On Saturday German police sealed off the Limbecker Platz shopping center in Essen, one of the largest in the country, on the strength of a highly specific threat (a “konkrete Gefahr” in their words) consisting of a 3-man suicide attack team using backpack bombs at 4:30. The place was cleared out and surrounded by heavily armed men; hundreds of officers were involved in the operation.
The threat was revealed over a Facebook Messenger chat by a 24-year-old (b. February 1993) Gefährder from Oberhausen named Imran René Q., now going by the name “Abdul Jabbar” Imran had departed Germany with his “wife” in April 2015 and joined the Islamic State by way of Turkey. He has been on the authorities’ radar since the summer of that year.
There’s not much in the press about Imran. He is the son of a Pakistani man and a German woman. He has at least one brother. More is known about his wife, an approximately 20-year-old German-Turk named Kübra Candemir. She had already briefly made headlines in December 2013 in a scandalous episode as a missing person. Candemir, a good student, began skipping school although she left her home every morning at the usual time. School administration reported this to her parents, who discovered information about her extremist boyfriend as well as Salafist writings in her possession. They forbid her all contact with the young man. She, in turn, went to the police and accused her family of threatening her. Eventually her parents agreed to have her placed temporarily in a youth hostel away from the area to prevent contact with the boyfriend. Not being a closed facility this failed miserably and the girl quickly disappeared. Then the story fades from the headlines—no indication if she returned to her parents at any point. Not until yesterday do we discover that she did not.
Although Facebook provided the requested data surrounding the communication within an hour, the German authorities were unable to positively identify the alleged assassins—a seemingly glaring lack of capability. They naturally latched on to Imran’s brother, Denis, as someone who may be involved or know something about the plot placed him under observation. Denis is a known figure in the Salafist scene in the area.
In the course of their observations, Denis was seen to meet with a dark-skinned figure, who authorities clearly didn’t positively identify either. Yet, they somehow settled on a Senegalese man in the Salafist scene named Alfred Jean Emmanuelle (Emanuel/Imanuel) F. as that person. He was later picked up at an internet café because authorities believed he may be communicating with people back in Syria. Denis was arrested as well, and both men were interrogated. Police searched the devices and homes of both men without finding anything of interest. Emanuel F. was searching gardening sites at the café and not communicating with Syrian contacts. Both men have already been released, but authorities say investigations are ongoing.
As with Imran, there seems to be very little on the web with respect to his brother, Denis. Emanuel F., on the other hand, represents another case of serious allegations of activities in support of the Islamic State with little follow-up and almost no details. The German press reported a series of arrests on June 23, 2015, in Mühlheim, Oberhausen, and Bonn related to a ring of people involved in insurance fraud with respect to auto accidents. August reports stated that 24 people (ages 23 to 47) in total were under investigation with 17 identified incidents amounting to approximately €58,000. Other sources gave a smaller amount and the FAZ article linked above says it approximated €100,000. Two of the 24 involved were foreign fighter cousins Philip Bergner and Nils Donath. Both were already in the war zone, and Bergner would eventually kill himself as a suicide bomber. Donath has since returned to the Bundesrepublik and is currently serving a 4.5 year sentence for his crimes. The only other person named in regard to the insurance scam is Alfred Jean Emmanuelle F. He is described as a central figure in the investigation and an acquaintance of Bergner and Donath and of the “Lohberger Brigade” from Dinslaken, in general. He is connected to radical teachers in the area and is said to be a budding preacher himself. Yet, given that potential story, the newswires went silent after August, and I couldn’t find any substantially new information after that. I never did discover the names or even initials of the other 21 individuals.
I’m of two minds regarding this story. While one could initially look at this as another failure, another embarrassing case of catch-and-release, it’s understandable given the pressures that have mounted since the attack at Breitscheidplatz. The authorities have no room to allow things to develop for fear of something terrible happening and being blamed for not acting on the information already known. In this environment, every potential crisis has to be run to ground with no subtlety of response. Hence, you get quick arrests followed by quick releases. You get an overstretched law enforcement that simply can’t keep up with all the potential tentacles.
Yet, it is my opinion that a soft response to the Salafist-Jihadist threat in the past has helped create the numerous tentacles with which it now struggles. To enumerate all the examples would be overwhelming, but this particular story itself contains one. By the few accounts we have, the Jugendamt that handled Kübra Candemir’s case never brought in a psychologist or made any attempt to address the jihadist material she had in her possession. It was all chalked up to bureaucratic slipups, after which subsequent measures to address these failings were rejected because she had “come of age.” She and Imran appear to be ignored for over another year until it’s too late, having already made their way Syria.
How many times does one need to raid Fussilet 33 or DIK Hildesheim in order to figure out they need to be closed? Instead these places and numerous others like them have been allowed to operate for years and train up a cadre of people who are fertile ground for jihadist-motivated violence. Sometimes they attack at home. Sometimes they attack in another country. Sometimes they direct people back home to attack. Sometimes they just create exhaustion, fear, and economic loss with hints of plots that never were.