This story reminds me of street gangs having new recruits commit a crime to prove loyalty. Coverts are less likely to draw attention if they are indigenous to the country they will attack. Of course Muslims jump on this and seek to radicalise those young converts able to carry out mass-murder campaigns against their own countrymen. “Muslim first” and all that.
Two Muslim converts and two Turks go on trial in a bomb-proof courtroom in Düsseldorf today accused of plotting to blow up German civilians and US soldiers.
“The world will burn!” boasted an intercepted e-mail sent between the accused, who are alleged to have wanted to wage an Islamic holy war in the heart of Europe.
Three of the men — Fritz Gelowicz, 29, Daniel Schneider, 23 and the Turkish national Adem Yilmaz, 30 — are accused of attending a training camp on the Afghan-Pakistani frontier run by an Uzbek-based terror organisation known as the Islamic Jihad Union.
Intelligence services say that it has links with al-Qaeda. Using detonators — supplied, the state prosecutor claims, by Attila Selek, 24, a German citizen of Turkish origin — the gang prepared bombs with the explosive force of 410kg (904lb) of TNT, to be set off in and around the US Ramstein air base and other targets. The bombers in London on July 7, 2005, had 4kg of explosive.
It is alleged that the gang wanted the attacks to influence a parliamentary debate extending the mandate of the German Army in Afghanistan in the autumn of 2007.
The men were caught in an elaborate police sting operation in September that year. At the high point of the undercover surveillance, about 600 policemen were involved, fed with information from the German intelligence service and the CIA.
When the alleged plotters rented a remote holiday home and allegedly started to gather material for the bombing campaign the police encircled the region, disguising themselves as villagers, foresters and petrol station attendants.
As soon as the men left the cottage the police would change the vats of hydrogen peroxide for a diluted solution. They were following the example of Scotland Yard detectives, who while secretly monitoring terrorists planning a bomb attack on London five years ago switched a hoard of fertiliser for harmless cat litter.
The cottage was bugged by the undercover squads and transcripts of the conversations will form part of the prosecutor’s indictment today.
“Ramstein sounds fine,” says Mr Gelowicz, according to the indictment in one of the eavesdropped cottage conversations. “We should have something on top of that, a pub or a disco. If each [of the devices] kills 50, injures a few, then that should be 150 dead.”
The trial hits a nerve in Germany. First, it has raised the question of Muslim converts. There is little in the early lives of Mr Gelowicz and Mr Schneider that would have distinguished them as potential terrorist recruits. They seemed to be average German boys, the offspring of divorced parents, impatient to leave school, and interested in American football.
Shown a picture of Mr Gelowicz, neighbours quickly identified him as “our Fritz”. In an act of what seemed at the time to be youthful rebellion he converted to Islam, and from the age of 15 started to attend a mosque in Neu-Ulm in Bavaria.
“Converts tend to be more radical and fanatical than those who have been Muslims since they were in the cradle,” says Hans Joachim Giessmann, a terrorism expert at the Hamburg Institute for Peace Research.
Hartwig Möller, head of counter- terrorism for the region of North Rhine-Westphalia, calculates that between 120 and 140 militants from Germany have received combat training in camps on the Afghan-Pakistani border and that about half of them are back in Germany.
The second source of anxiety is that two Turks were involved. Mr Selek, who had kept his Turkish citizenship, grew up in Ulm and worked as a spray painter. Mr Yilmaz worked as a department store detective. Apart from tensions between Kurds and Turks, the Turkish minority in Germany, more than two million, has been largely apolitical. The idea that younger Turks living in Germany could turn into political radicals is a nightmare for the security services.
The trial continues.