My mini-foray into the old Salafist scene in Ulm, Germany, based on the Leicester angle of the recent arrest of the Belkaid brothers got me very interested in the old Sauerland Cell. For my readers who are thoroughly familiar with this group, I beg your patience as I relate the details to those who aren’t so familiar.
The Sauerland Cell was a group of young German men who plotted in 2007 to bomb attacks in Germany against the United States and Uzbekistan—vague targets like discoes, Ramstein Air Base, or Frankfurt Airport. The core of the group consisted of four men: two German converts, Fritz Gelowicz and Daniel Schneider, German-Turk dual citizen Adem Yilmaz, and German citizen of Turkish descent Atilla Selek. Gelowicz, considered the leader of the group, and Selek, responsible for logistics/communications for the group, knew each other from their time at the Multikulturhaus in Ulm. Yilmaz met Gelowicz in January 2005 while performing the hajj. Schneider first met Selek at a mosque in Germany in October 2005 and Yilmaz a couple months later through a mutual friend. Schneider would not meet Gelowicz until July 2006 at an Islamic Jihad Union camp in Waziristan where all four trained together.
Contrary to their initial intent to fight on foreign battlefields, the four were groomed by their trainers to conduct attacks against American (and Uzbek) interests back in their home country. Selek came back first in August 2006, followed by Gelowicz and Yilmaz a month later. Schneider was not able to return until February 2007 due to his brief detainment in Iran on the way home. Ultimately Gelowicz, Schneider, and Yilmaz were rounded up on September 4, 2007, as they prepared explosives in a vacation home in Medebach-Oberschledorn. Selek was arrested in Turkey on November 6, 2007, but not extradited to Germany until over a year later on November 20, 2008. The four went on trial in Düsseldorf on April 22, 2009, and were convicted on March 4, 2010. Gelowicz was sentenced to 12 years and counting time served before his conviction finished 9 of them before being released August 15, 2016. Authorities cited his good behavior and felt that he no longer posed a threat. Daniel Schneider also received a 12-year sentence but was released a year earlier than Gelowicz and has already had his name removed from the UN Sanctions List. Selek was sentenced to 5 years and has been out of prison since July 2011. Only Yilmaz, sentenced to 11 years, remains in prison, probably due to his behavior.
Although these four constitute the core of the conspiracy there are more peripheral figures in the case with quite interesting stories of their own. Primary among them is the guy who became known as “the fifth man”: Mevlüt Kar. Kar is a German-Turk born on Christmas Day 1978 in Ludwigshafen, and trying to find any reliable information on him is seriously difficult. According to a 2008 article from Stern, he had been known to German investigators since 1997 as “Obeida, der Türke.” He is accused of all manner of things, but his story is so murky one doesn’t know what to believe. He truly does seem to be the Harry Lime of the German Jihadist scene. Here are the things I have seen said of him:
- He moved to Freiburg in 2001 where he met Yehia Yousif, later of Ulm, in the mosques there. Yousif allegedly encouraged him to join Beyyiat El-Imam, a small group led by Abu Musab al Zarqawi.
- Kar was “visited” by authorities in the aftermath of 9/11.
- Kar procured 40 fake passports for Zarqawi’s organization and was suspected of making preparations for an attack on behalf of the group.
- The German authorities, who had been tracking him under operation “EG Schokolade” with respect to a cell he has put together spanning multiple cities in the country, alerted Turkish authorities that he would be arriving in Istanbul about TA 1606 on August 8, 2002. The Germans wanted to have him tracked, but the Turks immediately arrested him. He remained incarcerated until the following November. Stories later circulated that Kar began working as a contact (V-Mann) for Turkish intelligence (MIT) and was even be jointly used by the CIA.
- Allegedly Mohammed Ramez Sultan was to serve as his replacement as leader of the cell. Sultan, a Lebanese-Australian with an auto dealership in Munich, and his Saudi compatriot Ihab Hussein Dafaa were forthwith rolled up.
- Kar’s fellow conspirators back in Germany (Issam El S. of Pastetten, Muhamet O., Mutlu A., and Mohamed El A.) were arrested on February 17, 2003. All were released the same evening and no further reports have emerged concerning them.
- Kar’s name re-emerged in connection with the Sauerland Cell. Residing in Turkey, he met Gelowicz in Istanbul in the summer of 2004, and after meeting Selek mid-way through 2005 he worked with him to provide the group’s detonators. He supplied 26 in all in two separate deliveries. Twenty were delivered by Ahmed Mani Hamud, part of a group (including the brothers Blerim T. and Bekir T. and the brothers Dzavid B. and Nedzad B.) connected to Kar and centered in Bad Harzburg. The other six were delivered in the sole of shoes brought to Gelowicz by an “unwitting” 15-year-old from Wolfsburg known at the time only as Alaeddine T. One report stated that of 17 of the detonators tested, only 3 would have worked. The remainder had been ruined by moisture.
- Hamud will shortly be caught up in a separate scandal involving the murder of three Georgian car dealers visiting an auto festival in the country. His accomplice was another V-Mann of the Rheinland-Pfalz LKA named Talib O., an Iraqi with connections in the German Islamist scene. The two were convicted and are serving life sentences.
- An arrest warrant is finally issued against Kar on August 13, 2009.
- The most bizarre development in his story came with revelations in Stern from a source claiming his involvement in the murder of police officer Michéle Kiesewetter, a story bringing together radical Islamists, the National Socialist Underground, the various secret services. It was one heck of a conspiracy story—which means it’s good entertainment but not to be taken seriously.
- Finally, the unwitting young Alaeddine (Alaeddine Taieb), who delivered the detonators for the strange man he met in the mosque in Turkey to Gelowicz, became a fully witting jihadist. He died fighting for the Islamic State in 2015 in Iraq. His brother, Bilel, may have fought in the combat zones as well, although he claims to have only gone there to retrieve his brother.
This little story demonstrates a few “truths” about terrorism research. Firstly, the story is rarely over for anybody involved. Personalities come and go, and then they come back. You just have to wait. Secondly, the story is rarely straightforward and is almost invariably interesting. This one was an extreme example. Thirdly, it takes some real digging to tease out the details. In this case, it was a Focus article from 2003 which I found most interesting and compelling—because it came before anyone really knew who Mevlut was. Most everything after that issues from his involvement in the Sauerland case. Finally, it is about connecting the dots. It is my firm belief that people primarily get involved in the global jihad, or any other movement for that matter, because of other people. People are what make ideas real. We don’t know much about Mevlut, but what we do know is that he’s been around for a long time, he knows lots of people, he knows how to obtain things, and he knows how to organize. He makes new dots, and he connects them. So unless he really is just a security service stooge who’s finally been put out to pasture, expect to see him again in the future.