By Julia Jüttner, Solingen
A mother can’t be fooled, and a mother notices when her child goes astray, says Marlies B. That’s why she called the state authorities in October 2010 and asked if she needed to be worried about her son.
Her son Robert had changed. He’d converted to Islam, forsaken pork and alcohol, and now he wore a knit wool cap and wandered the city of Solingen, northeast of Cologne, in floor-length garments. Marlies B. says she’d never seen him this way. People asked her about it, and it was embarrassing. It frightened her.
At the end of July — after a period when she couldn’t reach him, either on his cell phone or at his apartment — she printed out a statement from his bank account. (Robert had given her notarized power of attorney years before.) She noticed a flight booked for €447 ($647), and “all of my alarm bells went off,” she says. She drove to a national-security office in Wuppertal.
“You’re son is doing well,” an official told her, asking her to take a seat in the hall. Marlies B. had an uneasy feeling. A mother knows, she says. Two other officials came upstairs. They had just searched Robert’s apartment, and they told her that her son had been in a London prison since July 15.
He’d taken the ferry to Dover with Christian E., another convert from Solingen, who had a criminal record. At the border they told authorities they had planned to fly from Brussels to Egypt, but the tickets were too expensive. So they’d settled on Great Britain instead.
Officials searched their bags and found handbooks for jihadists, a bomb-making pamphlet called, “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” and an essay on “39 Ways to Support Jihad,” written by the radical imam Anwar al-Awlaki — all propaganda material for al-Qaida. Both Germans were sent to Belmarsh, a high-security prison in south London, and isolated in solitary confinement.
“I fear that the English justice system will crack down like it did in the recent riots, and we want to prevent that,” says Robert’s attorney, Burkhard Benecken. His client faces up to 10 years in prison. But under German law his actions were not punishable. This week, Benecken and Robert’s mother are flying to London; it will be her first visit with her son since he was arrested.