IS returnees in Germany – these are the most important facts

This IS supporter was brought back to Germany from a prison camp in Syria together with her daughter.

This IS supporter was brought back to Germany from a prison camp in Syria together with her daughter.Image: dpa / Boris Roessler

To analyse

Martin Niewendick

At the end of October, the German Jennifer W. was sentenced to ten years in prison for her membership in the terrorist organization Islamic State (IS). It was the first trial in German history against a woman returning from IS. It is likely that further cases will follow: In the past, numerous people have set out from Germany to join Islamist groups.

In one on Monday broadcast TV documentary journalist Thilo Mischke portrayed a German IS terrorist for ProSieben, who is in a prison in Syria – and who shows no remorse.

How big is the problem? What danger emanates from the people who face the IS have committed, have fought for him in part – and who are now returning to Germany? The most important questions and answers at a glance.

How many Germans left?

To information of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution from last year, 1,070 people have traveled from Germany to Iraq or Syria for Islamist reasons since 2012. More than a quarter of them are women. The IS propagandists campaigned for them as well, so that, as wives of fighters and mothers, they could contribute to the victory of ISIS.

How many returnees are there?

Around a third of those who left have now returned to Germany. In the past year these were mainly women and children. Tens of thousands of ISIS members are in custody in camps in Iraq or Syria, for example in the Al Hol camp in Syria operated by Kurdish forces.

Around 1250 Europeans were still trapped in the large camps for ISIS members in northeast Syria last year. According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, there are 250 German citizens, including over 100 adults and 150 children.

The Syrian prison camp Roj, where, among other things, German women and their children were imprisoned for several years.

The Syrian prison camp Roj, where, among other things, German women and their children were imprisoned for several years.Bild: dpa / Save The Children

How great is the risk that IS returnees will commit terrorist attacks in Germany?

The Office for the Protection of the Constitution speaks of a “considerable security risk” for Germany that could come from returnees who have completed training in terrorism or who have participated in combat operations.

“The skills you have acquired in the combat zones, as well as possible brutalization through excessive violence, can serve as a motivational basis for planning and carrying out attacks,” writes the authority. However, you have to evaluate each case individually.

Holger Münch, President of the Federal Criminal Police Office, writes in one contribution For the Federal Agency for Civic Education, a particular security risk was posed by people who were further ideologically indoctrinated during their stay in the conflict regions, were trained militarily in the use of weapons and explosives or who had combat experience “. And who are also suspected of having been sent back to Europe with the order to commit attacks.

“The Islamist potential of people in Germany will thus be foreseeably larger, more complex and international”

Among them are not only German citizens, but also “jihad travelers” from other countries. “The potential for Islamist people in Germany is therefore likely to be larger, more complex and international,” writes Holger Münch.

What actions are returnees accused of?

Many of those who returned are women who were not involved in active combat operations. Two examples:

Jennifer W., who returned to Germany from Iraq, was convicted by the Munich Higher Regional Court for membership in a terrorist organization abroad, for aiding and abetting attempted murder, as well as for attempted war crimes and for crimes against humanity. She and her husband imprisoned a Yezidi and her daughter as a slave. They let the child die of thirst.

According to the Yazidi organization Yazda, the trial was the world’s first indictment of crimes committed by IS supporters against the Yazidis religious minority.

Jennifer W. in court in Munich.

Jennifer W. in court in Munich.Image: dpa / Sven Hoppe

IS-Sarah O., who comes from Konstanz, was sentenced this year to six and a half years in prison for acts in Syria: for membership in a terrorist organization, human trafficking, deprivation of liberty and aiding and abetting manslaughter. At the age of 15 she left for Syria, where she married a Salafist from Cologne and gave birth to three children.

She made propaganda for ISIS on social media and supported foreigners who had recently entered the terrorist area. She and her husband kept five Yazidi women and two girls as slaves, at least two of them were raped and one girl died.

What can Islamists be punished for in Germany at all?

In particular, dealing with returning women is often difficult for the judiciary. Without taking part in fighting, criminal acts are often difficult to prove.

Mathias Rohe, Islamic scholar and law professor at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, said in the Deutschlandfunk to:

“Criminal law in the rule of law is characterized by the fact that normally only crimes that have been committed are punishable, including preparatory acts if they are particularly dangerous.” An increase in penalties, extremist motives, is conceivable. “

How many convictions have there been so far?

According to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the number of returnees who have so far been legally convicted in Germany is “in the middle double-digit range”.

In Paris, the trial began in September in the case of the 2015 terrorist attacks committed by IS.

In Paris, the trial began in September in the case of the 2015 terrorist attacks committed by IS.Image: dpa / Alain Jocard

What role do Islamist structures play in Germany?

The Office for the Protection of the Constitution is registering an increasing number of Islamist threats. The investigators speak of an “Islamist person potential”. This is made up of the members and supporters of the objects they have observed in the field of “Islamism and Islamist terrorism”. In 2020, this potential increased by around 2.5 percent compared to the previous year, which corresponds to a number of 28,715 people.

Numerous Islamist organizations have been banned in Germany in recent years. The reasons for this are for example “violation of the idea of ​​international understanding” or “the purpose of the association is directed against the constitutional order”. These include “Ansaar International e. V “or” Millatu Ibrahim “, to which the former Berlin rapper Denis Cuspert belonged, who later joined IS in Syria.

How does the cooperation between German authorities and security authorities in the departure countries work?

The cooperation with colleagues from other countries takes place at different levels. This can happen between two countries, for example.

At the European level, groups such as the Police Working Group on Terrorism work together. This is where the state security authorities of the various states exchange ideas. There are also organizations such as the police authority of the European Union Europol or its international predecessor Interpol.

The Joint Terrorism Defense Center GTAZ was founded in Germany in 2004. This is where information from 40 federal and state authorities come together. In addition, knowledge is exchanged, risk assessments are drawn up and measures are coordinated.

Liaison officers from the Federal Criminal Police Office are represented at over 50 locations worldwide. They are intended to promote closer police exchange with the local authorities and provide information on the development of crime on the ground.

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