Stern Investigative - Terrorism

Ahmad Wali S.: "Mom, we are conquering Afghanistan"

He worked in Hamburg, where he had a wife, a mistress and family. Then Ahmad S. disappeared. On the phone, he had told his mom that he wanted to die a martyr. Now, he is being held by the CIA and his testimony has caused fear all over Europe.

By J. Gunst, O. Schröm, U. Rauss and D. Liedtke

A call from Pakistan: “You know, Mom, the Americans even rape old men,” – “Unbelievable,” – “You know, Mom, our brothers here are so brave that the American soldiers wear diapers out of fear. They wet their pants when they see us. Today, some of them even got killed. We are going to kill their asses.” – “God is good.”

The agents listening in on the call jot down the date and time. Monday, December 28, 2009, 11:46 am. They know which son is talking to his mother in Hamburg. It is not the first call by Ahmad S., 36, they have taped and it will not be the last.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010: “Life in Germany is not good. You live with gays, lesbians, Jews, infidels. I have chosen the right path. I want everything to be right on the Day of Judgment. I want to enter Paradise with the whole family. One day, Mom, you will say, ” Well done, son.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2010: The holy warriors’ fight does not seem to proceed in such a grandiose manner. Sulaiman S. has recently returned to Hamburg from Pakistan. Ahmad, his elder brother, assured his mom over the phone: “My little brother had so much fun here and all. I told him, don’t go.” His mother: “But it is true that he is sick. He screams every night.” – “Here, he was calm.”“I wish you were here to see everything for yourself. Mom, wait until we have conquered Afghanistan. Then you could see how many were coming to join the Islamic state ruled by Sharia law.”

"I dreamt that you had come home"

Sunday, February 7, 2010. “I still do my computer work and have my own office now. I got a raise and I can marry even three more women here. I am very happy. Here, Islam rules.” His mother: “I dreamt that you had come home.” She starts to cry.

By now, the German citizen Ahmad Wali S. has been incarcerated at the U.S.-run Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. His confessions during the interrogations trigger terror alerts in the United States and alarm security agencies in numerous European countries.

According to Ahmad S., terror teams had infiltrated several big cities in Germany, Great Britain and France and were preparing simultaneous commando operations to cause significant numbers of casualties. Osama bin Laden had personally authorized the missions.

List of possible aims

In light of those disclosures, the United States advises their citizens to be on alert when travelling to Europe. Fox News quotes a US intelligence operative as saying, “The clarity of the details of these plans are a cause for concern”. A list of potential targets reportedly mentions Hamburg’s central train station and its television tower, the Adlon Hotel in Berlin and the Eiffel Tower in Paris. In order to eliminate the masterminds behind the planned attacks, the CIA increases the number of drone operations in North Waziristan from August 4th to September 20th. One such operation, earlier this week, kills eight German extremists. Experts from the German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) and Germany’s Internal Intelligence Service and Germany’s Foreign Intelligence Service (BND) want to interrogate Ahmad S. immediately in Bagram. The holy warrior has been in German authorities’ sights since 2001 and they have already compiled a comprehensive file about him.

Born in 1974 in Kabul, Ahmad Wali S. came to Hamburg as a teenager in the early 90s, together with his elder brother. He grew up as a refugee child in India but comes from a middle-class, educated extended family of engineers, jurists, doctors and diplomats, who one after the other settled in Germany. In Afghanistan, his father Mohammad Naim S. had flown large capacity aircrafts and trained pilots for decades. However, after he arrived in Hamburg, he could not find work.

Ahmad turned out to be an intelligent junior high school student. Like many his age, he was interested in technology, computers and cars. However, he could not graduate from high school. He told friends, he had to drop out after only a few months despite good grades.

His dream of going to university remained unfulfilled

It remains unclear if or why authorities barred him from attending school. His dream of going to university and pursuing a professional career remained unfulfilled. Instead, he eked out a living by working odd jobs like delivering pizza. And it gnawed at him.

Soon after, he landed a job with a subsidiary of the Hamburg airport company (Flughafen Hamburg GmbH). The son of a pilot cleaned aircrafts. He rose from a simple worker to a member of the works council and later to team leader and departmental manager in charge of personnel. At age 27, the Afghan man obtained a German passport.

Now, he could bring Shinta P. to Hamburg. He had met the Muslim woman during a trip to Indonesia. They got married. It was only in Germany, that she started wearing a headscarf.

Associated with the 9/11 attackers

The marriage remained childless. Soon, Ahmad controlled the telephone calls she made and forbade her to go to work to avoid any contact with men. Shinta spent her days mostly at home in her apartment in Hamburg. Even years later, they would talk to each other only in English.

Ahmad Wali S. came to the attention of the German security agencies as part of the investigations surrounding the 9/11 attackers. He had visited an accomplice of the hijackers in pre-trial detention, Mounir al-Motassadeq. Together with Shinta and Motassadeq he had travelled to see Motassadeq’s father in Morocco. In Marrakesh they had met with the family of Mohammed Al-Fasasi, who had preached to the terrorists in Mohammed Atta’s entourage in the Al-Kuds mosque in Hamburg. At Germany’s Internal Intelligence Service, Ahmad S. was considered a “person with contacts to the radical Islamic scene in Hamburg.”

Friends of the family considered him a religious, but not a fanatical person. He prayed five times a day towards Mecca and would not shake a woman’s hand, yet furnished his apartment in the Northeastern part of Hamburg in a western style and did not grow a beard. It appears that Ahmad seriously tried to gain a foothold in Germany.

When, two years later, a beautiful woman from Eastern Europe, who was a colleague of his at the airport company, met him she saw a “likable, truly open-minded and very helpful person.”

His nickname: "our big lawyer"

She liked the tall guy with the winning personality and the thick, black hair. “He looked like a Bollywood actor.” They went on vacations together to Turkey and Heidelberg in Southern Germany. He moved in with her. His wife Shinta tolerated the relationship and at times stayed with her parents in Indonesia.

He used his severance pay of around 20.000 Euro to start his own business. Together with his new companion, he opened a bakery shop in a shopping mall in the city of Norderstedt north of Hamburg.

Business was rather slow, particularly since Ahmad had to devote a significant amount of time to care for his family: his younger siblings, aged parents, and a brother who suffered from schizophrenia and often had to be taken to see a doctor. His family called Ahmad by his nickname, which was dear to him: “our big lawyer”.

Turning to a stricter belief

Soon, the relationship with his new companion ended. Starting in January 2008, Ahmad S. made another attempt at starting his own business. He borrowed 10,000 Euro from one of his cousins and opened a travel agency in the St. Georg neighborhood in Hamburg. Less than nine months later, he called it quits and started working as a delivery driver for a pharmacy.

“Around that time, Ahmad apparently embraced a stricter form of Islam and surrounded himself with radicals,” says his former companion. A relative who has known him since birth also suspects that after having failed in his professional career, Ahmad experienced a feeling of low self-esteem even among his family and fell in with the wrong crowd in Hamburg.

His family suspected that the crowd included the men with whom Ahmad prayed at the Taiba mosque near the Central Train Station. Formerly the Al-Kuds Mosque, it used to be a gathering place for the 9/11 hijackers and had once again become a pilgrimage site for jihadists. Ahmad S. had now grown a full albeit short beard. At his repeated, urgent requests, his wife returned to him. Together, they began to try to convert their friends and developed plans to emigrate to get away from the ‘kuffar’, the infidels. When, in November 2008, three masterminds of the terror attacks in Bali, which killed 202, were put to death, they both said “They did the right thing and simply fulfilled a Muslim’s duty. Now, they are in paradise and their bodies are fragrant.”

Departure at night

Since Islamists known to the authorities regularly visited Ahmad S. at his home in Saseler Street on weekends, investigators maintained surveillance on the building. The visitors wanted to read the Koran and talk religion, a relative would later say. “His wife had to cook for ten men and was not allowed to leave the kitchen.”

On March 2, 2009, Ahmad S. booked one-way tickets from Frankfurt to Peschawar, Pakistan for himself, his brother, his wife and several of his friends. His younger brother Sulaiman wanted to get married in Peschawar, Ahmad S. claimed. He paid the just over 4,155 Euro in cash. The travel agency helped secure the visas.

Two days later, Ahmad S. together with some of his traveling companions set out for Frankfurt Airport. Video cameras installed in front of his house recorded the night-time departure with heavy luggage. Late the following morning, his mother, who lived with her husband and Sulaiman in the adjacent building, noticed, that pieces of clothing and a suitcase were missing – Ahmad’s younger brother was gone. She called Sulaiman’s cell phone. “I am going with Ahmad to Afghanistan,” he said. Then the cell phone went dead.

The desperate parents turned to a relative in Hannover, Germany, who immediately informed the police. The two brothers “may be on their way to a terror camp or worse, on their way to be part of a suicide mission”.

However, Federal Police agents were waiting in front of the wrong aircraft at Hamburg Airport. The security authorities failed to prevent the two brothers and their friends from leaving Frankfurt even though the “Hamburg squad” was known to the local State Office of Criminal Investigation as “violence-prone Islamists”. On March 5th at 3 am, the group landed in Peshawar.

"The Merits of Jihad"

German investigators assume that Ahmad S. joined the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) somewhere in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The terror group has launched attacks against NATO troops in Afghanistan and has seen an increase in the number of recruits from Germany. The Federal Office of Criminal Investigation considers hardcore members of the group to number a little more than 130 German Islamists, 70 of whom had completed weapons training and 40 having seen combat in Afghanistan.

A threatening video in German titled “The Merits of Jihad” briefly showed the brothers Ahmad and Sulaiman S. standing next to the IMU spokesperson “Abu Askar from Germany”. A native of Iran, he appeared carrying a huge knife and a Kalashnikov. He had arrived together with the brothers S. and according to his own testimony wanted to die a martyr just like they did.

The holy warrior’s real name is Schahab D. He had come to Germany at the age of 11 and now he was posing with IMU’s leader Tahir Joldaschew on propaganda photos on the web. They were standing next to decapitated corpses and cut off heads. The Federal Prosecutor’s Office assumes that Ahmad S. holds a position within the IMU similar to Schahab D.’s. “and fights alongside them”.

Arrest on December 18, 2009

In November of 2009, the father, Mohammad Naim S. travelled from Hamburg to Afghanistan to visit his sons. He wanted to convince them to renounce a life they described on the phone as Paradise but which, in truth, was full of deprivations, suffering and isolation.

The younger son, Sulaiman S. did in fact return to Germany a month later. He was arrested upon his arrival at Frankfurt Airport on December 18, 2009.

He told investigators and his siblings about staying at an Islamic school in Pakistan and a camp on the border with Afghanistan. He said that he had been through a lot and was mentally ill. Agents believed that Sulaiman S. had been at a terror training camp of the IMU. After a little less than a month in custody, the young man was released and now again lives with his parents.

Just like his comrade Schahab D., Ahmad S. called home several times. His calls originated from Mir Ali in North Waziristan, a jihadist stronghold where the terrorists of the “Sauerland Group” had already completed their paramilitary training.

He wanted to catch infidels

Towards his family, Ahmad S. praised his new home as some sort of earthly preliminary stage on his path to entering Paradise. Everyone there was a mujahedin, thus a warrior. There were no women on the streets and therefore no temptation. He was doing great and even received a salary.

Later, he would offer more details. He wanted to catch infidels “in order to beat them up”. He needed money, but financial transactions were “very dangerous”. In late March of 2010, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office “strongly suspected” Ahmad S. of being a member of a terror organization.

In late June, Ahmad called his sister, says a cousin. He said he wanted to return to Germany and asked her to schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist in Hamburg for him. Shortly afterward, he was arrested in front of a relative’s house in Kabul – on the same day he planned to visit the German Embassy to apply for a passport for his departure. Around the same time, his like-minded companion Rami M., a 25 year old German-Syrian with a full beard, was arrested in Pakistan, where he had contacted the German Embassy. He, too, needed a passport to go back to Germany. The Federal Office for Criminal Investigation stepped in and tipped off Pakistani security forces. They arrested Rami M. just when he was on his way to the German Permanent Mission in Islamabad. In late August, he was turned over to the German authorities. He is currently detained in Weiterstadt, Germany, awaiting trial.

"We fear for Ahmad"

The terror suspect Ahmad S. is still being detained in Afghanistan and has been held in the infamous US military prison in Bagram near Kabul since July.

The US military allowed a German diplomat access to the prisoner this past Sunday for the first time. According to his family, Ahmad S., a German citizen, is to be transferred from Afghanistan to the United States.

“We fear for Ahmad,” says his cousin. The Americans have tried to paint a warm-hearted person as some sort of Rambo.” He refuses to believe indications of plans authorized by Osama bin Laden to attack sites in Europe. “He most certainly confessed that under torture.” According to his family, they warned the police that Ahmad was about to join Jihad. “We blame the German authorities for failing to stop him.”

Contributed reporting: Jennifer Albers / print

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