Lorenz Berger’s face is still pale. His week as a captive of the terrorist militia “Islamic State” has left marks. His back hurts from the gun and baton blows he received for the cross pendant on his necklace. The contaminated water which he had to drink still causes him stomach cramps. Berger is not his real name, and he can handle extreme conditions. He is an ex-soldier and has been in the Middle East for a while working for different European secret services, more or less as a freelance agent.
But during those days in Northern Syria, he did not think he would come out alive. Bombs from the dictator Assad’s air force fell on them. Panic broke out among Berger’s tormentors. When he saw one of them dead in the corner, Berger grabbed his rifle, storming off, shooting himself a passage. “I can still see the surprise in the eyes of those men,” he remembers. “But when they saw me, it was too late for them.”
That was ten days ago. Berger is sitting in an airport hotel in Istanbul, waiting for someone from the IS, with whom he gets on a little better. He wants to know who sold him to the men in Syria. Around lunchtime his contact, Raduan, enters the lobby. Berger has not seen him for a long time. Now he learns why: Raduan was in Tanzania, but the authorities have just expelled him.
Islamism is settling in Europe
The reason (for the expulsion) Raduan holds in his hand. It is a Bulgarian passport. He wanted to use it for his flight from Dar es Salaam to a Scandinavian country, and from there on to Germany. “The passport was completely authentic” says Berger. “Only his real owner was dead. And the photo really bore very little resemblance to Raduan” he added with a grin. When he speaks next with Raduan on Skype, Berger is back at home in a peaceful EU country. The Syrian is already back in Bulgaria, in a safe house, set up by allies of the IS, and is waiting for his new passport. Today he might already be in Germany.
And Berger realises that the war, which earns him money far away from home, is gradually following him home. That is why he is telling this story. Because there something has started which frightens him.
Almost exactly one year ago, on 29 June 2014, the IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed his caliphate. He declared himself as the successor of the prophet Muhammad and started a new, highly explosive terrorist project: Instead of attacking their avowed enemy on his territory, the IS was looking for a territory of their own in order to create their own government.
Arab fighters are smuggled in
An Islamist dream empire with brutal punishments and slave markets, beyond the traditional Islam. A heavily armed simulation of a state instead of spectacular terrorist attacks as made by the old star performers of al-Qaida. But now the IS seem to be preparing a new, additional strategy: Numerous indications suggest that IS systematically smuggle Arab fighters into Europe. Overtly, they set up networks. And it is certain that they want war. The IS is expanding the war all over Europe.
This may seem illogical at first glance. In Syria and Iraq, the terrorist militia is under tremendous pressure, and has lost at least 25 percent of its territory. But the basic principle of their warfare is: the more enemies, the better. This is less a sober calculation as a an ideology of salvation. Because, according to the doomsday theory of IS, it is exactly a total war which will bring humanity closer to the Last Day and so to Paradise. “Defeats are part of the war…” says a German IS-fighter, “Time will prove it and in the end we will be the big winners.”
It was just last April, in a video, that the Berlin Ex-rapper Deso Dogg, who is now fighting for IS, threatened attacks by “sleepers”. That’s what terrorists are called who secretly and over years prepare attacks under the guise of a normal life, and are ready to execute them any time on command. “Such IS sleeper cells already exist in Europe,” says Ioannis Michaletos from the Greek Institute for Security and Defence Analysis. “Attacks are only a matter of time.” Were the bloody attacks on the French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” and a kosher grocery store in Paris in January or the Islamist terrorist attack in February in Copenhagen just the beginning? Just this week British Prime Minister David Cameron warned of “terrible” attacks, planned for the UK by IS’ followers in Syria.
Terrorists among Syrian refugees
The Greek expert on terrorism and organized crime is a good source on the subject. Because he lives almost directly in the transit area of terror. The Greek authorities have unmasked several Islamist networks over the last year. A Syrian woman was holding 300,000 euros but refused to explain their origin. Multiple weapons and ammunition were confiscated. For the secret IS agents, Greece is obviously one of the main gateways to Europe. Here they have the perfect camouflage: the immense masses of their fleeing victims. 200,000 Syrian refugees have been brought to Europe so far, and among them a large number of IS members, according to Michaletos, whose homeland is a major refuge for people from the war-torn country.
If one combines his knowledge with research in Syria and Turkey and hints from EU countries, three main routes taken by IS-members to reach Europe become clear: The first leads from Syria over the Bosphorus to Greece. This is the same way the thousands of Syrian refugees take. The second route runs through the chaotic mini-states of the former Yugoslavia.
The third and possibly most controversial is the Bulgarian route. A fourth, frequently mentioned itinerary but seemingly hardly used route: security agencies have warned that IS members (Link: http://www.welt.de/143157121) could also mingle among the tens of thousands of people who travel from Libya across the Mediterranean to Italy. So far there is still no hard evidence for this. But along the other escape routes Syrians apparently always encounter exactly those people from whom they are fleeing. And even there, where they finally believed themselves in safety.
[Here in the article follows the picture of the map which indicates the routes taken by the IS-Terrorists to Europe]
“The IS People have long been everywhere”
“The people of the IS have already been everywhere for a long time.” Kamal, who comes from near Aleppo and has lived for a year in Germany, is convinced of it. The 28-year-old has just been granted political asylum (Link: http://welt.de/themen/Asyl) in Germany. Via the Internet, he keeps in touch with friends and relatives from Syria, who have been dispersed all over Europe by the war. There is his old school friend who now lives in a refugee camp in Rogan in Norway. Of course there are IS members also with him. But not just “anybody”. One is the Imam of the camp, the prayer leader, who is also giving the Friday sermon. That man is from near Raqqa, the capital of the IS Caliphate.
Sometimes the latter pretends to be a former engineer for the state oil company, sometimes a teacher or businessman. And he says that IS is the best thing that could happen to Syria, a “holy light”. “He defends IS unreservedly,” says Kamal. “Whether they enslave hundreds of people, torture, execute them.”
Kamal knows those types well. When, after his arrival in Germany, he found shelter in Thuringia in the refugee camp Eisenberg, there was a group of five Syrians. For two months he lived in the container next to the one of the young men. Because he could not stand the heat and the stench in the metal box, during summer nights, he often slept outdoors. Just as the five next door did. “This way you will automatically become closer.”
Because of their unusual kind of prayer he had become suspicious. As usual for the IS members, they were praying with a raised index finger, the symbol of the one God and his country. Salafists also often fold their arms in front of their chests and it is also their tradition to fold only one leg under during prayer.
Drunken IS fighters talk too much
But the neighbors do anything to hide their identity. However, one day they drink a beer with Kamal — for Muslims alcohol is forbidden, that is why Islamists drink only rarely. “They were drunk immediately. And then it was bubbling out of them,” says Kamal amused. They had been ordered to come to Germany and apply for political asylum, they tell him. And they were now waiting for further instructions from Syria.
Until a few weeks ago, Kamal was in Facebook contact with the five. However, when he posted an article critical of the IS, they immediately removed him from their friends list. “Since then, all their accounts have been deleted,” says Kamal. “I can find no digital trace of them, not even one.”
As soon as refugees receive political asylum, they are free to move and work in Germany. All terrorists need for acceptance is a Syrian passport. It guarantees virtually automatic asylum. You can buy it on the black market at any time for the equivalent of €1200, including an identity card. The document is authentic. But the IS can probably also make the passports themselves, since they control the registration offices in the provincial capitals. “They do it all themselves” says Kamal, “Political asylum is damned important for us Syrians, but the jihadists (Link: http://www.welt.de/142904629) will destroy that if they commit assassinations.”
The refugee scam seems to be the perfect trick and Greece the ideal route. But the Bulgaria-connection is not only more adventurous but also more dangerous for Europe. Because via that route, the terrorists arrive as almost real EU citizens in Europe. No reception center, no identity check and easy travel throughout the European Union. Bulgarian passports are easy obtain, and not only for Lorenz Berger’s friend, Raduan.
Bulgaria, as the poorest country in Europe, is predestined for illegal activities. The state has a “serious problem” with corruption up to the highest levels of management, as the EU Commission noticed this year. In addition, the internationally operating Bulgarian mafia is a power factor. They have good relations with criminal gangs in Russia, Serbia, and Italy as well. Drugs, weapons, prostitution and human trafficking are their specialty.
Bulgarian Mafia procures IS passports
“The IS also gets the passports from the Bulgarian mafia” says Berger. The Bulgarian gangsters earn between 20,000 and 30,000 euros per travel document. And it is also the criminal connections that explain the adventurous connection to Africa. In the Maghreb, but also in Tanzania and Kenya criminal organizations have cooperated with Islamists for nearly two decades. These networks seem now to be used also by the IS. Why Tanzania? It is much more relaxing to prepare missions in Europe among friends in Africa. Moreover, it is far less suspicious when you arrive in Stockholm, Frankfurt and Rome on a flight from the East African country than from Turkey, the neighboring country of Syria. And unlike Germans, Bulgarian nationals get visas without any problems at the airport in Tanzania. After all, both were once Communist states.
“In Bulgaria, there may well still be contacts with the secret service, which go back to the old days,” says Berger, referring to the time of the Cold War. In the leadership of the IS (Link: http://www.welt.de/143176481) there are also former officers of the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein. They were trained in the former Soviet bloc, many of them in East Germany (GDR). After the Wall came down, many old spies for the East went to the Middle East. The IS terrorist organization knows well how to conduct sensitive, dangerous paramilitary operations.
The IS does not act like a guerrilla group, but as a state. It is an almost grotesque idea that today’s terrorist attacks in the Federal Republic could be based on the experience with the Stasi. “The secret services of the Eastern bloc were very professional,” says Berger. For the time being he does not want to return to Syria. “I see this captivity as a sign to take a break.” The next big battle (link http://www.welt.de/143169018) will, after all, take place in Europe.