by Florian Flade
The pair seemed rather nervous when British border police asked the two German nationals what their reason for entering the UK was. They originally had planned to travel to Brussels, Robert B. (23) and Christian E. (28) told the police officers in Dover, the coastal town where they had arrived via ferry on July 15th. Plane tickets were too expensive, the two Germans said, so they decided to travel to London instead.
The police officers became suspicious and checked the luggage of both men. What they found was not really the usual tourist equipment: Jihadi propaganda material as documents and a laptop computer bearing an Al-Qaida flag as a sticker. Robert B. and Christian E. were arrested as terror suspects.
A few weeks later British prosecution accuses the two German converts of possessing material which can be used to build bombs and explosives and to plan terrorist attacks in the UK. Amongst the material found when B. and E. had entered the UK was a document titled “How to build a bomb in your Mom´s kitchen” – a article from the English-language Online magazine “Inspire” produced by Al-Qaida in Yemen. “44 Ways of supporting Jihad”, a essay by US-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was also part of the material in E. and B.´s possession.
In Solingen, a mid-size town in Western Germany, the Muslim community was shocked by the news of the two men´s arrest in Britain: Robert B. and Christian E. are both from Solingen.
Back in 2010 Robert B.´s mother had contacted the German Verfassungsschutz (Interior intelligence agency), told them about her son´s behavior. Robert, a shy and very friendly young boy, wanted to join the military when he was 17 and later successfully finished an apprenticeship. Soon after came in contact with Salafi Islam. Robert´s father had died a few years ago, his mother tells, only three days before his 13th birthday. Within Solingen´s Salafi community the White convert found new friends and an environment he was happy in. That was in January 2009.
“He only talked about paradise, about infidels going to hell and that I should wear a burqa”, Robert´s mother says. Her son began wearing long robes, reading the Quran and was regularly visiting mosques and lectures by fellow convert and Salafi preacher Pierre Vogel. Week after week Robert B. who called himself “Abdel Rahman” was not sleeping at home in his bed but instead spent nights in the mosque.
There he had met another White convert, Christian E. aka “Abdul Malik” , who had converted to Islam back in 2003. E., a blonde and blue-eyed 28 year-old man, who loves ice hockey and Rap music, was a well-known figure in the radical Salafi community, somebody keeping a low-profile but was known to German counter-terrorism. As the two befriended, both converts were monitored because of their behavior. My sources say B. and E. were known supporters of Jihad, and also important figures within Germany´s Islamist community regarding travels to the Pakistani terror camps.
B. and E. traveled to the Middle East themselves last year. In Egypt the converts planned to learn Arabic. Due to the political unrest and serious money issues both of them returned to Germany earlier this year.
In one of the mosques in Solingen Robert B. and Christian E. visited the Friday prayers on a regular basis. Very often both of them stayed after the lecture, sitting in the mosque with their laptops, talking to other Muslims and the Imams. The mosque leaders remember the converts as nice and pretty calm people, not talking about politics or Jihad openly.
“One day, police showed up”, a mosque official told me, “they told me Abdul Malik and Abdel Rahman were in contact with dangerous people. I should not let them infiltrate the community. So I decided to ask them to leave the mosque and they did without protesting.”
Christian E. was living at various places in Solingen before moving to a different mosque (“Masjid Ar-Rahman”) where his name even appeared on the mailbox. It seems like the Salafi mosque “Deutsch-Islamistes Zentrum” in the North of Solingen became his home before he travelled to Britain in July.
Still unknown is the reason for the convert´s journey to England. It is very likely one or both of them have been in touch with Islamists in the UK, possibly via Facebook. In recent months the connection between UK and German Islamists has grown stronger, mainly through the cooperation of Salafi Media. Question remains why Robert B. and Christian E. did not even try to hide the propaganda material they were importing to the UK.
The father of Christian E. says his son is not a terrorist. All material found in Christian´s luggage “is freely available on the Internet by everyone”, he says. According to British Anti-Terror Laws the possession of material that can be used to plan and carry out a terrorist attack is a crime that can lead to several years in prison.
Up to August 24th both Germans are held in custody at Belmarsh Prison in London. The next hearing is scheduled in the coming days. During the first hearing back in July, Christian E. and Robert B. did refuse to rise for the judge and instead told the court they would only submit themselves to Allah.
A lawyer from Solingen is now trying to get access to Robert B.. He says he will try to visit the arrested terror suspect, who is held in single detention and is under constant survaillance, together with B.´s mother next week. The lawyer fears a long prison term if Robert B. is sentenced in the UK. Therefore he is planning to get him sent back to Germany so he can be put on trial there.