A German court sentenced an Iraqi as a member of the “Islamic State“, 3500 kilometers away from where the crime happened. Such cases could occur more often in the future.
Four years and three months in prison for membership in the terrorist militias of the “Islamic State”. This is the verdict against Mohammed Y., 29 years old. The Iraqi hears the Arabic translation of the verdict on headphones in the Higher Court of the city of Duesseldorf.
The trial lasted for exactly a year. Whenever the main suspect in the court hearings against three IS fighters is faced with details of his past in Al-Rutba, a small town in western Iraq, a smile flickers across his face. An embarrassed, almost compulsive grin.
“He was part of this massacre, he’s a murderer!” Cries the key witness into the courtroom.
Last year, a federal prosecutor read the charges, accusing Y. being involved in thirteen explosive attacks from 2004 to 2006 with innumerable deaths. A former neighbor described how Y., as an IS militia officer back in summer 2014, observed with a Kalashnikov, a crowd watching a stoning of two alleged adulterers. IS had “no mercy,” cried the key witness in the court room, “he was part of this massacre, he is a murderer!” Y. smiled again.
So now the “criminal case against Y. and others” has ended with the verdict. The result – three convictions against three defendants – sounds clearer than this particular terror procedure actually was. Behind the file number III-6 StS 2/19 there is a trial, the pattern of which German courts will experience more frequently in the future: Because until now, none of the more than one hundred Islamists with a German passport returned from the Middle East have been accused. This time there were three locals from the former IS caliphate, who, along with hundreds of thousands of compatriots, had fled to Germany as Syrian and Iraqi citizens since 2015. The three are former IS fighters who went underground. And who were then reported by a compatriot as former militia officers.
According to German criminal law, perpetrators resident in Germany can be prosecuted for terrorist crimes abroad (§ 129 b StGB). According to the Attorney General, the number of accusations of Islamist terrorist ties against Syrian and Iraqi citizens has tripled (20 in 2015, 62 in 2018). And in 2019, the authority initiated 161 investigative proceedings relating to IS (2018: 132). A security expert estimates that the number of former IS fighters in Germany now adds up to “a medium three-digit number”. If you add the dozens other organizations from Syria and Iraq that the Federal Ministry of Justice lists as terrorist groups, you get almost a thousand experienced militia officers.
Two years ago, on June 6, 2018, three special special police forces woke up the three Iraqis in three different cities across Germany early in the morning. All three – hairdresser Y., 30-year-old tiler Muqatil A. and 28-year-old operator of a computer store Hasan K. – lived in Al-Rutba, a town on the strategically important highway from Syria to Jordan. They were recognized in Germany by a former neighbour.
Perpetrators, victims, witnesses and the crime scenes – everything is located in Iraq. But negotiations are carried out according to the rules of the German rule of law. And the key witness F. often cannot satisfy the interrogators. Even in his first appearance before court at the end of June 2019, the trucker confessed that he “had a problem with dates: I couldn’t say whether it was 2013 or 2014”. Not just in chronological order, all sorts of things get confused. The allegations against Y., who is said to have buried explosives near the highway from 2006 to 2008 and to have blown up convoys of both the Iraqi and the US army, collapse. Y. drove out of the city with shovels and five cronies who obeyed al-Qaida, the witness reports: “Everyone knew that the bombs were laid!” Judge van Lessen, presiding the Senate specializing in counterterrorism proceedings, wants to know whether Y. was also involved. “I cannot say that.” But, F. adds later, it doesn’t matter: “It is the same, whether he participated or not: his hands are full of blood!” On Wednesday, the federal attorney admits that Y.’s murder and homicide accusations in Al Qaeda times – the most dramatic part of the indictment – cannot be proven.
After all, 46 days of court hearings, it succeeds in getting the witness to the specific. The picture emerges of three IS fellow travelers who, after conquering their hometown in June 2014, accepted the new rulers without hesitation. The accused A. moves to the military training camp, swears allegiance to the IS, and puts on guard duty. The accused K. serves the local IS propaganda chief as a camera man during parades and is an observer during executions. Both confess part of the original charge, and the court sentenced them to two and a half years in prison. Taking into account pre-trial detention, they are released on the same day.
The Federal Prosecutor’s Office also regards its action against lower IS henchmen as a contribution to the fight against international terror. They follow UN conventions. And it serves to avert danger, wants to prevent attacks in Germany. Paris, Brussels, Berlin – Judge van Lessen also remembers these places in his reasoning on Wednesday.
The defenders, on the other hand, complain that the German court is ignoring Iraqi reality. For years, the Sunni population in western Iraq had suffered under the rule of mostly Shiite military personnel: “95 percent initially experienced IS as liberation,” says Azzadine Karioh, K.’s lawyer. The German standard for aid to terrorism is strange to the world: „You also have to accuse every baker of baking bread under the IS. ” Marco Neumann, Y.’s defense attorney, sees it similarly: “What would have been the legal alternative for my client to act, so that he would not be convicted one day in Germany?”
Of the three, Y. was highest in the ISIS rank. He revealed his motive in his mid-May confession: he was homosexual and previous friends at IS had warned him that people would no longer look away. “I was afraid that they would kill me,” he says in the closing word. He obeyed, hired himself as an armed overseer on three executions. On Wednesday in Duesseldorf, 3500 kilometers away and six years later, he is also convicted of being an IS fighter.