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The Story of a German Salafist: "My Andi Is No Terrorist"

A young man grows up in a solid German middle-class family. But he never really finds his place in society. Then he says his good-byes and leaves for the "Holy War". It's the story of an unparalleled radicalisation – and the desperate love of a mother.

By J. Gunst, A. Mönnich, U. Rauss and O. Schröm

Mrs Maier used to think that she knew how cruel sons can be to their mothers: her younger one, Andreas, had demonstrated it often enough. He had never really taken advantage of the opportunities his upbringing - which Mrs Maier, not without immodesty, calls "first-class" - has given him. "Her Andi" grew up among literature, regular visits to the theatre and Bach and Mendelssohn. His mother was a singer and pianist, his father a military intelligence officer; receptions for generals and attachés were regularly being held in the parental home. But while the older brother embarked on a successful career as manager in a large company, the family now bemoans the course of life chosen by the younger one, 40-year-old Andreas Maier: he left university without a degree; converted to Islam; became a radicalised Salafist; lived on jobseeker's allowance. Finally he was put on the German government's list of so-called "instigators" - and went into hiding with his wife and his child. All this has made Mrs Maier, who is now in her 70s, very ill. In fact, she suffers from a whole bundle of illnesses. Like in many other similar cases, it's a combination of physical, mental and psychosomatic ailments. Mrs Maier is not her real name; even though her family name is documented in the wanted lists, this article omits it as a favour to her - her, the mother.

On 7 May 2012, Mrs Maier discovered precisely how cruel sons can be to their mothers. Andreas called her on her mobile while she was at home in the family's bungalow in the Voreifel area in North Rhine-Westphalia. She hadn't heard his voice in more than six months at this point. She shouted at him, but he stayed calm. He didn't call her Mami, like he normally does, but told her to call a number with the country code 00252. Somalia. The mother called back immediately.

Mrs Maier is worried

She heard Islamic phrases; a stream of Allahs and Hamdullilahs framed her son’s apologies for causing her so much pain. Then, towards the end of the phone call, Andreas Khaled Maier - he had added an Islamic element to his name - fulfilled the duty of every man that wants to become a martyr. "You know where I am," he said. "You will not see me again. I had to call." Mrs Maier knows what these words mean. This is how jihadists say farewell to their mothers before they embark on a deadly mission.

Five days later, on 12 May, a photo of Andres Khaled Maier flickered across Kenyan TV screens. Kenyan police released a search warrant for him. They allege that Mr Maier, a German terror suspect, is closely connected to the radical Islamist militia group al-Shabaab, who are located in neighbouring Somalia, and is possibly involved in plans for terrorist attacks. Maier uses several aliases, it is claimed, and is probably armed.

Excerpts from a phone call from Mrs Maier, 20 June 2011 Mrs Maier, a reader of stern magazine for 30 years, calls from her holiday home in the south of France. She's crying; she's had a sleepless night. In its previous issue, stern published a story about some of the 130 "instigators": potential Islamist terrorists considered by the police to be capable of the worst. The headline: "What Are These Men Planning?" In the article, Mrs Maier has found the wanted photo of her son. "Why did you publish this story?" she asks, inquisitively rather than reproachfully. Mrs Maier is worried that her son might become a terrorist.

A well known member of the church community

Over the next two hours, she speaks about "her Andi." It's the story of a German man who has been given ample opportunities through his upbringing but never made use of them. It's the story of an alternative path taken. Perhaps it's also the story of a stifling motherly love. It certainly is the story of martyrdom destroying a family, in which the mother talks about everything and the father stays silent.

Her youngest had always been closest to Mrs Maier. She, the singer of oratorios, and Andi, the trombonist, were well known members of the church community. His father - cosmopolitan, officer, US-educated, trained pilot, popular with women - dedicated more of his time to his career than to cosy family evenings. When Andreas Maier became a conscientious objector in 1992, their relationship soured. There wasn't much left to say between them.

At the age of 20, Andreas went to live with a host family in the USA, where he found God and became a member of the Baptist church. It didn't last long. Back in Germany, he half-heartedly began his university studies in Aachen. It was here that he met his first love: a woman a few years older than him, an anaesthetist. The two went out a lot, drank and smoked joints. Andreas was happy. It all ended when she cheated on him.

He stopped studying and moved to Cologne. He stopped drinking, too, and took up Wing Chun - martial arts - classes, where he met several Muslims, mainly ones with a Turkish background. Soon Andreas Maier visited mosques and Koran schools. He told his mother he wanted to show her Islamist videos, but she refused. She found out that he had secretly got himself circumcised. Towards the end of the 90s, he converted, sending her videos of Muslim ceremonies. When he came to visit his parents, he threw himself to the ground to pray, wearing his white robe. Once he even tried to talk his parents into coming along to hear German Salafist preacher Pierre Vogel.

Wedding without his parents

In the summer of 2000, he suddenly announced his plans to get married to a girl named Keriya, a young, "pure" and devout Muslim woman from a good family. A Pakistani male nurse from Cologne had arranged it. She lived in Eritrea's capital Asmara, and it was there that Andreas and Keriya got married in a Muslim ceremony in early July. Andreas's parents were not among the 500 wedding guests.

Phone call II, 27 June 2011 Mrs Maier has just spoken with an officer from the North Rhine-Westphalia's State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA) about the stern article. He did concede that "Andi" was on the list of "instigators", she says, but "not for much longer. Maybe another month or two." She reads from a letter from her son that has reached her at her French holiday home: "Dear parents, regarding the stern article: for me, it is yet more proof of the perfidious witch hunt the media are guilty of. Unfortunately, this is how they achieve their aim of spreading fear, hatred and horror against the wonderful path of Islam."

In April 2009, Andreas Maier travelled with his wife, his two-year-old daughter and a group of Islamists via Tehran to Pakistan. Investigators now assume that he was planning to travel to a terror camp. He had told his parents that he was going to Africa to visit his mother-in-law, who allegedly suffered from a heart condition. But Mrs Maier later found out that his mother-in-law lives, in fact, in Maryland. Before he said goodbye, Andreas Maier presented his daughter, draped in all-pink clothes, and his wife, fully veiled.

"Become a Muslim, then I'll be allowed to touch you"

Phone call III, 14 September 2011 Audibly upset, Mrs Maier calls from France: "Andi has disappeared! He went into hiding with three other Islamists ten days ago. The stern article was one of the reasons. Again, he went via Amsterdam, like in 2009 when he went to Pakistan. The nightmare starts anew! Why did he leave in secret again, instead of going honourably?" Andreas has written her a letter, she says. He says they're in Kenya, staying with cousins of his wife. The political climate in Germany, he says, is unbearable for Salafists. "In Germany, Muslims are spat at on the street."

Before his departure, Andreas Khaled Maier, his wife and his daughter had visited his parents in their holiday home. The parents have been enjoying the mild springs and warm summers there for years. However, earlier visits of their son had already dampened the spirits. Before he would enter the house, all pictures had to be taken off the walls. The mother was not allowed to listen to Mozart, the brother's girlfriend could not wear her skimpy shirt while lying by the pool. When the father opened a bottle of rosé for lunch, Andreas angrily stormed out of the house. But to avoid the final break between him and the family, everybody followed his orders.

But this time, it was even worse for Mrs Maier. Andreas, his wife Keriya and their now five-year-old daughter Nusaibah slept on the floor; all three of them ate only rice, which they had brought along with them. "One bowl of rice a day is enough for us," Keriya told Mrs Maier. They ate with their hands while sitting on the floor. To get hold of some pictures of her granddaughter, Mrs Mayer sat on watch with the long-focus lens of her camera. When Andreas caught her, he began to block his daughter off. "Grandma, you're an infidel," the child once said to her. "Become a Muslim, then I'll be allowed to touch you."

The house is littered with boxes for medication

A meeting, 26 October 2011 stern meets Mrs Maier in her Voreifel home. She says that shortly after he had left, her son still contacted her every few days. He switched mobile phones and went to different internet cafés to send her emails. Every once in a while he sent her a text; she then called him on Skype, and was full of joy to see her granddaughter Nusaibah on the computer screen. But now she hasn't heard from Africa in four weeks. In their last emails, they fought. He called her a "Kafira", an infidel. The mother said to the son: "You will be the end of me." The son said to the mother: "But you can't base your whole life around mine!"

Mrs Maier is an elegant, black-haired woman in her early 70s. Her anguish, her illness and the drugs she has to take because of both are clearly visible. The house is littered with boxes for medication, tranquilisers and anti-depressants. "It's the worries about Andi," she says. In an email, he remarked on her health: "Your illnesses are a message from God. He wants to tell you: 'You live in a bad way.' Acknowledge him."

Phone call IV, 31 October 2011 Andi, Mrs Maier says, fears nothing as much as hell, which is why he's trying to collect paradise points on earth. One time, she says, he told her: "Mami, you can beg as much as you want to: I'm not giving you any of my points, I need them all for paradise." Because he still hasn't contacted her, she has now sent him three emails to earlier addresses. "You won't get into paradise." - "Your mother is ill." - "It's your fault."

All evidence leads to Somalia

Mrs Maier knows that her son was in Sweden on 11 December 2010, when a man blew himself up in the centre of Stockholm and two others got injured. If all explosive devices he had on him had detonated simultaneously, the explosion would have caused a disaster in the town's pre-Christmas bustle. Sometimes Mrs Maier asks herself whether her son had anything to do with the attack.

Phone call V, 7 December 2011 Mrs Maier tells stern that now her daughter-in-law's family are worried, too. One of her sisters showed them photographs of five-year-old Nusaibah fully veiled. "That breaks my heart."

For a while, Andreas Khaled Maier lived in a characterless high-rise in Bonn. - One of the men who have influenced him is Salafist preacher Pierre Vogel. - Maier is thought to have been in Sweden at the time of the suicide bombing in Stockholm in 2010.

Mrs Maier is afraid that she'll never see her granddaughter again. Her son sent her a long email last November, she says, in which he justifies his departure from Germany with his fear of being arrested.

Phone call VI, 6 January 2012 Mrs Maier has received information from the German embassy in Nairobi. Andi has apparently never used his regular passport to enter Kenya. All evidence leads to Somalia. Because that country is in a state of anarchy, there is no way her son will be extradited to Germany.

US immigration refuses the Maier-Family entry

Mrs Maier is worried that something could happen to her son and his family in a country so torn by civil war - and that she would never even know about it. She now wants to travel to Somalia, but then allows herself to be talked out of it. Yes, she is also scared that her son might "get into trouble" in Somalia. She doesn't rule out the possibility that he recruited jihadists when he was in Bonn, either. But she also stresses, and this is very important to her, that her son is intelligent and no fighter or murderer. She makes herself believe that "al-Qaeda or al-Shabaab only use Andi for the logistics of their organisations." Mrs Maier has studied the phenomenon of radical Salafism extensively. Obsessively, she contacts policemen, trauma experts, journalists, vicars, imams, other mothers of converts and people that were part of and then left the scene.

Phone call VII, 18 April 2012 After another visit by stern to the Maiers' Voreifel home in January, it has taken Mrs Maier until now to contact us again. Her husband had been planning to travel through the USA for a month with their older son, but US immigration refused them entry. Her husband is furious, she says. He can’t believe that this would happen to him, a respected former intelligence officer of the German army. The German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) has insinuated that her Andi's activities could be the reason for the refusal, she says. Meanwhile, her other son is worried about being able to keep his job.

While Andreas Khaled Maier was still in hiding in Somalia, his former companion Ahmed Krekshi, 27, was arrested at Cologne-Bonn Airport on his way to Tunis in mid-April. The security authorities consider him a suspected member of a terrorist group.

How cruel sons can be to their mothers

An email, 30 April 2012 Mrs Maier writes to the stern: "I'm sitting here with tears running down my face and can't speak to anyone." She has returned from her holiday in Egypt with a viral disease, although all she wanted to do was to get some rest. "I want it to stop somehow. One time, at the sea, I screamed until my voice got hoarse, just to get it all out." Now she is receiving medical treatment. "My body is giving up, and I'm sure that's because of Andi. I hate Islam; I hate the Salafists, who are responsible for all that happened to my son and my grandchild. Please excuse me, I'm at the end of my tether and I feel so empty."

Phone call VIII, 10 May 2012 In tears, Mrs Maier tells us of the phone conversation with Andreas that took place three days earlier. On Monday, 7 May, he has contacted her for the first time in almost six months. "I couldn't believe it; I thought I was going mad. I was screaming." But Andi wasn't alone, she says, somebody else was standing beside him. Mrs Maier says she could feel that. Then the shock: "He said I would never see him again." Mrs Maier understood the message: "I know what that means. He's obliged by his faith to say good-bye to his mother before going into battle."

This is the last time that Mrs Maier has spoken to her son. It was the short phone call that made clear to her how cruel sons can be to their mothers. Was it a ritual, a formality before a horrible crime? Is Andreas Khaled Maier planning to commit a suicide bombing? One day after the phone call, he sent his mother one last email: He's very happy where he is, he wrote. His faith compels him to go to war.

"He has witnessed the crimes against Islam"

A second email, 30 April 2012 Mrs Maier writes to the stern: "I've already been informed last Saturday; there are lots of images. This is the end of me; I've been confined to bed since then and am receiving emergency treatment. Where is the little girl, that's all I want to know." Mrs Maier fears for her six-year-old granddaughter Nusaibah.

It is Monday, Kenyan police have released the photo of Andreas Khaled Maier. The German man is accused of planning attacks on behalf of the Somali terror organisation al-Shabaab.

Then the reports come in thick and fast. You hear about a German Islamist being arrested in Kenya; but suddenly it's said to be a drug dealer instead. Now he's reported to be Swiss, then Swedish. In Germany, a false report claiming Andreas Khaled Maier is wanted after an al-Shabaab attack on Christians in a church near Nairobi on 29 April is circulating. Maier has various aliases in Africa: sometimes he calls himself "Abu Nusaibah" ("father of Nusaibah"), sometimes just "Ahmed". When asked about the German convert, the spokesperson of al-Shabaab says: "Ahmed is God's mudjahid, and like many others, he has witnessed the crimes against Islam."

The name of the spokesman is Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage. When a Kenyan journalist interviews him on behalf of stern, he also confirms that Maier came to Somalia to be trained by al-Shabaab. "He's here to protect our religion."

Investigators believe Maier to be dangerous

Phone call IX, 16 May 2012 "No reporting, please!" demands Mrs Maier, although the German media have long begun to report the story of her son and the search for him. "We know that my son is a Salafist, but he is no terrorist. I have told the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation: if he does something terrible, he will not be our son any longer. Our son is a backward, mad, Neanderthal-like Muslim. But he is not a terrorist, that is completely obvious."

Investigators in Germany and Kenya believe that Andreas Khaled Maier is dangerous. A Kenyan police spokesperson said: "We know that Mr Maier is in close contact with the al-Shabaab organisation. There are reasons to believe that he is involved in the planning of terrorist attacks." According to information of German security authorities, about 100 foreign terrorist recruits live in al-Shabaab's Somali camps. There are Americans, Britons and Swedes, as well as four Germans - among them Andreas Khaled Maier, born in 1972.

Phone call X, 18 May 2012 "I'm closer to death than I am to living. I can't go on any further," Mrs Maier tells stern. "Write about it, I can't change it anyway. But also say what I think: Andi's probably sitting under a tree somewhere, reading the Koran and taking delight in his wife and his child. We know the way our son is thinking - he has been brainwashed. I pray to God that they catch him and bring him and my grandchild back to me. But we will probably never see him again, and that brings me great sorrow."

A counsellor from the psychological and social services of Germany's Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Auswärtiges Amt) responsible for supporting family members of Islamists, has told Mrs Maier: "To your son, you are an eternal threat."

Johannes Gunst, Andreas Mönnich, Uli Rauss and Oliver Schröm / print

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