A German rapper-turned-jihadist has called on his followers to carry out terrorist attacks in Germany.
In a high-quality video released by the Islamic State in April, Denis Cuspert also warns that terrorist sleeper cells have infiltrated Germany and are ready for activation.
German authorities say they are taking the threats seriously: Cuspert — who has been likened to Nazi Minister for Propaganda Joseph Goebbels — has become the Islamic State's chief propagandist in the German language and is unusually capable of inspiring disillusioned young Germans to become jihadists.
Cuspert's transformation from rapper to jihadist is documented in a 25-page analysis produced by the German intelligence service, which has described him as "quite simply the most interesting propagandist of the Salafist movement in the German-speaking realm."
Cuspert, 39, was born in Berlin to a German mother and a Ghanaian father. The father abandoned the family while Cuspert was still a baby and his mother remarried an African-American military officer, with whom Cuspert had a deeply troubled relationship.
Perhaps in search of an identity, Cuspert in 1995 embarked on a rapping career in which he sought to imitate American hip-hop artists. Also known by his stage name, Deso Dogg, he eventually ended up in prison for a variety of offenses, including drug-related crimes. Over the ensuing years, he released four albums, but after narrowly surviving a car accident in October 2008, he began to take an interest in Salafist Islam.
In 2010, Cuspert gave up his rap career and formally embraced Islam. He dropped his stage name in favor of the Islamic name Abou Maleeq and began singing Islamic battle hymns known as nasheeds, in which he displayed an obsession with martyrdom.
Cuspert's "pop jihad" nasheeds drew attention after Arid Uka, a Muslim Kosovo Albanian from Frankfurt, murdered two U.S. airmen and wounded two others at Frankfurt Airport in March 2011. In court, Uka testified that just before carrying out the attack, he was listening to a nasheed calling for attacks against non-Muslims on his iPod. He said he had also been influenced by a video on Cuspert's Facebook page.
Meanwhile, Cuspert became involved with Mohamed Mahmoud, an Austrian-born Islamist who founded Millatu Ibrahim, a Salafist organization, in the Germany city of Solingen in 2011. The group called on German Muslims to reject German law and follow Islamic Sharia law instead.
The German government banned Millatu Ibrahim in May 2012, and Mahmoud, also known as Abu Usama Al-Gharib, fled to Egypt to reestablish the group there. "I am going to return to Germany in only one condition, as a conqueror to introduce Sharia in Germany," Mahmoud said at the time.
In a three-minute video, a German Salafist linked to Mahmoud calling himself Abu Azzam vowed revenge and called for the assassination of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He warned:
"Our troops are already there [in Germany], you will bleed, your heads will roll ... Oh Allah, give the German people what they deserve!
"Looking back at the Arab spring, we are looking forward to a European summer. We want to see Obama and Merkel dead."
Mahmoud eventually persuaded more than a dozen German Salafists to join him in Egypt at a time when the Muslim Brotherhood was ascendant there. Among them was Cuspert, who slipped out of Germany in June 2012 even though he was being surveilled by German intelligence.
After arriving in Egypt, Cuspert obtained firearms training at militant camp in Mersa Matruh, situated about 200 km east of the Libyan border. He then travelled to Libya to train with Islamic extremists before becoming a jihadist in Syria in early 2013.
In August 2013, Cuspert appeared in a four-minute video in which he expressed his desire to die as a suicide bomber, presumably in Germany. He can be heard rapping the lyrics:
"I wish for my death and cannot wait for it, armed with bombs and grenades;
Inside the barracks of the crusaders, pressing the button, al-Jannah [paradise], al-Jannah;
I detonate the bomb in the crowd, pressing the button, al-Jannah, al-Jannah;
Right in the center of town or in the subway, pressing the button, al-Jannah, al-Jannah;
With a smile directly to my Creator, pressing the button, al-Jannah, al-Jannah;
Remember your obligations and fear Allah, pressing the button, al-Jannah, al-Jannah."
Cuspert, who now uses the alias Abu Talha Al-Almani (Abu Talha the German), is believed to have formally joined the Islamic State sometime in April 2014. He was also rumored to have been killed in Syria that same month, but in November 2014, he appeared in an Islamic State video. He was holding a severed head and explaining in German that the victims had fought against the Islamic State and "that is why they received the death penalty."
In the latest video, dated April 2015, Cuspert can be heard rapping the following lyrics in German:
"To the enemies of Allah. Where are your troops? We can no longer wait. O Allah, destroy them! Grant us victory over them. Take from us. Make us honorable. Take from our blood. Fisabilillah [One who fights for the cause of Allah].
"Now listen, you dogs of hell. The words have been written. The ink has dried. The judgment has been made. Your end approaches.
"Mutilated soldiers are coming back to your homeland close to desperation. Eyes are being lost. Bodies without legs. We want your blood. It tastes so wonderful.
"In France, it has been proven by deeds. In Germany, sleeper cells lie in wait. The brothers are operating. Terrorizing the Kafir [nonbeliever].
"We have smelled blood. The revenge for the messenger. For our sisters. For our noble brothers. And all the martyrs.
"A truck filled with explosives. Loving farewell. Don't be sad my mother. Your son is rushing to Allah.
"Allah has called you. There is no way out. Fill your car with gas. My brother, hurry up! Your neighbor is a Kafir. Slandering the messenger. Take a big knife and give him what he rightly deserves!
"Even while you're in Europe, do your jihad. Allah is going to reward you. Finish the dirty one. Paradise is waiting. Do it with sincerity.
"We have only one life. And it is Allah who gave it to us. Time is running out. So brother, struggle hard. Deeds make the difference. The earth is shaking. Khilafah [Caliphate], what a blessing. A favor from Allah.
"They all die for one cause. You either die or gain victory. There is no god but Allah."
German authorities are now looking for ways to hinder Cuspert's potential return to Europe. On February 8, Die Welt newspaper revealed that German public prosecutors were investigating 83 German jihadists, including Cuspert, for war crimes, for atrocities committed in the name of the Islamic State. If convicted, Cuspert, upon returning to Germany, could face life in prison.
On February 9, the U.S. State Department said that it had designated Cuspert a "global terrorist," and on March 11, Switzerland's State Secretariat for Economic Affairs added Cuspert to a list of individuals off-limits to the country's banks, due to alleged ties to terrorist activities.
Such measures, however, are not likely to deter Cuspert from producing more propaganda videos. They arguably pose more of a threat to Germany than his physical presence there.
The German intelligence service sums it up this way:
"As a rapper and as a jihadist, Cuspert represents authenticity. This 'battlefield credibility' contributes to his popularity within the international jihadi-Salafi scene. ... Cuspert's ostentatious but authentic appearance in his propaganda videos, together with the attractiveness of a currently victorious Islamic State, has considerable mobilizing power for radicalized individuals in Germany who want to travel to Syria. His demagogic propaganda lures young people with the ostensible promise of paradise but leads them to ruin.
"Jihadi-Salafist propaganda of the kind produced by Cuspert is freely accessible on the Internet and carries the risk that people will become radicalized and respond not only to the call to travel to fight abroad, but also to support terrorist groups such as the Islamic State here in Germany. As a consequence, the Salafist scene is poised to become increasingly violent while also growing in numbers."
Soeren Kern is a 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 and on Twitter.