Suspected Sleeper Cell: Was Islamic State Really Planning an Attack in Germany?

A male with brief black hair and dim mettle walked into a military hire during Rue de Clignancourt during 9:30 am on Feb 1. He spoke improved Arabic than French, yet a officers didn’t find that to be utterly unusual. The hire is located usually a few hundred meters from a Sacre-Coeur Basilica in Paris and many people from North Africa or a Middle East live in a area.

The testimony of a 25-year-old, however, did warn a policemen. Saleh A. claimed to be a conduct of an Islamic State (IS) militant dungeon and pronounced he wanted to spin himself in. He also claimed to have vicious information about a designed conflict in Germany.

The military officers were perplexed. A reputed militant giving himself up? One who apparently lived incognito as a interloper in Germany, designed to lift out an conflict there and was coming a authorities in Paris? German officials were fast informed.

German investigators and comprehension operatives were also taken aback — and primarily suspected that it was usually one of a many crazy stories they hear any day about attacks that had allegedly been planned. Like a one allegedly targeting an ubiquitous football compare in Hanover, that was afterwards cancelled, or a conflict purportedly scheduled for New Year’s Eve in Munich. None of a rumors, though, had incited out to be true.

Four months later, after 12 interrogations undertaken by a French military and a four-hour doubt by German officers, a authorities struck in Germany. On Jun 2, investigators arrested 3 suspected accomplices of Saleh A. in a German states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. Federal Prosecutor General Peter Frank suspects them of carrying designed a bloody conflict on a Düsseldorf aged city that was to engage a sum of 10 attackers. Two, a prosecutor ubiquitous said, were to have blown themselves adult while a others were to kill passersby with conflict weapons and explosives.

Should a justification turn some-more concrete, it would yield transparent explanation that IS does indeed have Germany in a sights. It would infer that IS has sheltered enemy as refugees and sent them to Europe around a Balkan Route. And it would denote that a Islamist organisation was means to plant sleeper cells.

From One Crisis Region to a Next

But how arguable are such assumptions? Months of back-and-forth between German and French officials took place between Saleh A.’s coming during a military hire in a 18th Arrondissement in Paris and a arrests in Germany. Thus far, a commentary are roughly wholly reliant on a testimony supposing by a 25-year-old witness.

Reporting undertaken by SPIEGEL in France and Germany now yield some discernment into a lives and skeleton of a suspected apprehension cell. If we trust Saleh A., he was innate in Sudan as a son of a male from Raqqa in Syria. His family altered from one predicament segment to a next, from Sudan to Yemen, from there to a Gaza Strip and afterwards to his father’s hometown of Raqqa. The moves apparently had to do with his father’s job, yet it is misleading what his contention was.

Saleh A. says that he schooled to hoop conflict rifles and pistols as a child. He claims that in 2009, a regime of Syrian tyrant Bashar Assad threw him in jail for scornful a president.

When he was expelled in 2011, a universe outward had altered dramatically, with a overthrow opposite Assad carrying begun. Saleh A. assimilated a Free Syrian Army to quarrel opposite a regime, yet in 2012 he switched to a fundamentalist Nusra Front.

It is there, he says that he got to know a initial of his accomplices: Abd Arahman al-K., who Saleh A. says was obliged for producing self-murder belts for Nusra.

In 2013, Saleh A.’s section defected from a Nusra Front to Islamic State, he claims. He says he wasn’t in preference of a switch, whereupon he was shot and afterwards sealed adult in an IS re-education camp. While there, he met Hamza C., a subsequent reputed co-conspirator. Ultimately, he swore devotion to a IS administrator of Raqqa in Jan 2014 and was released.

Saleh A. says he was consecrated to dedicate an conflict in Germany by his brother-in-law, allegedly a comparison figure in a “External Operations” multiplication of IS. The aim — Heinrich-Heine-Allee travel in a aged city of Düsseldorf — was identified, he claims, by a playmate of his brother-in-law: an IS member with a nom de guerre Abu Haret, a Tunisian who had lived for a time in Düsseldorf.

Discrete Connections

If Saleh A.’s story is true, there were creatively 4 people who were to take partial in a attack: Hamza C. and Saleh A., who initial altered to Turkey and worked there as migrant smugglers before they finished their ways alone to Germany in Mar and Jul of 2015. The third was Abd Arahman al-K., a explosve builder, who came to Germany in Oct 2014 as a refugee. A serve co-conspirator allegedly drowned in a Aegean Sea.

In Germany, Saleh A. explained, they followed IS instructions. Hamza C. trafficked to Berlin while Saleh A. purebred during an initial accepting trickery in Dortmund — apparently so he could infer to IS that he had reached his destination.

From that indicate on, he behaved unobtrusively, unchanging with his instructions. Saleh A. discretely determined hit with Abd Arahman al-K. in Leimen, a city nearby Heidelberg. He and Hamza are suspicion to have jointly recruited an additional reputed terrorist: Mahood B., an apparently simply shabby Syrian interloper with a drug problem.

But how distant along were a purported apprehension plans? The military searches carried out in early Jun incited adult conjunction weapons nor explosives. And residents of a interloper hostels where a purported terrorists lived told SPIEGEL that they saw no means for regard in new months.

Saleh A. lived together with 7 organisation in room series 7 of a interloper hostel in a city of Kaarst, nearby Düsseldorf. His roommates took note of a fact that he mostly wasn’t there. They saw that he consumed poignant quantities of pot and that days when he didn’t fume were formidable for him. “He would get assertive and loud. He screamed and banged his conduct opposite a wall,” says one haven applicant.

Otherwise, they say, Saleh A. was friendly, baked good and was peaceful to help. He was also courageous, they say, stating that he had escorted a organisation of 30 refugees from Greece to Germany. The hostel residents also contend that he missed his family, utterly his youngest daughter, who was usually 3 or 4 years old.

A Refugee Who Had Lost His Bearings

Only one of a hostel residents claims that Saleh A. suggested his tie with IS, yet he claimed to have damaged with a group. The hostel proprietor also told SPIEGEL that Saleh A. had common he was deliberation going to a military since he was in possession of vicious information.

Furthermore, Saleh A. showed a hostel proprietor his Dutch chateau permit, since he had also practical for haven in a Netherlands. He believes that Saleh A. had finished so in sequence to double a volume of state assistance he was receiving, yet Saleh A. told investigators he had turn undone with a delayed gait of a haven focus routine in Germany. Bureaucracy and a shopping of drugs were both easier in a Netherlands, he said.

Investigators don’t trust him. After all, in France Saleh A. spoke of an purported IS sleeper dungeon in Holland, yet he claimed not to know anything some-more about it.

Saleh A. had never captivated a courtesy of German authorities as an Islamist in a past. At a most, he gave a sense of a interloper who had mislaid his bearings. He did, though, have a military record, a outcome of a burglary and since he allegedly bit a man’s finger during a disco.

The other 3 suspects behaved inconspicuously. Asylum-seekers who lived together with Mahood B. in Mülheim an der Ruhr contend he usually had submissive books about Islam. Aside from that, they news that he had a partner from Africa and then, later, a attribute with a pleasing lady from Croatia. When a military arrived, those vital in a hostel with him primarily suspicion it was due to his drug consumption. “When we listened a tenure sleeper cell, we initial thought: Yeah, he did indeed nap a whole day,” a former roommate of Mahood B.’s jokes.

Abd Arahman al-K. further didn’t attract most attention. One day, Syrian neighbors joked with him that there could be problems since he was from a IS building of Raqqa. Al-K.’s response, they say, was: “I transient a quarrel usually like we did.”

The Düsseldorf military charge force charged with questioning a purported apprehension dungeon over a past several months enclosed 30 officers along with military in other German states. They listened in on a telephones of a 3 suspected conspirators and monitored their movements during good effort.

A Facebook Chat

They found no explanation that Saleh A.’s story was true. But there were some clues. In monitored conversations, a organisation asked any other where Saleh competence be. When their phone conversations veered toward a vicious topic, they pennyless off. One of a organisation complained on a phone that he wasn’t authorised to go to prayers since differently he competence attract attention. One could potentially appreciate that as conspiratorial behavior.

At a same time, indications emerged that a organisation had probable links to militant organizations. US comprehension officials are apparently assured that Abd Arahman al-K. fought and killed for a Nusra Front in Syria.

The strongest denote incited adult by investigators so far, over a YouTube videos of Saleh A. in quarrel gear, is expected a Facebook discuss between him and Abd Arahman al-K. from Jan 2016. In a chat, Saleh A. asks: “What’s wrong with we brother, usually jihad all a time?” He continued: “We have to watch a diversion in calm. We usually have to be patient.” Then, he went on, they have to confirm that dwindle they wish to represent. Abd Arahman al-K. responded: “If we’re going to fight, we have to know if we’re going to die as martyrs or not.”

SPIEGEL stating from Raqqa found that Saleh A. and other members of his family were active there for Islamic State. Those who know him are apparently utterly astounded that he incited himself in to a authorities in Europe. He has low roots in IS, they say.

German investigators cruise Saleh A.’s story to be credible. Now, they are anticipating for some-more clues from a research of a mobile phones found during a arrests of his suspected co-conspirators.

More than anything, though, they are watchful impatiently for a declare to be extradited to Germany. He has ceased vocalization to investigators in Paris and says he will usually continue articulate once he has been eliminated to Germany. His purported accomplices have so distant refused to talk. Two weeks ago, they seemed loose during an coming before an prosecution decider in Karlsruhe.

It stays capricious either charges will be filed. It is probable that a justification so distant collected is deficient for a conviction.

And if suspicions turn some-more concrete? “This is one of a few cases that we would rather not have to prosecute in a end,” a prosecutor obliged for a box pronounced final week during a trusted event of a Internal Affairs Committee in German parliament. He would rather display Saleh A. as a liar than find explanation that skeleton had been laid for a horrific conflict in Germany.

By Riham Alkousaa, Jörg Diehl, Hubert Gude, Martin Knobbe, Jörg Schindler, Vanessa Schlesier and Fidelius Schmid

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