Europeans get terror training inside Pakistan

Posted in Terrorism , Europe | 10-Sep-07 | Author: Souad Mekhennet and Michael Mo| Source: International Herald Tribune

German police officers carrying confiscated papers leave the 'Islamic Information Centre' (IIZ) in Ulm September 5, 2007.

FRANKFURT: The accused conspirators in a bombing plot disrupted last week in Germany were part of what the authorities say is a small, but growing, flow of militants from Germany and other Western countries who are receiving terrorism training at camps in Pakistan.

Beginning early last year, at least five of the suspects traveled to the tribal regions of Waziristan, where they learned to prepare chemical explosives and military-grade detonators that they intended to use to build three car bombs, according to German officials and a confidential German intelligence document that details the allegations.

The authorities said the man they had identified as the leader of the plot, Fritz Martin Gelowicz, 28, apparently found his way to the camp in Waziristan through contacts he made at an Islamic center he attended in Neu-Ulm, Germany. Other suspects in the suspected conspiracy then followed Gelowicz to the camp, where their instructors included militant Islamists from Uzbekistan who are aligned with Al Qaeda, according to the confidential document.

As further evidence of traffic between Germany and the tribal areas of Pakistan, intelligence officials said six other men from Germany who had received similar training had been detained in Pakistan, and they suspect that numerous other Germans have attended the camps without being identified by the authorities.

German officials say they are troubled by evidence that Al Qaeda and other groups are training Western-born recruits whose passports allow them easy access to other Western countries.

"They started to look especially for people from Europe, because they wanted to train them and later to use them here in Germany for operations," said a high-ranking German intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation.

The accusations in Germany contain similarities to two high-profile cases in Britain.

The leader of the suicide bombers who killed 52 people in the 2005 London subway and bus attacks trained at a camp in northwestern Pakistan, according to court papers. Four British men convicted in April of planning fertilizer-bomb attacks around London also trained in Pakistan camps, according to court papers in the case, known as Operation Crevice.

This summer militants released a 46-minute videotape depicting some 250 graduates of a Taliban training camp near the Afghan-Pakistan border, which included speeches in English by recruits who were grouped by the countries they had been trained to attack, including Germany and the United States.

"We are not only fighting in Afghanistan," the Taliban leader, Mullah Mansoor, said at the end of the ceremony. "Those American, British, German, French, Canadian and others who have come to finish us, if God wills, we will destroy them with the power of strong faith in God. We will commit suicidal attacks and we will destroy their national assets."

German officials said they were relying largely on American and Pakistani intelligence to identify men who traveled to Waziristan, and while they declined to specify the nature of that intelligence, they said it was strong.

The amount of training under way in the tribal areas of Pakistan is difficult, if not impossible, to estimate, but intelligence officials are concerned about what they see as a trend toward terrorist groups recruiting Westerners.

In a speech in New York on Friday, the CIA director, General Michael Hayden, said, "We do see them working to train people whom you and I wouldn't raise an eyebrow about if they were getting off the plane with us at Kennedy, people whose identity makes it easier — whose persona makes it easier for them to come into America and to blend into American society."

The Pakistani government has recently acknowledged that Al Qaeda and other militants are operating in the tribal-controlled areas on its border with Afghanistan. Pakistan had struck an agreement with leaders in the South Waziristan tribal area, giving groups there amnesty as long as they refrained from attacking government installations and vehicles. But it broke down last month when the military began a new operation against the militants, which led to the capture of close to 300 Pakistani troops by the militants.

Even as Western governments and Pakistan try to crack down on terrorist training, their efforts are clashing with human rights groups in Pakistan that are pressing for the release of terrorism suspects who have been detained without being charged.

Pakistani courts recently released two Germans, who officials say they believe received explosives training in Waziristan, including a 45-year-old gem dealer who was designated a "potentially dangerous person" by the German police for threatening statements he made three days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He is back home in Germany, where officials say he has contacts with violent Islamic cells and has made several trips to the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

He was arrested on June 18 by the Pakistani military intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, as he was boarding a plane in Lahore to fly back to Germany, and remained in detention for two months until the Supreme Court ruled there was insufficient evidence to continue holding him.

"There was no basis for the ISI to hold this man for two months," said Amina Masood, an official with the Pakistani group Defense of Human Rights, which is pressing for the release of more than 400 people it has identified as being held by the ISI as terrorism suspects.

Masood said that the suspects included a handful of foreigners from Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and that several of the European detainees had been released in recent days, including men from Britain and Belgium.

The German intelligence document on the car-bombing plot, which was prepared by the authorities last week , details trips made by the German suspects to militant camps in Pakistan starting in early 2006.

The men trained in Waziristan with Uzbek militants belonging to a group known as the Islamic Jihad Union, which was designated a terrorist organization by the State Department in 2005.

Its predecessor, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, financed by Osama bin Laden, had been Central Asia's largest militant group until it went to Afghanistan to help the Taliban and was decimated by the American-led campaign after the Sept. 11 attacks. The successor group still had fighters in Afghanistan and had "also been working on our common targets together with Caucasian mujahedeens," the group's commander, Ebu Yahya Muhammad Fatih, said in a statement posted on the Internet in May 2007.

The involvement of members of the Uzbek group in militant training is particularly troubling, intelligence officials say, because of their expertise in explosives, and their use of women in suicide missions and of men who unwittingly drove car bombs.

In Pakistan, Major General Waheed Arshad, the spokesman of the Pakistani military, acknowledged that Uzbeks were present in Waziristan, yet said the traffic of German nationals to Pakistan for terrorism training had not been confirmed.

But according to German intelligence officials, Gelowicz, who converted to Islam in his teens, most likely connected with the Uzbek group through the Multi-Kultur-Haus, the Islamic center in Neu-Ulm.

The center had close ties to the jihadist fighting in Chechnya, where three of its members died in combat. While German officials shut down the center in 2005, one of its imams, who fled to Saudi Arabia, continued to encourage jihadist activities by young men who had attended the center, German authorities say.

In Waziristan, Gelowicz formed a close relationship with the leaders of the Uzbek group, the German report says. A second man who joined him on that trip in March 2006, Adem Yilmaz, 28, who was born in Turkey, focused on bringing more men from Germany to be trained, the investigative report said.

They were followed in June by Atilla Selek, a 22-year-old man born in Ulm who the authorities say joined Gelowicz in December 2006 in scouting American military facilities in Hanau, Germany, the investigative report says. Selek, who goes by the name Muaz, is now in Turkey.

A fourth German man, Zafer Sari, 22, from Neunkirchen, went to the camps last summer, after attending a language school in Syria. Sari, who also has a Turkish passport, was in Turkey on June 21, when he left for Jordan and then Cairo. He is considered a suspect but is not in custody, according to the report and German officials.

The fifth suspect to train in the camps was Daniel Martin Schneider, 22, also from Neunkirchen. He went to Pakistan in August 2006 and also helped send other people to train there. Schneider was arrested last week as well.

The report says the Islamic Jihad Union has close ties to Al Qaeda, and evolved from a group with regional targets to sharing Al Qaeda's goal of a worldwide jihadist movement. The Uzbeks have also been joined by militants from elsewhere in Central Asia, changing the ethnic complexion of the training camps.