From NY Times.Com
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.
A man who helps smuggle foreigners into the region offered an explanation for the need for cash. In the past, said the man, Abu Yahia, who is from Waziristan, the militant groups once had enough money to support those who joined them. Now, he said, with all the fighting going on, the newcomers are asked to “bring enough money so they can support the groups and themselves.”
The parents of Abi — her mother is German and her father is from a West African country — are appalled by their daughter’s transformation from a Westernized dental student to a radicalized Muslim. (Fearing harassment, the parents consented to be interviewed only if their names were not disclosed. Abi is a shortened form of their daughter’s real name.)
The changes came slowly, they say, after Abi fell in love with a young Iranian man, who grew up in Germany. After marrying in a mosque in 2008 — a shock to her father, though he is Muslim — the young couple changed their behavior and their dress. He converted from Shiism, started to follow a radical Sunni form of Islam and grew his beard; she started wearing head scarves and cut off contact with friends. “My husband told her that this was not what Islam was teaching, to stop friendships, but she would not listen,” Abi’s mother said.
At the beginning of March last year, Abi, her husband and three others left their homes in Germany and ultimately made their way to the Pakistani border region of Waziristan. At the beginning Abi told her parents through e-mail that she and her husband wanted to live in an Islamic society, though her husband later sent signals to his parents that he wanted to return to Germany. But then he appeared in a propaganda video with a gun in his hand. “I knew then, that it would be very tough for them to return,” Abi’s mother said.
Security officials, as well as the parents of Abi, her husband and other parents of young people who have gone to the Pakistani border region, hope to learn more about their situation from Rami Makanesi, a 25-year-old German national of Syrian descent, who was recently arrested by Pakistani officials while in the tribal district of North Waziristan.
Since his arrest Mr. Makanesi has been in the custody of Pakistan’s main spy service, the ISI. According to a senior ISI official, Mr. Makanesi told Pakistani investigators that he was a member of Al Qaeda and had trained suicide bombers for them in Waziristan. “He did not leave the impression that he was someone who had no idea what he was doing there,” said the ISI official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak publicly about the case.
Mr. Makanesi also spoke about dozens of Qaeda-recruited Europeans fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “He spoke about six other German men who had been in the same region with him,” the official said.
“There are connections between the circles from Hamburg to circles in Berlin, Bonn and Frankfurt,” said a senior German intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the case. “It is very possible that Mr. Makanesi has met some people from Germany who traveled from other cities as well.”
One of the families desperate for some information is that of Thomas, a 24-year-old convert to Islam who has grown more observant over the past two years. The family grew alarmed when Thomas, now using the name Haroun, and his wife began talking about moving to a place where they could practice their faith more completely.
“We went to the police and intelligence service and asked for help, because we noticed how they had changed,” his mother said. “We’ve cried for help.” But the authorities had no legal basis to intervene.
Last September, he and his wife told his parents that they were leaving Berlin for a trip to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. Instead, they made their way to Waziristan.
At the beginning, Thomas sent e-mails to his parents, telling them the living conditions were tough. Last December, he wrote that he didn’t know if he would see the next summer.
“Since then no message, no idea if he is still alive or dead, no certainty, which is making it very complicated,” his mother said.
German security officials say that they believe Thomas went through military training in Waziristan. “We have indications that he has appeared in one propaganda video, but with his face covered,” one official said.
The parents of Abi and Thomas still hope that their children will return to Germany. But security officials say that in nearly all cases those who return continue to associate with more militant Muslims.
Abi’s mother says the signals that she is getting from her daughter about a return are not very hopeful.
Abi has told her mother that Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan are oppressed and need help. That reaction is typical for her daughter, who always wanted to help people, Abi’s mother said, adding, “I was always proud of her for this.”
– Prophecy News Watch