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Southern German Towns Become Hub of Jihadism

Monday, Sept. 17, 2007

The arrest earlier this month of three Islamic radicals suspected of planning attacks on American military installations in Germany has again called attention to the southern German towns of Neu-Ulm and Ulm. The alleged leader of the trio, Fritz G., comes from Ulm. As Roland Ströbele of the local Neu-Ulmer Zeitung reports, the twin cities on opposite banks of the Danube have in recent years become a bustling hub of Jihadist activism.

NEU-ULM/ULM, Germany -- And once again the trail leads to Neu-Ulm. One of the three presumed members of an Islamic terror group arrested earlier this month in Germany comes from Ulm. The 28-year-old Fritz G. is supposed even to have been the ringleader of the group, which is accused of planning bomb attacks on the Frankfurt Airport and the U.S. military base in Ramstein.

If the accusations should turn out to be true, then they provide renewed evidence that plans for terror attacks have been hatched in Ulm and Neu-Ulm and that it is from here that the terrorists have set out to realize their plans.

Fritz G. has been long known to Bavarian police authorities. The 28-year-old German converted to Islam several years ago and was a frequent visitor to the "Multi-Kultur-Haus" in Neu-Ulm, an Islamic cultural center that was shut down by the authorities in January 2006 on account of Islamist activism. According to investigators, radical "preachers of hate" frequented the Multi-Kultur-Haus, recruiting "holy warriors" for Jihad or collecting funds for the latter.

Incendiary writings, inciting hatred against Christians and Jews, were found among the materials seized by investigators in the Multi-Kultur-Haus [see related blog post]. Simultaneous with the order to have the center shut down, the association that ran it was likewise banned. But the closing of the Multi-Kultur-Haus has hardly led to a diminution of Islamist activities in the region. The hardliners continue to meet in the so-called Islamic Information Center (IIZ) in Ulm. For the German domestic intelligence agency, the Verfassungsschutz, the IIZ remains the base of the Islamists.

It is hard to estimate just how large is the group of fanaticized and potentially violent militants, since new people are constantly turning up and others going into hiding. The German of Egyptian origins Khaled El-Masri [a.k.a. Khaled Al-Masri], who was abducted by the American intelligence services on account of his suspected terror ties, is also supposed to have been seen often at the Multi-Kultur-Haus. Masri lived in Senden, a suburb of Neu-Ulm.

As investigators reported earlier this month, an agreement had apparently been reached to ban the IIZ and the association that runs it at the same time as the Multi-Kultur-Haus was shut down. Why this failed to happen is a mystery for Bavarian authorities. [Note: Neu-Ulm is in Bavaria and Ulm is in the neighboring German state of Baden-Württemberg.]

As investigators likewise reported, Fritz G. had often met with the Egyptian Dr. Y. [Yehia Yousif] in his townhouse in the Neu-Ulm neighborhood of Ludwigsfeld. During a raid on the house, the police discovered materials that could be used for making bombs. Shortly before the Multi-Kultur-Haus was shut down, Dr. Y. went into hiding. The police suspect that he is currently in Saudi Arabia.

His son, Omar, was found to be in possession of handwritten instructions on how to ambush a military convoy. He claimed to have copied them from the Internet. Investigators, however, believe otherwise and are convinced that Omar Y. received training in armed combat in Pakistan.

Just recently, the mayor of Neu-Ulm, Gerold Noerenberg, invited representatives of police agencies from both sides of the Danube to a closed conference on Islamism to discuss the situation. Participants in the conference report that appeals were made for greater vigilance in the face of Islamist activism.

There is no obvious answer as to why precisely the municipal center of Ulm/Neu-Ulm has become the base and meeting point for these religious fanatics. According to CIA reports, Bin Laden's finance chief Mahmud Salim spent time in the area and the 9/11 terror pilot Mohammad Atta was also here. Other "holy warriors" have been incited by radical preachers to leave Ulm/Neu Ulm for the frontlines of Jihad.

Reda. S. [Reda Seyam], who is suspected of having co-financed the 2002 bomb attack on a Bali disco, lived in the area supported by welfare payments. And Tolga D., who was arrested some weeks ago after being deported from Pakistan, was a member of the IIZ in Ulm. Tolga D. is suspected of having recruited a German to take up arms in the cause of Jihad.

It is not for nothing that agents of the CIA have been active in the Ulm/Neu-Ulm area. As came out during the parliamentary investigations into the abduction of Khaled El-Masri, American agents were surprisingly well-informed about the Islamic scene in the region.

Over the years, a large number of religious fanatics and other "key and conspicuous persons" in the Islamist scene have settled in the area of Ulm/Neu-Ulm, where, from the banks of the Danube, they have continued to play a leading role in the international terrorist network. This might be the reason why Ulm/Neu-Ulm has become such a busy hub for radical imams and holy warriors. In any case, as one investigator observed, "it's certainly not on account of the good travel connections . . ."

Roland Ströbele is a reporter for the Neu-Ulmer Zeitung. The above report first appeared in the Neu-Ulmer Zeitung on Sept. 6 and can be consulted in German here. The English translation is by John Rosenthal.

Image: The sign outside the Islamic Information Center in Ulm, Germany (video still from Report Mainz, SWR)