A foiled German terrorist plot against airports, military bases and off duty hangouts of American soldiers was motivated by Islamist zeal and hatred of American foreign policy, the group’s leader has revealed. Their intent was to kill as many Americans as possible to punish us for an alleged “war against Islam.”


UPI reports that the group, arrested by German federal police in September 2007, “received their training at a camp of the Islamic Jihad Union in Pakistan’s Waziristan region” and were caught with “26 detonators and 12 barrels of hydrogen peroxide, which can be used to make explosives. (Hydrogen peroxide was used in the London bombings).”

Yassin Musharbash for Spiegel:

At the time al-Qaida attacked the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, Fritz Gelowicz was still opposed to the act of terror. But a little over a year later, the young man from southern Germany, who converted to Islam at the age of 16, was already determined to “someday take part in the jihad.” He says he was motivated by the United States’ “unconditional support” for Israel. Gelowicz felt there was “a war by the USA against Islam.”

Gelowicz, 29, has been sitting in the dock since June as the main defendant in the so-called “Sauerland Cell” trial against four homegrown German jihadists who are accused of planning a series of bomb attacks in Germany in the fall of 2007.


hTe four accused — Gelowicz, Daniel Schneider, Adem Yilmaz and Atilla Selek — have already confessed. The testimony they gave to officials at the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) in June, July and August fills more than 1,100 pages. On Monday, the men began to testify publicly on the stand in their trial at a higher regional court in Düsseldorf.

It’s the first time that all the members of a terror cell have revealed their inner workings. Investigators have never before been given such comprehensive information about the creation of a terror plot, training in terror camps in Pakistan’s Waziristan region or the obscure Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), the Uzbek terror group on whose behalf Gelowicz and his accomplices were apparently acting. That the suspects have been so open probably has to do with the fact that they have been given the prospect of lighter sentences if they cooperate. Generally, investigators have been astonished by their openness.

The confessions have also shed light on another aspect of the case: the suspects’ unconditional hatred of the US. Although they wanted to strike in Europe, their main intended targets were American soldiers. “We didn’t want to kill two or three soldiers, but rather many,” Gelowicz told the court on Monday.

Gelowicz gave particularly vivid testimony to the BKA about how he quickly got the feeling after 9/11 that the US was waging a war against Islam — and that this was happening in his own backyard. He told investigators he felt that the war on terror had come within just meters’ reach of him in 2004. He described a man who used to sit with his children inside a Muslim prayer room that Gelowicz frequented in his hometown, the Bavarian city of Neu-Ulm, noting that one day the man vanished. Gelowicz later learned from a friend that the man had been kidnapped by the CIA.

It turns out that the story was true. The man he spoke of was Khaled el-Masri, a German-Lebanese man who had been kidnapped by the US intelligence service in Macedonia in late December 2003 and taken to Afghanistan. There, he was detained and interrogated for five months before the case was found to be one of mistaken identity.

Apparently, the men considered joining existing fights against Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan and, oddly, the Czechen war against Russia. They decided it was easier to commit acts of terrorism at home, where they could catch Americans unaware.

Gelowicz was able to experience at first hand just how difficult it was to fight the US Army in Afghanistan. Before his return to Germany, he spent about four weeks with the IJU on the Pakistani-Afghan border. Several times he crossed over the border to carry out reconnaissance of a US base in Afghanistan, but the IJU fighters were not able to lure the American soldiers out of their stronghold. Gelowicz told the court on Monday that for every successful attack on US soldiers, he estimated there were 10 failed ones — and even then all that had been achieved was to “destroy one of the Americans’ cars.”

An earlier report in Deutche Welle explained why the group was targeting airports.

On Tuesday, Adem Yilmaz told the court that the goal was not to kill people, but to bring air traffic to a stop. He said the group known as the Sauerland cell had discussed setting off “smaller explosions at the Duesseldorf or Dortmund airports,” and added that Frankfurt airport had also been a possible target.

The 30-year-old said that they deliberately wanted to avoid large-scale explosions because of the risk of killing people who had nothing to do with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – unlike the American soldiers he and his friends were intent on attacking.

“We would have done it if we had found a place [in the airport] where there weren’t so many people,” Yilmaz told the court on Tuesday. “We didn’t want to hurt innocent people. We could have hit Muslims, and we didn’t want to do that.”

All this reporting is, naturally, based on what the terrorists themselves are saying in open court.  It goes rather without saying that these zealots are attempting to present themselves in their best light and to justify their plot by citing the most egregious of America’s overreaches in the war on terror.

There’s one wee problem with this:  As Jeffrey Imm noted two years ago, when the gang were first arrested, Gelowicz had demonstrated radical tendencies long before Abu Ghraib, the detention of el-Masri, or even the election of George W. Bush to the presidency.  He cites a report by Roger Boyes in the Times of London:

“Fritz G came to our notice nine years ago [i.e., in 1998] when he publicly praised Islamic terror attacks,” said Guenther Beckstein, the Interior Minister of Bavaria.” His name crops up again in relation to a visit to Neu-Ulm by Mohammed Atta, who later went on to be a terror pilot on September 11.”

When the Gelowicz family moved to Neu-Ulm in 1983 it was a relatively prosperous community just across the Danube river from Ulm with its grand, towering cathedral. An American garrison was based there, with big-spending soldiers.  But when the US decided to station Pershing missiles near by the town became a hub of protest: the fledgling Green protest movement stirred up passions against Pershing and Cruise missiles and the national mood swung against America.

“Those were stormy times,” recalls Frank Dreesen who studied in Ulm in the 1980s. “They left behind an anti-American imprint on a whole generation. And then when the Americans left and took their missiles with them, Neu-Ulm suddenly became much poorer — and even more resentful.” Fritz Gelowicz’s parents were not particularly political — his father was an engineer, his mother a doctor — but at his school, America had become Enemy No 1.

So, his hatred of America apparently goes back a quarter century.

It’s also worth noting, however, that the foiling of this plot, along with several others in the UK and the US, have been done using the  “law enforcement” model of counter-terrorism that becamemuch-derided in the aftermath of 9/11.  

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.  

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