by Florian Flade
He wanted to talk, tell his story and tell the court about his adventure that became a nightmare for him – Rami Makanesi, a 25 years-old German national and Al-Qaida member.
On Thursday last week his trial began in Frankfurt and it will end today also due to the fact that Makanesi agreed to fully tell what he experienced in the world of Jihad, in the terror camps of Waziristan and the prison cells of the Pakistani intelligence agency. This is his story.
Rami Makanesi´s life began as so many in the Frankfurt suburbs. Born in Frankfurt-Bockenheim in 1985 to a Syrian family from Aleppo. His father is car dealer. When Rami was eleven, his parents divorced. A year later he was a regular weed consumer, smoking the drug as others smoke regular cigarettes – several joints a day. Soon, cocain will follow.
As a teenager Rami was sentenced to youth custody, never lasting longer than a few weeks. Due to drugs, parties and alcohol, he was skipping classes and was eventually expelled from Frankfurt´s Georg-Büchner-School. Later he was able to graduate from school.
“I was a party animal”, Rami Makanesi recounts today, “I went to bed stoned and woke up stoned.” Initially he had planned to study Economy and IT at the Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe University, but his lifestyle destroyed his educational plans although he was registered as a student at the university.
Religion was never of interest for the German national of Syrian descent. Party, friends, drugs, girls were at the center of Rami´s life, not Allah. And there was food. When Ramadan began in 2007, Rami Makanesi´s weight stood at 125kg. The holy Muslim month of fasting became a religious experience for Rami he had never had before.
The Muslim missionary movement Tabligh-i Jamaat was holding a work-shop in a Frankfurt mosque. Rami, who lived in his own apartment in the “Kuwald-Siedlung” in Frankfurt-Bockenheim, attended the event and felt like a reborn Muslim – “I came from darkness to light”. He dropped drugs and partying, focussed on the religion. Instead of chasing girls in the Frankfurt bars and clubs, he rode his motorbike to the mosques, attending Friday prayers.
Once weed and cocain were defining his life, now Islam became Rami´s addiction. He felt drawn to the very conservative version of Salafi Islam, praising militant Jihad. On November 1 2007 Rami Makanesi entered a German Jihadi Online-Forum in search for advice. “Brother, let´s say I want to make Jihad, who will bring me across the border?”, Makanesi asked. The forum moderators laughed about the stupid question – “We will definitely not provide you here with a detailed map how to get there.”
But Rami was keen on finding a way how to get to the land of Jihad – the Pakistani tribal areas of Waziristan. He befriended with one of the Jihadi forum´s hosts, a 18 year-old Serbian named Irfan P. The two shared the same views on religion and politics, both were fans of propaganda videos from Afghanistan and Iraq, spreading it on the Internet.
Rami and Irfan became good friends and were in constant contact over the Internet. Finally, the two met in real life and agreed on finding a way to get to Waziristan. In early 2008 Irfan told Rami he could arrange the travels. “I have contact to the brothers there”, he wrote to his friend. Investigators believe the talk of contacts was probably not true – but Irfan knew a person that German officials say has ties to the Jihadi scene.
That person was Abu Ubaydah – a preacher from Bonn. Irfan and Rami visited Abu Ubaydah´s lectures regularly, at least once a month. They were deeply impressed by the young cleric´s knowledge and charisma. One day, Makanesi and his friend had just met visited the preacher, the two were on their way back, driving in a car. What they did not know: German counter-terrorism agents had placed microphones inside the car. “I don´t want to wait any longer”, Irfan P. said to Rami according to documents prepared for the trial, “Maybe Abu Ubaydah will make the decision next week.”
Without any doubt Irfan and Rami were ready to travel to Waziristan and become Jihadi militants. It was Irfan that destroyed the planning when he knocked down a man selling mobile phones and ended up in prison. During the investigation it became clear to the police the young Serb was very much involved in Online Jihadi activities and was spreading terrorist propaganda on a daily basis. Irfan P. was released in summer 2009 after German intelligence offered him to work for them. He was pardoned and sent to Berlin to infiltrate the local Jihadi community.
Rami Makanesi stayed out of prison and instead moved to Hamburg in mid 2008. Earlier that year, while surfing different websites in search of a future wife, Rami came across a young German woman from the coastal town. Jasmin S., born in 1983 is a German convert who´s first husband was from Turkey. She fell in love with the chubby Frankfurt Islamist Rami. The couple´s wedding took place in Hamburg´s notorious Taiba Mosque (formerly known as “Al-Quds Mosque”), the same location where the 9/11 Hijackers had worshipped.
In Juli 2008 Rami moved to Hamburg-Horn, now living with his German wife. Very soon he became a regular visitor to the Taiba Mosque and befriended with other worshippers. Among them were men like Ahmad Wali S., a German of Afghan origin, Shahab D., a Iranian national who grew up in Hamburg and Michael W., a German convert. Rami found friends that – just like he did – felt inspired by the propaganda coming from Waziristan. The men were drawn to Jihad, eager to leave Germany to fight in the name of Allah.
“I did not belong here anymore”, Rami told the judge last week. He wanted to leave the country sooner than later. About a dozen of his new friends, including their wives, shared the same wish. The only question was: Who could bring them to Waziristan? How should they – immigrants, former criminals, converts, reverts – get there?
The answer was a 57 year-old Kabul-born men named Assadullah M.. Hamburg investigators had known M. for years. In 2002 he was accused of forming a terrorist group and calling for Jihad. Allegedly he had told friends he swore to Allah to die as a martyr. To Rami Makanesi and his friends, Assadullah M. was the solution to their problem – he was the one who knew how to get to Waziristan.
Assadullah´s wife and children had moved to Pakistan in 2004 and were now living in Peshawar. At least four times a year he would visit them, traveling back and forth. Now he – whom they called “our lion” – was tasked to arrange the travels of Rami and his friends.
In September 2008 German intelligence monitored a meeting of Islamists – including Rami Makanesi – in Bonn. The agents knew something was planned at that meeting but they could not find out what Rami and the others talked about. In the coming months the Hamburg group met several times in different apartments. One time, when they visited one of their brothers, a camera inside the elevator captured the scene. Investigators later saw who attended these meetings.
Assadullah M. left Germany in early February 2009 and flew to Peshawar. His task was to find places to stay in Pakistan for his Hamburg friends. A month later, Rami Makanesi started the journey that would change his life and make him a wanted terrorist. “I wanted to live Islam, with all its elements”, Makanesi explains his motives.
He travelled from Hamburg to Vienna (Austria) and took a flight to Iran, then driving all the way to Zahedan. There he waited for a someone to take him to the Pakistani tribal areas just across the border. Somewhere in April 2009 he arrived in Waziristan – as the first from the Hamburg group. Assadullah M. had given him a name and address of a local resident who would take care of him.
Rami found the house in the town Mir Ali, close to the town´s center, right next to a mosque. The Frankfurt Islamist knocked on the door and a man named Sher Maulana Khan opened. Khan had expected the German brother and offered him a room for rent – 5 EUROs per month.
Soon after he made contact with the “Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan” (IMU), Rami Makanesi entered the world of Jihad. Together with three of his Hamburg friends (two had been arrested upon their arrival in Peshawar and sent back to Germany) he attended the IMU training camps. Makanesi explained in court, there were two camps in the region called “Badr” along the main road leading from the town of Makin to Bana. Each had about 25 Jihadi recruits in training. The military training itself took weeks and involved shooting with various weapons including RPGs and mortars.
Life in the mountains of Waziristan was not the easy adventure Makanesi expected it to be. During a phone call to his father in Frankfurt, Makanesi said life in Waziristan was much harder and more difficult than he had imagined. He told him about the long hikes in the mountains, how he carried heavy grenade launchers and missiles. “I had some weight issues and backache”, Makanesi said in court. The Jihadi day to day life was frustrating for the Frankfurt city boy who had enjoyed party, drinking and getting stoned for years.
Out in the field, all the Pashtun Taliban gave him for food was potatoes, oil and bread, Makanesi remembers. In Mir Ali, he had seen all the groceries one could have wished for – cheese, sweets and even Nutella. But at the frontlines, were the IMU militants were fighting the Pakistani forces, there was no luxury but instead a shortage in food.
On August 8 2009 Makanesi called his wife Jasmin in Hamburg, who was a mother now. “I drove 4 hours to get to a place where they have phones”, Makanesi told her, “but I learn many things from the brothers here.” Thirteen of his fellow Jihadi brothers had already become “martyrs”, some in US drone strikes.
Back in Hamburg, Rami´s wife apparently feared her husband would marry a second wife in Waziristan. She considered joining him. According to the police investigation, Jasmin S. sold several of her belongings on Ebay, including the couple´s computer. One of the buyers was a undercover police agent, eager to get hold of the harddrive, which was – as was later discovered – packed with propaganda material including videos of beheadings.
When Jasmin S. was preparing to make the journey to Waziristan, police showed up out of the sudden and asked her why she was packing luggage. She said she wants to be with her husband. “That is not a good idea”, police then said. S. then stayed in Germany, a descision that maybe even saved her life.
At the very latest in early 2010, the still overweight Makanesi was fed up with Jihad in the Waziristan mountains. He felt he was not fit and strong enough for Jihad, Makanesi later told interrogators. Back in Mir Ali, he contacted a local Al-Qaida figure, asking if a meeting could be arranged. A short time later several Toyota SUVs arrived.
This was the moment Rami Makanesi, a young and naive loser from Frankfurt´s ghetto, came in touch with Al-Qaida. The man who arrived and greeted him was a skinny North African who introduced himself as “Al-Qaida´s No.3” – Sheikh Muhammad Yunis al-Mauretani.
Al-Mauretani whom Makanesi describes as “Al-Qaida´s foreign minister”, was searching for recruits. His plan was to create a cell, a group of Western Jihadis tasked with a very special mission: terrorist attacks in Europe. Makanesi volunteered, asked to be sent to the training lessons.
The Sheikh explained to the German reruit what he had in mind for the Europe plot. He wants attacks against targets that would harm the Western economy, al-Mauretani said. Al-Qaida in Yemen´s parcel-bomb plot last year was part of that plan, Makanesi claims. According to him, al-Mauretani was very excited about the terror plot – “What we have in mind, not even the devil can imagine this.”
Rami Makanesi, Ahmad Wali S. and another Hamburg Jihadi became students of Sheikh al-Mauretani. All three were trained on encrypting software whom the al-Qaida man said was about to be used as a form of communication between the cells in Europe and al-Qaida´s leadership in Waziristan. Al-Mauretani claimed, the formation of the terror cells and the strategy were sanctioned by none other than Osama Bin Laden himself. The Al-Qaida leader had already given his “ok” and provided the necessary amount of money, al-Mauretani told the Jihadis from Germany.
During the trial in Frankfurt, Makanesi said he thinks Al-Mauretani himself was not in direct contact with Bin Laden. Another al-Qaida figure described as the “Commander in Afghanistan”, the Libyan Attiyatullah al-Libi, was the only one who communicated with Osama Bin Laden directly, according to Makanesi – “I had the feeling, they were using us to try how far they could go with plotting in Europe.”
Perhaps because of his wife and child back in Hamburg, or because of his parents, brothers and friends in Frankfurt, or because he was disappointed by the harsh reality of Waziristan, Rami Makanesi wanted to turn his back on the Jihadi adventure. As the feeling of leaving Waziristan grew stronger, he contacted Sheikh al-Mauretani again. “I wrote him a letter saying I was not able to perform Jihad”, Makanesi tells. But instead of just saying “Goodbye”, he made an offer to the Al-Qaida commander.
Back in Germany, Makanesi offered al-Mauretani, he could collect money for al-Qaida, more than 20.000 EUROs in six months. Al-Mauretani seemed to like the idea and agreed.
On his way to Pakistan the facilitator and local contacts had taken all of Makanesi´s documents. Now he was in Waziristan and had no proper plan of getting back to Germany. He knew tough that he was probably wanted for terrorism. What to do now?
June 15 2010, German Embassy in Islamabad: The phone rang. It was Rami Makanesi. He explained to the German officials who he is, what he plans to do and why he needs their help. The story seemed plausible. Makanesi said he knows he is wanted for terrorism charges and he wants to turn himself in, but does not habe travel or identification documents and therefore needs some diplomatic help to travel to the embassy.
The German embassy agreed to meet Makanesi in Islamabad and sent him a document via e-mail telling all Pakistani security or intelligence officials not to arrest but to take him to the embassy. A local member of Germany´s BKA (similar to the FBI) thought giving a Jihadi terrorist the opportunity to come to Islamabad was not a very smart idea. The agent contacted his superiors in Germany and told them: there is a dangerous terrorist on his way to the embassy. What if he intends to commit a suicide bombing?
Germany´s interior ministry decided to inform the Pakistani ISI about Makanesi. So while the embassy was waiting for the Jihadi who does not want to fight Jihad anymore, the BKA wanted Makanesi in handcuffs.
On June 26 2010 Pakistani soldiers stopped a car at a checkpoint in Bannu, close to the tribal areas. Inside there was what looked like a family: two men, two women dressed in Burqas and a young girl. One of the women was unusually tall and big. The soldiers told them to step out of the car. Now it was obvious: one woman was in fact a man – Rami Makanesi.
The chubby German Jihadi showed the e-mail from the German embassy to the Pakistani troops. They only took it away from him, pulled a bag over his head and took him to a prison cell he had to share with two other men. The interrogation by the ISI was “hardcore” according to Makanesi. The Pakistanis did not provide him with enough food or water – “I was close to loosing my conscious a few times because I was so weak.”
After two months at the hands of the ISI interrogators, Rami Makanesi was sent back to Germany and is now facing a four year prison term. He was not made for Jihad, Makanesi repeated in the court room, saying he was not strong enough and could not handle the difficult life in Waziristan. One of his best friends from the days in Hamburg, Shahab D. is dead now, killed by a US drone strike last October on the house of Sher Maulana Khan where Makanesi had lived, too. Another friend, Ahmad Wali S., was captured by US troops in Afghanistan in July 2010.