German Intelligence Chief Gerhard Schindler has issued a warning saying that Europe is at great risk of terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists.
In a wide-ranging interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, Schindler said the German foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), is particularly concerned about the threat posed by homegrown terrorists, individuals who are either born or raised in Europe and who travel to war zones like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia or Yemen to obtain training in terrorist methods.
Schindler said: "A particular threat stems from Al Qaeda structures in Yemen. They want to bring Jihad to Europe. Among other tactics, this involves the 'lone wolf' model, which involves individuals who are citizens of the targeted country and who go abroad for training. We know that this is strategy is currently high on Al Qaeda's agenda, and we are accordingly attentive."
Schindler's comments came just days after Spanish authorities arrested three suspected al Qaeda terrorists who were allegedly plotting an airborne attack on a shopping mall near Gibraltar, the British overseas territory on the southernmost tip of Spain.
Schindler's warning also comes amid the backdrop of a high-security court trial of four suspected Al Qaeda members which began in the German city of Düsseldorf on July 25. German public prosecutors say the defendants -- three home grown Islamists born in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia and one Moroccan national -- were planning to stage a "sensational terror attack" in Germany.
Also known as the "Düsseldorfer Cell," the defendants are also accused of plotting to assassinate the former commander of German Special Forces (KSK Kommando Spezialkräfte) as well as to attack the US Army base in the Bavarian town of Grafenwöhr.
German authorities began monitoring the group in early 2010, when the American Central Intelligence Agency alerted German police to the fact that the Moroccan, Abdeladim el-Kebir, 31, had entered Germany after having been trained at an Al Qaeda camp in Waziristan along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in 2010.
German public prosecutors say El-Kebir, also known as Abi al-Barra, was the ringleader of the Düsseldorfer Cell and, following orders from an unidentified senior Al-Qaeda operative, in November 2010 began working on a plot to blow up public buildings, train stations and airports in Germany. After several months of surveillance by German police, El-Kebir was arrested in April 2011.
Before his arrest, El-Kebir also recruited three accomplices he knew from his student days in the German city of Bochum: a 32-year-old German-Moroccan named Jamil Seddiki, a 21-year-old German-Iranian named Amid Chaabi, and a 28-year-old German named citizen Halil Simsek. The three were arrested in Germany in December 2011.
Prosecutors say that Seddiki was in charge of producing explosives while Chaabi and Simsek were responsible for communications with the al Qaeda leadership.
During testimony in court, it emerged that all four defendants led inconspicuous lives. Simsek, for example, who was born in the German city of Gelsenkirchen, earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Bochum. He had wanted to become a German police officer but his application was rejected for medical reasons. Chaabi, who was born in Bochum, was studying Information Technology at the University of Hagen when he was arrested. Seddiki, a high school graduate, was working as an electrician.
Prosecutors have compiled 260 ring-binders containing evidence gathered by investigators; the prosecutor's arraignment runs to 500 pages. The main accusation against the men is that they set up a terrorist cell and prepared to commit murder.
Federal Prosecutor Michael Bruns told the court that the defendants "planned to carry out a spectacular and startling attack" in Germany and that the defendants "wanted to spread fear and horror."
The trial is expected to run for 30 days; a verdict is expected in November. If the four accused men are found guilty, they face up to ten years in prison.
(In November 2011, a federal court in Brooklyn, New York indicted el-Kebir on charges of conspiring to provide Al-Qaeda with explosives and training. If extradited and convicted, el-Kebir faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.)
Underscoring German officialdom's anxiety over home grown Islamic terrorism, the German state of Lower Saxony recently published a practical guide to extremist Islam to help citizens identify tell-tale signs of Muslims who are becoming radicalized.
Security officials said the objective of the document is to mitigate the threat of home-grown terrorist attacks by educating Germans about radical Islam and encouraging them to refer suspected Islamic extremists to the authorities -- a move that reflects mounting concern in Germany over the growing assertiveness of Salafist Muslims, who openly state that they want to establish Islamic Sharia law in the country and across Europe.
The 54-page document, "Radicalization Processes in the Context of Islamic Extremism and Terrorism," which provides countless details about the Islamist scene in Germany, paints a worrisome picture of the threat of radical Islam there.
According to the report, German security agencies estimate that approximately 1,140 individuals living in Germany pose a high risk of becoming Islamic terrorists. The document also states that up to 100,000 native Germans have converted to Islam in recent years, and that "intelligence analysis has found that converts are especially susceptible to radicalization…Security officials believe that converts comprise between five to ten percent of the Salafists."
Soeren Kern is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.