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German militants training in Pakistani border area

By David Rising

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 7 2010 7:54 a.m. MDT

ISLAMABAD — The video at first seems like many others filmed in Pakistan's tribal areas: The bearded militant sits cross-legged on the floor, an AK-47 propped against the wall behind him. But as he applauds his three companions' decision to join jihad, the words come out in fluent German: "Wir sind die Soldaten Allahs," he says — "We are the soldiers of Allah."

Between 15 and 40 Germans and a smaller contingent of other Europeans are believed to be getting militant training in Pakistan's lawless border region, intending to join the Taliban's fight against NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan or return to Europe and strike at the soft underbelly of those countries.

Their presence has attracted fresh scrutiny after a European terror warning based on information from a German-Afghan captured in Afghanistan, and a CIA drone strike Tuesday that allegedly killed eight German militants in North Waziristan — an al-Qaida and Taliban hub that the Pakistani army has so far left largely alone.

The German speaker in the jihad video, Mounir Chouka, is one of two Bonn-born brothers with dual German-Moroccan citizenship well known for appearances in videos made by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan apparently aimed at recruiting more militants from Germany. German federal prosecutors confirmed Thursday that the two are under investigation on suspicion of membership in a terrorist organization.

The clip appeared on a militant website earlier this summer, a nearly 40-minute video telling new recruits of the legitimacy of jihad, or holy war.

"At every border crossing, at every airport and at every search, we pray to Allah ... to make these enemies blind," he says. "Allah answered. The proof? We are here."

Germans are thought to be one of the largest European groups in Pakistan's northwest, though information is scant. Most are believed to be immigrants from Muslim nations or their descendants.

The Germans killed Tuesday were hit by a drone strike in Mir Ali, a town about 20 miles from the border with Afghanistan.

Reporters who have been to Mir Ali describe Internet cafes in the basement of shops where militants from all over the world watch extremist videos or send e-mails. The Pakistani army has a base nearby, but soldiers do not patrol the area.

"For three or four months we have been hearing that there are people who say they are from Germany who have been trickling in one by one," said retired Brig. Mahmood Shah, the former chief of security of Pakistan's tribal regions. "Some people say that they are Turkish, or appear to be Turkish, or maybe Turkish from Germany."

Shah said the group is thought to include about 15 to 20 people but, he conceded, "nothing much is known about them."

Many top al-Qaida Arab leaders are believed to be somewhere in the border region, including Osama bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri.

Of the Germans in the region, most recent attention has been on Ahmed Siddiqui, a German citizen of Afghan descent who had been in the Mir Ali area and was captured in Afghanistan in July. He is now being interrogated by U.S. forces at the Bagram Air Field, German and U.S. officials have said.

American officials say Siddiqui provided some details of an early-stage terrorist plot to attack targets in Britain, France and Germany, which led to the recent warnings in Europe.

Siddiqui was one of about a dozen radical Muslims who left the northern port city of Hamburg in 2009 to pursue terrorist training in the border region, said Rolf Tophoven, director of the Germany-based Institute for Terrorism Research and Security Policy.

Siddiqui prayed at the same mosque that was earlier frequented by Mohamed Atta and the other Sept. 11 hijackers who used Hamburg as a base before they moved to the United States to attend flight school. Hamburg authorities closed the mosque in August after saying it was again being used as a meeting point for Islamic radicals.

But unlike the Sept. 11 hijackers — who had already coalesced into a terrorist cell while in Hamburg — Siddiqui and the others who left in 2009 are thought to have less organized plans.

"We have a lot of single people, lone fighters who are going to these areas (in Pakistan) and want to be trained as terrorists there," Tophoven said.

A German intelligence official said that authorities were aware of Siddiqui being part of the "Hamburg scene of Islamists" who they assumed was heading to Pakistan to "take part in jihad," but that there was no way to prevent him from leaving the country.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk with the press, pointed to the similar case of a suspect identified only as Rami M., who also left Hamburg in 2009 and turned up in Pakistan.

The 25-year-old German-Syrian was picked up at a checkpoint near the city of Bannu in June when police became suspicious of a particularly tall "woman" in a burqa in car who turned out to be Rami M. in disguise.

He was extradited to Germany, where prosecutors say he learned how to handle weapons and explosives while in Pakistan.

Rami M. has been charged with membership of a terrorist organizations on allegations that while in Pakistan he joined the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and fought with them in the region. The group is said to have links to al-Qaida and to have attacked foreign troops in Afghanistan.

In addition to Mounir Chouka, who goes locally by the name Abu Adam al-Almani — "Abu Adam the German" — and his brother Yassin, other Germans linked to the Mir Ali area include Muslim-convert Eric Breininger, who was killed April 30 by Pakistani soldiers.

Breininger was part of the Islamic Jihad Union, which has been linked to a thwarted plot inside Germany to attack U.S. targets.

Four IJU members, two German converts to Islam and two Turks who lived in Germany — all of whom also trained in a Mir Ali area camp — were convicted in March of planning the attacks and sentenced to jail time between five to 12 years.

It is not yet clear who the eight Germans were killed in the strike from a CIA drone on Tuesday in Mir Ali and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Wednesday that Berlin has received no "reliable information" on their identities.

U.S. officials do not publicly discuss the strikes or their targets. Often the only confirmation comes when the militants themselves release martyrdom videos of their comrades.

Germany's Federal Criminal Police office says that they have "indications" that a total of 220 Germans have traveled to the region for terrorism training in recent years, about half of whom have returned to Germany. Of the total, a spokeswoman, speaking on departmental policy of anonymity, there is "concrete evidence" that 70 have undergone such training and about a third of those militants have returned to Germany.

Tophoven said estimates he has seen are that "between 30 and 40 hardcore terrorists" from Germany are currently in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.

Some go to try and fight in Afghanistan, but Tophoven said that local militant commanders are worried about possible CIA or other infiltrators there, so European militants are more likely to return to Europe after their training — where they could also be a greater threat.

"They are afraid the intelligence services could bring covert agents into the ranks," he said. "They prefer the European for terror operations in the name of al-Qaida in Europe — in Germany, in France, in Britain, in Italy — these guys are homegrown terrorists; they know our culture, they know our language, they know our environment."

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