First Published: 2017-09-26

Germany’s de facto ‘IS leader’ on trial
‘The faceless preacher’ stands trial for recruiting jihadists linked to Berlin Christmas market attack, faces up to 10 years in prison.
Middle East Online

Closely-watched trial expected to run until early 2018

CELLE - Notorious hate preacher Abu Walaa, suspected of being the Islamic State group's de facto leader in Germany, went on trial Tuesday accused of radicalising young men and running a jihadist network linked to the Berlin Christmas market attacker.

Nicknamed "the faceless preacher" for showing his back to the camera in propaganda videos, the 33-year-old Iraqi was arrested last November on suspicion of being the "central figure" in an IS recruitment ring.

Walaa -- named by the authorities as Ahmad Abdulaziz Abdullah Abdullah -- appeared before a court in the northern German city of Celle alongside four co-defendants accused of supporting IS.

The five created a "pan-regional Salafist-jihadist network" in which Walaa "took on the leading role as the representative of the so-called Islamic State in Germany," prosecutors said in their indictment.

"The goal of the network was to send people to IS in Syria or Iraq."

The closely-watched terror trial, expected to run until early 2018, opened under heavy security with armed police on patrol outside the courthouse.

The suspects sat behind a bullet-proof glass screen in court.

If found guilty, they face up to 10 years in prison, according to DPA news agency.

"For a long time little has been known about the backroom men, those who seduce and incite to jihad," Der Spiegel news weekly wrote, describing the proceedings as "one of the most interesting Islamist trials in recent years."

- 'Kill the traitor' -

A shadowy figure who long evaded capture, Walaa has been linked to some of Germany's most high profile jihadist attacks since arriving in the country in 2001.

After setting up his base in Hildesheim, a northern town seen as a hotbed of Islamic radicalism, he made a name for himself delivering extremist sermons at the notorious DIK mosque, which has since been shut down.

Walaa, who has two wives and several children, also gave seminars across the country calling for jihad.

He notably spoke at a Berlin mosque frequented by Anis Amri, who drove a truck through a crowded Christmas market last December, killing 12 people.

German intelligence services took pictures of Amri in Hildesheim some 10 months earlier, prompting speculation he had ties to the network. Amri was shot dead by police in Italy days after his rampage.

Walaa's four accomplices -- a Turkish national, a German, a German-Serbian and a Cameroonian, aged between 27 and 51 -- are likewise accused of indoctrinating young men with jihadist ideology.

German media reported that among their "students" was at least one of the three teenage boys who last year set off a home-made bomb at an Indian wedding, badly wounding a Sikh priest.

Much of the prosecution's case rests on evidence collected by an unidentified informant who infiltrated the network for months.

But the witness is not expected to testify at the trial for security reasons after Walaa urged his followers to kill "the traitor".

Walaa and his co-accused have not been charged with planning any attacks in Germany.

But according to the indictment, they provided logistical and financial support to smuggle at least eight fighters into IS-held territory.

Among them were German twins Mark and Kevin K., who blew themselves up in separate suicide blasts targeting Iraqi security forces. Together, they killed more than 150 soldiers.

Another recruit was Anil O. who joined IS in Syria but fled after becoming disgusted with the terror group's tactics.

He returned to Germany, where he was arrested in September 2016. He turned on Walaa, providing crucial information to investigators.

Walaa's lawyer Peter Krieger dismissed the former fighter's testimony as lies told in order to secure a reduced sentence for himself.

"The key witness is a con man," Krieger said in court, accusing investigators of falling for "a fantastical story about a network".

 

Syria Kurds vow to cleanse enclave from Turkish 'scourges'

US withholds $65 million from UN agency for Palestinians

Saudi Arabia intercepts new Yemen rebel missile attack

Britain to put women at heart of peace work in Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan

Bitcoin appeal beats ban and warnings in Jordan

Seven years since ousting dictator, Tunisians still protest

Iran says Trump jeopardising Airbus deals

China says Iranian oil tanker wreck located

Sudan arrests communist leader after protests

Syrian opposition joins condemnation of US 'border force'

Israeli judge detains teen until trial for viral ‘slap video’

Arab league slams US freeze of Palestinian funding

Dubai billionaire to sell 15 percent Damac stake

Saudi to give Yemen government $2bn bailout

Israeli police find missing Briton’s belongings in desert

Algeria gas plant workers mark five years since jihadist siege

UN says over 5000 children killed or injured in Yemen war

European leaders’ response to Iran protests raises questions

Erdogan to visit Pope Francis next month

Iran slams US-backed 'border security force' in Syria

Palestinian suspension of Israel recognition unlikely for now

Jordan to hike fuel, bread prices

Yemen rebels free journalist detained since August

Palestinian reconciliation brings no change for Gazans

Sudan police use force, tear gas against protesters

Both hardliners and moderates have failed Iranians

Erdogan says Turkish military op in Syria's Afrin to be supported by rebels

UAE to lodge complaint over Qatar flight 'interception'

UN says 22 million Yemenis in need of aid

Minorities in north Iraq look to post-jihadist future

US-purchased cranes arrive at Yemen rebel-held port

Palestinian leaders call for suspension of recognition of Israel

Morocco dirham stable after flexible FX system introduction

10 killed in clashes at Tripoli airport

Sisi vows to protect Egypt's water supply

Palestinians meet to respond to Trump's 'slap of the century'

Hezbollah’s popular support jeopardises Lebanon’s alliances

European judicial opinion could deal fresh blow to Brussels-Rabat ties

Turkey plane plunged off runway due to ‘engine surge’

Iran oil tanker's sinking off China raises environmental fears

Protests held on Tunisia uprising anniversary

Double suicide bombing shakes in Baghdad

Iranian oil tanker sinks engulfed in flames

Will Abdullah Gul challenge Erdogan?

Hamas official wounded in car bomb attack in Lebanon