hand would violate their religious beliefs, administrators were sympathetic. So they made an exception: Unlike the school’s other students, who shake each teacher’s hand at the beginning and end of each class period, the two boys would be exempt from shaking anyone’s hand at all.

Turns out the Swiss national government takes their handshakes seriously. So seriously, in fact, that a regional authority announced Wednesday that the two boys would shake their female teachers’ hands from now on — or pay a $5,000 fine.  The local education department in Therwil, which is near the city of Basel, said in a statement Wednesday that the final decision was made because “the public interest with respect to equality between men and women and the integration of foreigners significantly outweighs the freedom of religion.”

This came after the citizenship process for the teens’ family was halted due to the incident. Authorities are now looking into their father’s 2001 asylum claim. He is an imam.

Last month, Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga went on television to say that “the handshake is part of our culture.”

“We cannot accept this in the name of religious freedom,” she said.

There are roughly 350,000 Muslims in Switzerland, and it’s unclear whether other exceptions were quietly made before this one. It’s also unclear what the two boys will do next. In an interview with Swiss media, one said they “could not just delete [their] culture as if it were a hard drive.”