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2016-03 

German foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq 

Reynolds, Sean C. 

Monterey, California: Naval Postgraduate School 


http://hdl.handle.net/10945/48583 


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THESIS 


GERMAN FOREIGN FIGHTERS IN SYRIA AND IRAQ 

by 

Sean C. Reynolds 
March 2016 

Thesis Advisor: Anne Marie Baylouny 

Co-Advisor: Mohammed Hafez 


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GERMAN FOREIGN FIGHTERS IN SYRIA AND IRAQ _ 

6. AUTHOR(S) Sean C. Reynolds 


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Naval Postgraduate School 
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This thesis examines why approximately 700 German foreign fighters traveled to Syria and Iraq 
between early 2012 and late 2015. It presents the author’s original research on 99 German foreign fighter 
profiles, examining their preexisting network connections in Germany as well as their biographical 
availability and integration into German society. The study finds that German foreign fighters are primarily 
mobilized through traditional social network connections and that the mobilizing network in Germany 
consists of a nationwide, interconnected, and politically active “Salafist scene.” The project also finds that 
while Western governments often worry about the looming threat of online radicalization, verifiable 
examples of purely Internet-based radicalization remain rare. 


14. SUBJECT TERMS 

foreign fighters, jihadist mobilization, radicalization, ISIS, Syrian civil war, anchoring, bloc 
mobilization, terrorist recruiting, online radicalization 


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Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited 


GERMAN FOREIGN FIGHTERS IN SYRIA AND IRAQ 


Sean C. Reynolds 
Major, United States Air Force 
B.A., Excelsior College, 2002 


Submitted in partial fulfillment of the 
requirements for the degree of 


MASTER OF ARTS IN SECURITY STUDIES 
(MIDDLE EAST, SOUTH ASIA, SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA) 

from the 

NAVAL POSTGRADUATE SCHOOL 
March 2016 


Approved by: Anne Marie Baylouny 

Thesis Advisor 


Mohammed Hafez 
Co-Advisor 


Mohammed Hafez 

Chair, Department of National Security Affairs 



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IV 



ABSTRACT 


This thesis examines why approximately 700 German foreign fighters traveled to 
Syria and Iraq between early 2012 and late 2015. It presents the author’s original research 
on 99 German foreign fighter profiles, examining their preexisting network connections 
in Germany as well as their biographical availability and integration into German society. 
The study finds that German foreign fighters are primarily mobili z ed through traditional 
social network connections and that the mobilizing network in Germany consists of a 
nationwide, interconnected, and politically active “Salafist scene.” The project also finds 
that while Western governments often worry about the looming threat of online 
radicalization, verifiable examples of purely Internet-based radicalization remain rare. 


V 



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VI 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 


I. INTRODUCTION.I 

A. FOREIGN FIGHTERS IN SYRIA AND IRAQ: A GLOBAL 

PROBLEM.I 

B. SIGNIFICANCE.2 

C. LITERATURE REVIEW: FOREIGN FIGHTERS AND 

ISLAMIST RADICALIZATION.3 

1. Foreign Fighter Recruiting.4 

2. Online Mobilization.6 

3. Understanding Radicalization as a Complex Phenomenon.7 

4. Jihadist Radicalization in Europe: An Integration 

Deficit?.8 

5. Choosing between Fighting Abroad and Terrorism at 

Home.9 

6. A Social Movement Theory Lexicon.10 

a. Anchoring . 11 

b. Personal Networks . 12 

c. Bloc Recruitment. . 12 

D. POTENTIAL EXPLANATIONS AND HYPOTHESES.13 

1. HI: German Foreign Fighters Are Mobilized Primarily 

Through Traditional Social Networks.13 

2. H2: Social Media Has Replaced Traditional Social 

Networks in Mobilizing German Foreign Fighters.14 

3. H3: Integrated Muslims in Germany Are Less Likely to 

Become Foreign Fighters.14 

4. H4: Unanchored Members of German Society Are More 

Likely to Become Foreign Fighters.14 

E. RESEARCH DESIGN AND THESIS OVERVIEW.15 

II. GERMAN DATA ON FOREIGN FIGHTERS.19 

A. INTRODUCTION.19 

B. GERMAN GOVERNMENT ASSESSMENT.19 

C. BASIC DATA.21 

1. Gender.22 

2. Urban vs. Rural.22 

3. Age.22 

4. Discussion.23 

D. NETWORKS.25 

I. Salafism in Germany.25 

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2. Radicalization within the Salafist Scene.27 

3. Online Radicalization vs. Traditional Social Networks.29 

4. Bloc Mohilization.30 

E. INTEGRATION IN GERMAN SOCIETY.30 

1. Ethnicity and Migrations Background.31 

2. Citizenship.32 

3. Conversion Status.33 

4. Criminal Backgrounds.33 

5. Education.35 

6. Previous Conflict Experience.35 

F. ANCHORING.35 

1. Family Status.36 

2. Employment and Career.36 

G. CONCLUSION.37 

III. GERMAN FOREIGN FIGHTERS: A MICRO-LEVEL ANALYSIS.39 

A. INTRODUCTION.39 

B. METHODOLOGY.40 

C. DEMOGRAPHIC DATA OF THE 99 FOREIGN FIGHTERS.44 

1. Gender.44 

2. Age.44 

3. Gender.45 

4. Current Status.45 

5. Date of Departure.46 

a. Millatu Ibrahim: the First Wave of German Foreign 

Fighters in Syria . 47 

b. Clashes with Right Wing Extremists and German 

Police . 50 

6. Geographic Distribution.52 

D. NETWORKS.54 

1. The German Foreign Fighter Network Map.55 

2. Personal Connections Between the 99 Profiled Foreign 

Fighters.57 

3. Connections with Recruiters, Supporters, and Salafist 

Scene Leaders.58 

4. Group Membership and Participation.59 

5. Traditional vs. Online Mobilization.61 

6. Bloc and Family Mobilization.65 

E. INTEGRATION IN GERMAN SOCIETY.65 

I. Migrations Background and Ethnicity.66 


viii 






































2. Conversion Status.67 

3. Education.68 

4. Criminal Background.68 

F. ANCHORING.69 

1. Family Status.69 

2. Career.69 

G. CONCLUSION.70 

IV. CONCLUSION.73 

A. INTRODUCTION.73 

B. HYPOTHESIS EVALUATION.73 

1. HI: German Foreign Fighters Are Mobilized Primarily 

Through Traditional Social Networks.73 

2. H2: Social Media Has Replaced Traditional Social 

Networks in Mobilizing German Foreign Fighters.74 

3. H3: Integrated Muslims in Germany Are Less Likely to 

Become Foreign Fighters.75 

4. H4: Unanchored Members Of German Society Are More 

Likely to Become Foreign Fighters.76 

C. IMPLICATIONS AND FOLLOW-ON RESEARCH.77 

LIST OF REFERENCES.79 

INITIAL DISTRIBUTION LIST.87 


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X 



LIST OF FIGURES 


Figure 1. Age at Departure.23 

Figure 2. Migrations Background of Fighters from Berlin.31 

Figure 3. Pre-Radicalization Criminal Records.34 

Figure 4. Post-Radicalization Criminal Records.34 

Figure 5. Age at Time of Travel.45 

Figure 6. German Foreign Fighter Disposition.46 

Figure 7. Time of Departure.47 

Figure 8. Population Adjusted State Density of German Foreign Fighters.54 

Figure 9. The German Foreign Fighter Network.56 

Figure 10. Personal Connections Between Foreign Fighters Before Travel.58 

Figure 11. Foreign Fighter Links to Recruiters, Supporters, and Salafist Scene 

Leaders.59 

Figure 12. Foreign Fighters, Known Preachers and Recruiters.60 

Figure 13. Possible Online Radicalization Among 20 Non-Connected Foreign 

Fighters.61 

Figure 14. Migrations Background by Region (n=61).67 


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LIST OF TABLES 


Table 1. Foreign Fighter State of Origin.53 

Table 2. Foreign Fighter City of Origin.53 





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XIV 



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 


First and foremost, I owe my thanks to God for blessing me so richly and for 
giving me the strength to complete this task. 

To my advisors, Dr. Anne Marie Baylouny and Dr. Mohammed Hafez, thank you 
both for your guidance and patience throughout this process. Dr. Baylouny, thank you for 
introducing me to social movement theory, for holding me to high standards, and for 
encouraging me to “get moving.” Dr. Hafez, thank you for helping to find my way 
through a challenging topic and for keeping me pointed in the right direction throughout. 

To my mother. Dr. Diana Cordileone, thank you for pushing me to write a little 
bit each day. Thank you also for your edits and your thoughtful comments over multiple 
drafts. Finally, thanks for listening to me complain when things got difficult. 

Finally, to my beautiful wife, Jennifer, and our three extraordinary children, 
Grace, Sophia, and Jack: thank you for your patience with me these last few months. 
Thank you for bringing me dinners at the library and for limiting distractions while daddy 
was deployed to “the chair.” Without your love and patience, this project would have 
been impossible. 


XV 



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XVI 



I. 


INTRODUCTION 


A. FOREIGN FIGHTERS IN SYRIA AND IRAQ: A GLOBAL PROBLEM 

In a period of just over four years, approximately 25,000 men and women from 
around the world have traveled to Syria and Iraq to participate in a violent civil war in the 
heart of the Middle East. While there are many belligerent groups in the region, the vast 
majority of incoming fighters have joined groups fighting under jihadist Salafist banners. 
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and affiliated groups claim the majority of such 
volunteers. While earlier jihadist causes primarily mobili z ed fighters from the Middle 
East and Central Asia, this current conflict has attracted Western fighters on an 
unprecedented scale. The best international estimates hold that over 4,500 fighters have 
left their comparatively safe and comfortable lives in the West to fight—and often die— 
in a bloody internecine struggle far from their homes. ^ 

Several recent academic studies have provided macro-level explanations of 
foreign fighter mobilization as well as jihadist radicalization. These studies examine the 
recruitment strategies and messaging of jihadist organizations and identify the key 
components of the “radicalization puzzle.Eess emphasis is placed on empirically 
testing these theories through meso- and micro-level analyses. This study intends to 
provide such an analysis by examining a specific set of jihadist foreign fighters from just 
one Western country: Germany. The project will analyze background, radicalization, and 
network connection data on German residents who have traveled to the Middle East 
conflict area since 2011—examining how and why these fighters mobilized for a violent 
jihadist cause far from home. Analysis of this micro-level data will reveal whether 
empirical evidence supports the currently accepted theories on jihadist radicalization and 
foreign fighter mobilization. 

^ U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, Final Report of the Task Force on 
Combating Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel. OiVashington, DC: 2015), 6, 12. 

^ See for example David Malet, Foreign Fighters: Transnational Identity in Civil Conflicts (New 
York: Oxford University Press, 2013); Thomas Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters: Islam 
and the Globalization of Jihad,” International Security 35, no. 3 (2010); Mohammed M. Hafez and 
Creighton Mullins, “The Radicalization Puzzle: A Theoretical Synthesis of Empirical Approaches to 
Homegrown Extremism,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism (November 2015). 

1 



B. SIGNIFICANCE 


The most pressing reason to study the current wave of foreign fighters is for the 
role they have played in the creation and rise of ISIS. From its modest beginning as an al- 
Qaeda franchise in 2003 to its current prominence as an ultraviolent, semi-functioning 
“Islamic” caliphate, ISIS has survived due to its ability to import continuous 
reinforcements of devoted fighters. Although militarily weak and an international pariah, 
ISIS has nevertheless managed to cling to a strategic no man’s land in eastern Syria and 
western Iraq, where the security interests of at least a dozen nations and non-state actors 
collide. Despite U.S., Russian, European, and other regional states’ military efforts to 
dislodge them, ISIS now occupies territory roughly the size of Great Britain, earns 
approximately $2 million in daily revenue through black market oil sales, and claims 
responsibility for terrorist attacks across the globe.3 

Whether they intended to or not, most foreign fighters who have remained in the 
conflict zone have eventually ended up fighting for ISIS. As the Syrian civil war 
progressed and its savagery metastasized, ISIS gradually absorbed the majority of foreign 
recruits, attracting large numbers of defectors from other hardline Salafist groups. A 
European Union official recently estimated that 85% of foreign fighters arriving in Syria 
eventually find their way to ISIS.^ 

The second reason to closely examine the foreign fighter phenomenon is related 
to concerns about what could happen if and when these fighters eventually return home. 
Western governments worry that trained, battle-hardened jihadist fighters will find it 
difficult to reintegrate with their societies for practical as well as psychological reasons. 
Moreover, former foreign fighters will likely possess the training—and potentially the 
disposition—to do great harm. One scholar claims that one out of every nine returning 
foreign fighters is likely to conduct a “blowback” attack in their home country after 


3 “The Foreign Fighters Phenomenon and Related Security Trends in the Middle East,” Canadian 
Security Intelligence Service, January 2016, 18. www.csis-scrs.gc.ca. 

^ Richard Barrett, “Foreign Fighters in Syria,” The Soufan Group, June 2014, 10. http://soufangroup. 
com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/TSG-Foreign-Fighters-in-Syria.pdf. 


2 



fighting abroad.^ In addition to concerns about their own citizens coming back from 
warzones, integrated Western nations must also worry about terrorist threats from citizens 
of allied nations. A returning foreign fighter with a European passport can freely enter 
any country in Europe’s 26-nation Schengen open border zone—not to mention the 
United States—without undergoing additional border scrutiny or having to apply for a 
visa.6 

Understanding foreign fighter mobili z ation is valuable because foreign fighters 
are often more destabilizing, more violent, and less amenable to de-escalation than local 
forces.^ By providing an element of international legitimacy to their cause, foreign 
fighters also fulfill an important propaganda role for the groups they support. ISIS 
fighters show particular enthusiasm in this regard—often simulcasting their gruesome 
exploits to audiences back home through multiple social media feeds. 

Given these concerns, it is in the national interest of Western states to try to limit 
both the frequency of radicalization as well as the flow of Western fighters to the Syrian 
conflict. A better understanding of the specific factors involved in foreign fighter 
mobilization will help governments craft policies to sever an important source of support 
to ISIS and could potentially reduce the impact of blowback attacks in Western countries 
in the years to come.^ 

C. LITERATURE REVIEW: FOREIGN FIGHTERS AND ISLAMIST 

RADICALIZATION 

A growing body of scholarship on the foreign fighter phenomenon and on Islamist 
radicalization in the west informs this study. Research on foreign fighters examines the 
methods and messages that organizations and recruiters use to pull foreign fighters into a 


5 Thomas Hegghammer, “Should I Stay or Should I Go? Explaining Variation in Western Jihadists’ 
Choice between Domestic and Foreign Fighting,” American Political Science Review 107, no. 1 (February 
2013): 7. 

^ Bruce Hoffman, “The Myth of Grass-Roots Terrorism: Why Osama bin Laden Still Matters,” 
Foreign Ajfairs 87, no. 3 (May-June, 2008): 138. 

^ Malet, Foreign Fighters, 6-7. 

^ Daniel Byman, “The Homecomings: What Happens When Arab Foreign Fighters in Iraq and Syria 
Return.^” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 38, no. 8 (2015): 581-602. 


3 



cause. Other studies of jihadist movements and terrorism focus on the push factors of 
mobilization—what Thomas Hegghammer calls the “underlying determinants of supply” 
or “the attributes that make recruits inclined to join.”9 Scholars seeking to better 
understand radicalization examine how seemingly normal people adopt radical 
worldviews and become willing recruits for organizations like ISIS.^o European 
academics examine the problems European states have integrating Muslim immigrants 
into the European community.Einally, social movement theory provides the common 
lexicon and framework needed to analyze jihadist foreign fighter mobilization in 

Germany. 12 

1. Foreign Fighter Recruiting 

David Malet’s research examines the foreign fighter phenomenon from the pull 
perspective—exploring how insurgencies have historically recruited fighters to their 
various causes. Malet places foreign fighter movements in their historical context and 
demonstrates that they are by no means exclusively Islamist phenomena. Indeed, at 
various times in history, large numbers of Protestant Christians, atheist communists, 
Zionist Jews, and others have traveled long distances (often against their governments’ 
wishes) to join foreign insurgencies. 

According to Malet, there is no evidence that Islamism has any extraordinary 
mobilizing power over these other historic identities.i^ Malet examines case studies from 
the Spanish Civil War, the Texas Revolution, the Israeli War for Independence, and 
1980s Afghan insurgency to show how movements deliberately frame their messages to 
appeal to targeted identity groups in foreign countries. These messages, or mobilizing 


9 Thomas Hegghammer, “The Recruiter’s Dilemma; Signaling and Rebel Recruitment Tactics,” 
Journal of Peace Research 50, no. 1, (2012): 4. 

Hafez and Mullins, “Radicalization Puzzle,” 4-5. 

Thorsten Gerald Schneiders, Salafismus in Deutschland: Urspriinge und Gefahren einer islamisch- 
fundamentalistischen Bewegung [Salafism in Germany: Origins and Dangers of an Islamic-Fundamentalist 
Movement], (Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript, 2014) 13-16. 

Quintan Wiktorowicz, “Introduction: Islamic Activism and Social Movement Theory,” in Islamic 
Activism: A Social Movement Theory Approach (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2004), 4. 

Malet, Foreign Fighters, 205. 


4 



frames, have been remarkably similar over time and across conflicts—relying on a shared 
sense of “transnational identity” that binds foreign groups, such as the Muslim diaspora 
in Western Europe to threatened people groups in conflict zones, such as Syrian Sunnisd^ 
Seeing their own transnational identity under threat inspires foreign fighters to become 
willing recruits. According to Malet, such transnational identities need not be religiously 
or ethnically based. Rather, “imagined communities that provide identity can be 
constructed on various bases.”Communist or republican foreign fighters in the Spanish 
Civil War are an example of an imagined community not based on religion. 

Social movements use their messaging, or mobilizing frames, to build a common 
language that describes their purpose, outlines their strategy, and motivates their 
adherents. Successful social movements consciously frame their targets, actions, and 
goals in common cultural or religious terms—both to create consensus among members 
and to spur them into action. In many Islamist social movements, successful frames not 
only describe what is wrong, assign blame, and outline the steps that must be taken, but 
they also include a religious obligation, or fard-’ayn, for all able-bodied Muslims to rise 
up in defense of the ummah (Muslim community), 

Other scholars who emphasize deliberate recruitment or pull factors include Bruce 
Hoffman, who argues that a strong and centralized leadership produces and directs 
recruitment efforts of global jihadist organizations like A1 Qaeda. Referring to recruiting 
efforts in the United Kingdom, Hoffman argues that A1 Qaeda launched “a longstanding 
campaign of subversion” in the late 1990s within the British Muslim community.!^ In 
this effort, A1 Qaeda’s recruiters could methodically “identify, indoctrinate, and exploit 
new recruits.” More recently, Hoffman has acknowledged that the global A1 Qaeda 

14 Malet, Foreign Fighters, 23. 

16 Ibid. 

16 Mohammed M. Hafez, Suicide Bombers in Iraq: The Strategy and Ideology of Martyrdom, 
(Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2007), 19. 

1^ Carrie Rosefsky Wickham, “Interests, Ideas, and Islamist Outreach in Egypt,” in Islamic Activism: 

A Social Movement Theory Approach, ed. Quintan Wiktorowicz, (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University 
Press, 2004), 231-232. 

1^ Hoffman, “Myth of Grass-Roots Terrorism,” 138. 

19 Ibid. 


5 



umbrella brand does promote self-radicalization and lone wolf attacks through its new 
media propaganda activities, but he treats these efforts as ancillary to the organization’s 
core mission and as having only “limited success.”20 Core A1 Qaeda leaders, Hoffman 
asserts, still launch targeted recruiting campaigns in support of the organizations’ long¬ 
term strategy.21 The rise of ISIS and their overwhelming success in recruiting foreign 
fighters in much greater numbers and in much less time than A1 Qaeda makes the pull 
narrative more difficult to accept. Defenders of the pull conceptualization could argue 
that ISIS inherited both the recruitment strategies and possibly even the recruiting 
networks that A1 Qaeda carefully cultivated over the last three decades—perhaps just in 
time to reap the rewards of A1 Qaeda’s lengthy efforts. 

2. Online Mobilization 

Marc Sageman rejects the idea of dedicated jihadist recruiters infiltrating Western 
Muslim communities and preying on the ideologically impressionable. Instead, Sageman 
states that “after over a decade of intense search, there still has been no discovery of any 
single spotter/recruiter—except for FBI undercover agents.”22 Sageman argues that A1 
Qaeda’s central leadership—decimated by the Global War on Terrorism—is no longer 
capable of leading such a large-scale organized recruitment effort even if such a strategy 
existed in the past. Sageman contends that the Internet plays a much larger role in the 
radicalization and mobili z ation of jihadists than traditional recruiting networks and that 
today’s jihadists emerge from “small, local, self-organized groups” rather than some 
centralized recruiting plan.23 According to Sageman, this “leaderless jihad” is adaptable 
and survivable because it is both flat and fragmented. Sageman writes, “the process of 


20 Hoffman, “Myth of Grass-Roots Terrorism,” 138. 

21 Bruce Hoffman (2015) “A First Draft of the History of America’s Ongoing Wars on Terrorism,” 
Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 38, no. 1, (2015): 75-83. 

22 Marc Sageman “The Stagnation in Terrorism Research, ” Terrorism and Political Violence 26, no. 
4, (2014), 567. 

23 Marc Sageman, Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century, (Philadelphia, PA: 
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 143. 


6 



radicalization is still going on but now proceeds in a hostile, post-9/11, wired 
environment, resulting in a social structure comprised of disconnected groups”^^ 

The so-called Hoffman-Sageman debate highlights the difficulties involved in 
studying terrorist mobilization. Given A1 Qaeda’s strategic patience and long time- 
horizons, it is plausible that A1 Qaeda recruiters were deliberately dispatched to infiltrate 
Muslim communities in the West and that some might still be out there radicalizing 
recruits to the cause. It is equally plausible, however, that global jihadist messaging has 
inspired some members of these communities to assign themselves the recruiting role that 
a deliberately planted recruiter might perform. 

3. Understanding Radicalization as a Complex Phenomenon 

Scholars analyzing Islamist radicalization have spent the years since the attacks of 
September 11, 2001, eliminating a long list of radicalization hypotheses ranging from 
explaining the roots of Muslim hatred, exploring Muslim youth disenfranchisement, 
analyzing the lack of economic opportunities, and assessing the effect of relative 
deprivation.25 Indeed, scholars now generally agree that there is no single identifiable 
profile for jihadists. The range of ethnic backgrounds, financial circumstances, 
religiosity, and education is far too broad to pin radicalizing potential on any one 
demographic. Likewise, scholars have rejected the theory of a particular “terrorist 
pathology” or psychological illness that causes ordinary people to seek out violent 
Islamist activism. ^6 More recent scholarship has shifted to exploring how seemingly 
ordinary people abandon their previous value system and adopt an extremist worldview^^ 
According to Hafez and Mullins, conceptualizing radicalization as a “process” is 
misleading because it assumes a linear or step-by-step progression toward a radical 
worldview. While the relevant factors in radicalization— grievances, networks, 


Marc Sageman and Bruce Hoffman, “Does Osama Still Call the Shots? Debating the Containment 
of al Qaeda’s Leadership,” Foreign Ajfairs 87 (2008): 163-166. 

Sageman “Stagnation in Terrorism Research, ” 567. 

26 Ibid., 566. 

22 Hafez and Mullins, “Radicalization Puzzle,” 4-5. 

7 



ideologies, and supporting structures —exist in nearly every ease, the order and relative 
importance of each factor varies from person to person 28 

4. Jihadist Radicalization in Europe: An Integration Deficit? 

Unlike the United States, Western European nations present a different context for 
radicalization due to Europe’s long history of attracting workers from Muslim countries 
such as Turkey. Therefore, one potential explanation for jihadist radicalization in Europe 
is to blame Europe’s poor record integrating their migrant populations with the rest of 
society. Compared to migrant communities in the United States and Canada, immigrant 
groups in Europe are generally more economically depressed and less integrated into 
their new societies.29 Germany’s Turkish population exemplifies this integration deficit. 

Of Germany’s 4.3 mi llion Muslims, more than half (2.5-2.6 million) are of 
Turkish origin. Waves of Turkish migrant workers began arriving in Germany in the 
1960s when German industrial expansion outpaced the domestic labor supply. Erom 1955 
through 1968, the German government negotiated guest-worker agreements, 
""Anwerbevertrdge, ” with several foreign governments including Turkey, Morocco, 
Tunisia, and Yugoslavia.30 Under the terms of the agreements, workers were supposed to 
return to their home countries eventually. After living and working in Germany for many 
years, however, millions of them opted to stay. Over the following decades, many of 
these migrant workers brought their family members to settle in Germany more or less 
permanently. Despite this long history of migration, German Turks today remain the least 
integrated community in Germany. Turks are underrepresented in German universities, 
suffer higher than national average unemployment, and over 16% of Turkish children in 
Germany fail to complete high school.21 


28 Hafez and Mullins, “Radicalization Puzzle,” 28. 

29 Christian Joppke “Beyond national models: Civic integration policies for immigrants in Western 
Europe,” West European Politics 30, no. 1 (2007): 4. 

80 Frank Horst, “Salafist Jihadism in Germany,” International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) 
Report, 6-7. https://www.ict.org.il/Article/729/Salafist%20Jihadism%20in%20Germany. 

31 Ibid. 


8 



Nevertheless, Rabasa and Benard reject the integration deficit as a cause the 
recent rise of jihadist ideology in Europe. They argue that the least integrated first- 
generation Muslim immigrants rarely become jihadists. On the contrary, many of those 
who have turned to jihadist violence were those who appeared to be comparatively well 
integrated in European society. While the integration deficit is real and a source of 
grievance, Rabasa and Benard argue that the “grievances that propel radioalization and 
violence are largely vicarious in nature. The motivating factors need not be, and often are 
not, part of the personal experience of the individual.”32 Einally, Rabasa and Benard 
reject the Internet as a major factor in radicalizing European jihadists, arguing “the 
transition from radicalization to terrorism almost always takes place in face-to-face 
encounters and very seldom on the Intemet.”33 

5. Choosing between Fighting Abroad and Terrorism at Home 

Thomas Hegghammer explores how radicalized Western jihadists choose between 
becoming foreign fighters and domestic terrorists. Hegghammer argues that most 
Western jihadists would prefer to travel oversees to engage in foreign jihad because they 
see fighting in a defensive jihad in the Middle East as more legitimate than conducting 
attacks in the West.34 While there is tremendous diversity of opinions among Sunni 
Islamist scholars, the consensus view among them is, Hegghammer writes, “that fighting 
in established conflict zones is more legitimate than attacks in the West.”35 To explain 
the continued incidences of domestic terrorism, given this preference for foreign fighting, 
Hegghammer provides two hypotheses. Eirst, jihadist fighters may travel abroad to train 
only to be coopted by a terrorist group with ambitions for operations in the West. Once in 
the camp, these jihadists are persuaded they can best serve the cause by returning to the 
West to conduct attacks there. Either because of loyalty to the new group, or because they 
have few alternative options, these jihadists accept this less-preferred form of activism. 

32 Angel Rabasa and Cheryl Benard, Eurojihad: Patterns of Islamist Radicalization and Terrorism in 
Europe (New York; Cambridge University Press, 2015), 193. 

33 Rabasa and Benard, Eurojihad, 192-193. 

34 Hegghammer, “Should I Stay,” 7. 

35 Ibid. 


9 



Hegghammer lists the 9/11 Hamburg Cell and the 2009 New York City subway plotters 
as notable examples of jihadists who set out to be foreign fighters but were subsequently 
diverted by A1 Qaeda to conduct attacks in the West. The second reason why intended 
foreign fighters become domestic terrorists is that their preferences gradually change due 
to their combat experience abroad. In this case, “the recruit arrives in the conflict zone, 
takes part in combat, and comes to see theological arguments constraining violence as 
impractical or narve.”36 The veteran jihadist thus returns to the West accustomed to 
violence and no longer seeing constrained by thoughts of jihad at home being somehow 
less legitimate. Under either of the above scenarios, Hegghammer argues why Western 
governments are right to be concerned about the numbers of foreign fighters traveling to 
Syria and Iraq. 


6. A Social Movement Theory Lexicon 

Given the diversity of opinions among scholars, the interdisciplinary body of 
theory on social movements will provide a useful lexicon for discussing the foreign 
fighter phenomenon in this analysis. Indeed, many of the concepts already introduced in 
this chapter, such as grievances, networks, mobilizing frames, and supporting structures, 
draw directly from social movement theory. Though originally developed to explain the 
complex dynamics of mass protest and mass mobilization, social movement theory has 
much to offer the study of jihadist foreign fighters. Like protest movements, transnational 
jihad is a form of contentious politics, involving both substantial risk and personal 
inconvenience for the fighter. Explaining what makes a person take such risks is one of 
the aims of social movement theory. Also like protest movements, transnational jihad 
movements defy simple explanation. Social movement theory incorporates historical, 
psychological, religious, political, and economic explanations of complex events and 
fuses multiple disciplines into a “comprehensive, interconnected understanding” of 
mobili z ation events.Expressed another way, psychologists seek to understand the 
grievances and personal motivations of foreign fighters, religious scholars try to 


Hegghammer, “Should I Stay,” 10. 

Wiktorowicz, “Introduction; Islamic Activism,” 4. 


10 



understand the Islamic underpinnings to transnational jihad, and historians try to identify 
the origins of the Jihadi Salafi thought: social movement theory provides a framework for 
incorporating all three. Social movement theory provides three additional concepts that 
are particularly relevant to foreign fighter mobilization: anchoring, personal networks, 
and bloc mobilization. 

a. Anchoring 

Anchoring is a practical concept describing a level of personal time commitment 
to family and work that prohibits increasing mobilization in social movements. 
According to social movement theory, less anchored people—those who are young 
unemployed and single—have much higher levels of what Doug McAdam calls 
“biographical availability” and are freer to participate more fully in social movements.38 

While many people may be sympathetic to a movement’s ideology or mobilizing 
frame and many may be invited to join, not everyone who is invited ultimately joins. The 
difference between those who join a movement and those who remain on the sidelines is 
often the degree to which previous relationship and time commitments act as 
“countervailing influences.”39 These countervailing influences (called anchoring factors 
here) include age, employment, marriage, and children.^o Finally, social movement 
scholars have argued that biographical availability changes the cost calculation of higher 
risk forms of activism: the unemployed student who travels abroad for a jihadist cause 
pays a lower cost for that activism than the fully employed father or mother with young 
children at home.^i 


38 Doug McAdam, “Recruitment to High Risk Activism: The Case of Freedom Summer,” American 
Journal of Sociology 92, (1986): 64-90. 

39 David A. Snow, Louis A. Zurcher, and Sheldon Ekland-Olson, “Social Networks and Social 
Movements: A Microstructural Approach to Differential Recruitment,” American Sociological Review 45, 
no. 5 (1980): 787-801. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2094895. 

McAdam, “Recruitment to High Risk Activism,” 70. 

41 Ibid. 


11 



More recent scholarship has called the original anchoring hypotheses into 
question, however.42 Beyerlein and Hipp, for example, argue that biographical 
unavailability only reduces activism in the initial stage of a mobili z ation process. Once 
someone is already committed to a movement, according to Beyerlein and Hipp, 
biographical unavailability has no effect on a person’s willingness to move into higher 
risk forms of activism.43 

b. Personal Networks 

Social movement theorists generally accept that personal networks are highly 
important for mobili z ation. Numerous social movement studies show that the act of being 
personally invited to join a movement by a friend already in the movement is one of the 
more powerful mobilizing factors. According to Donatella della Porta, “social 
movements recruit in dense social networks and, more particularly, among individuals 
who are already members of preexisting formal and informal groups.”44 Preexisting 
networks are fertile ground for mobili z ation because they bring together like-minded 
individuals, promote peer-pressure and groupthink, provide a safe haven for gradual 
radicalization, and reduce the risks that recruiting efforts will be discovered by local 
authorities. In his study on suicide bombers in the early 2000s, Mohammed Hafez finds 
personal networks were critical to the mobilization and recruitment of jihadists willing to 
die in the Iraqi insurgency.45 

c. Bloc Recruitment 

Finally, Della Porta, Hafez, and others also introduce the concept of bloc 
recruitment—in which a few members of a close-knit group increase their commitment to 


42 Sharon Nepstad and Christian Smith, “Rethinking Recruitment to High-risk/cost Activism: The 
Case of Nicaragua Exchange,” Mobilization: An International Quarterly 4, no. 1 (1999): 25^0. 

43 Kraig Beyerlein and John Hipp, “A Two-stage Model for a Two-stage Process: How Biographical 
Availability Matters for Social Movement Mobilization,” Mobilization: An International Quarterly 11, no. 
3 (2006): 299-300. 

44 Donatella Della Porta, “Introduction: On Individual Motivations in Underground Political 
Organizations,” in International Social Movement Research vol. 4, (Greenwich, CT: JAl Press, 1992), 6. 

45 Ibid., 23. 


12 



a movement and persuade the rest of their friends to follow suit.46 Hafez cites one 
example wherein several players of a Saudi semi-professional soccer team mobilized as a 
group to travel and fight in IraqYet the Saudi soccer squad is not the only example of 
bloc mobilization in the Iraqi insurgency: the Sinjar records (a trove of ISIS data captured 
by U.S. forces near Sinjar, Iraq, in 2007) confirmed that nearly half of the 202 foreign 
fighters reaching Iraq arrived on the same day as someone else from their hometown.48 

D. POTENTIAL EXPLANATIONS AND HYPOTHESES 

Based on the literature, four hypotheses emerge to help explain how and why 
German foreign fighters mobili z ed for to fight in the Syrian Civil War. 

I. HI: German Foreign Fighters Are Mobilized Primarily Through 
Traditional Social Networks. 

While some academics and government officials voice concerns about a rising 
trend of “leaderless jihad,” social movement theory holds that traditional social networks 
are far more important than strictly online connections for radicalizing and mobilizing 
foreign fighters. Investigating this hypothesis may also reveal the role of recruiters in 
mobilizing German foreign fighters. To test this hypothesis, this study will examine to 
what extent German foreign fighters were connected to one another and to their recruiters 
prior to mobilizing. If traditional social networks are a primary mobilizing force, then 
there should be evidence of geographic clustering and preexisting personal network 
connections among German foreign fighters that predates their mobilization and travel to 
the combat area. Finally, in-network mobilization would predict high levels of bloc 
mobilization—fighters traveling to Syria in groups instead of traveling alone. 


46 Donatella Della Porta, Social Movement, Political Violence and the State: A Comparative Analysis, 
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 168. 

47 Hafez, Suicide Bombers in Iraq, 23. 

48 Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman, “Al-Qa’ida’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq: A First Look at the Sinjar 
Records,” Combating Terrorism Center Report (2007): 23. https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/al-qaidas- 
foreign-fighters-in-iraq-a-first-look-at-the-sinjar-records. 


13 



2 . 


H2: Social Media Has Replaced Traditional Social Networks in 
Mobilizing German Foreign Fighters 


As previously indicated, this proposition is debated among scholars. Indeed, 
anecdotal evidence shows that at least some foreign fighters are radicalized and 
mobilized exclusively through online and social media interactions. Recent cases of lone- 
wolf radicalization and attacks in the West have captured international headlines and 
reignited concerns over online social networks recruiting new waves of jihadists from 
virtually anywhere. As societies change and social interactions happen increasingly in the 
virtual world instead of in the physical one, this hypothesis certainly demands attention. 
This hypothesis seeks to empirically test the power of online social media in radicalizing 
and mobilizing German foreign fighters. If the concerns captured in this second 
hypothesis are correct and more fighters are indeed being radicalized over the Internet, 
then data on German fighters should show less interpersonal connections among fighters 
before mobilization. If the Internet is a primary channel for radicalization, then cases of 
radicalization should also be geographically dispersed and evenly distributed across the 
country. 


3. H3: Integrated Muslims in Germany Are Less Likely to Become 
Foreign Fighters 

The third hypothesis will test Rabasa and Benard’s findings about the effect of the 
“integration deficit” on the radicalization of Muslim immigrants in Germany 
radicalization and mobili z ation as a foreign fighter. Evidence supporting this hypothesis 
should show that foreign fighters are primarily immigrants who have not integrated well 
into German society and possess strong social ties to countries outside Germany. The 
number of native-German converts joining jihadist organizations would also be expected 
to be low. 

4. H4: Unanchored Members of German Society Are More Likely to 
Become Foreign Fighters 

The final hypothesis will use empirical evidence to test the claim that less 

anchored individuals are more susceptible to mobilization. Under this hypothesis, 

anchoring factors such as career, education, marriage, romantic relationships, and 

14 



children will be examined to determine if these factors decrease the likelihood of foreign 
fighting. 

It is possible that more than one of the above hypotheses will combine to explain 
German foreign fighter mobilization. Alternately, it is that none of the above hypotheses 
sufficiently explain the reasons why Germans become foreign fighters. 

E. RESEARCH DESIGN AND THESIS OVERVIEW 

This study is part of a team effort led by Professor Mohammed M. Hafez at the 
Naval Postgraduate School in California. Its aim is to build a searchable scholarly 
database of Islamist foreign fighters. Other contributors to this effort are currently 
building profiles on fighters from Great Britain and Italy. This country-focused effort is 
designed to divide the difficult work of gathering biographical data on foreign fighters in 
open unclassified sources. It is also intended to reveal any country-to-country variances 
in how foreign fighters are mobilized. It is organized in the following way: 

Chapter II will gather and analyze information on the jihadist foreign fighters 
from recently published German academic and government sources. This is intended to 
present the official and public German understanding of the phenomenon as well as 
German governmental responses up to mid-2015. The chapter draws heavily from two 
recently released German security service reports on German residents who have traveled 
to fight in Syria between 2011 and 2014. The first document contains background data on 
378 German fighters known to have departed Germany for Syria by the end of June 2014. 
It appeared in December 2014.^9 The second report, released in June of 2015, focuses on 


49 Bundesamt fiir Verfassungsschutz [German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution], 
Analyse der den deutschen Sicherheitsbehorden vorliegenden Informationen iiber die 
Radikalisierungshintergriinde und -verldufe der Personen, die aus islamistischer Motivation aus 
Deutschland in Richtung Syrien ausgereist sind [Analysis of the information available to German security 
authorities about the radioalization process of persons who have traveled to Syria under Islamist 
motivations], (Cologne, Germany: 2014). http://www.innenministerkonferenz .de/IMK/DE/termine/to- 
beschluesse/14-12-1 l_12/anlage-analyse.pdf?_blob=publicationFile&v=2. 


15 



just 60 fighters from Berlin and its surrounding suburbs. xhe reports are published 
online, but have so far only been partially translated into English. While these German 
government reports provide a level of detail usually not found in open sources, they are 
finalized products. They are not searchable and researchers cannot interact with the 
source data. 

Chapter III presents new research on this topic at the micro level. It compiles 
detailed dossiers on 99 German foreign fighters who have traveled (or attempted to 
travel) to the current conflict in Syria and Iraq. It then provides analysis of the recruits 
according to social mobilization and radicalization theories described above. The profiles 
are based entirely on unclassified and open sources—mostly obtained from German news 
media reporting. For each of the 99 profiles, all publicly available information was 
collected for the following categories: 

1. Name 

2. Age (at departure from Germany) 

3. Gender 

4. Country of origin (if immigration background) 

5. Immigration background (1st, 2nd, 3rd generation) 

6. Conversion status 

7. Education level 

8. Occupation & economic status 

9. Eevel of anchoring (Children, Marriage, romantic relationship) 

10. History of activism prior to mobili z ation 

11. History of criminality prior to mobili z ation 

12. Social ties with other foreign fighters prior to mobili z ation 

13. Network connections to recruiters prior to mobili z ation 

Senatsverwaltung fiir Inneres und Sport—Berlin [Berlin Senate Department for the Interior and 
Sports], Ausreisen von Personen aus dem islamistischen Spektmm in Berlin nach Syrien/Irak [Foreign 
Travel of Persons from the Islamist Spectrum in Berlin to Syria and Iraq], (Berlin, Germany: 2015), 1-24. 
https://www.berlin.de/sen/inneres/verfassungsschutz/publikationen/lage-und-wahlanalysen/. 


16 



14. Network connections to Salafist scene prior to mobilization 

15. Group or individual recruitment 

16. Group or individual travel to combat zone 

17. Role: fighter, recruiter, bride, or multiple 

18. Ideologic al motivation 

19. Transit route to combat zone 

20. Group joined in combat zone (ISIS, AQ, etc.) 

21. Mode of death 

22. German city of residence prior to/during mobilization 

23. Last known location 

By analyzing this biographical, background, and social network connection data, 
this thesis will reveal additional details that the German official reports have omitted or 
missed. 

While the biographical and background data (age, immigration background, 
gender, etc.) is aggregated and presented statistically, the social network data (social ties 
prior to mobilization) is imported into the visual analytics program, Palantir, for further 
analysis. Originally developed for the Central Intelligence Agency, Palantir allows 
enormous quantities of social network data to be analyzed visually—revealing link and 
social network connections that traditional analysis methods cannot. The link analysis 
performed using Palantir will reveal to what extent the German foreign fighters were 
mobili z ed within preexisting networks. 

After examining the social network connections of the 99 profiled German 
fighters. Chapter III will continue with an analysis of their anchoring and integration into 
German society. Finally, Chapter IV will revisit the proposed hypotheses and draw 
conclusions based on the data revealed throughout the study. 


17 



THIS PAGE INTENTIONALLY LEET BLANK 


18 



II. GERMAN DATA ON FOREIGN FIGHTERS 


A. INTRODUCTION 

In late January of 2014, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) social media feeds 
began to boast that 26-year-old Robert Baum, known to his fellow fighters as “Uthman 
al-Almani,” had blown himself up in the Syrian village of al Kafat—allegedly taking 50 
“unbelievers” with him to his death.When the news reached Robert’s hometown of 
Solingen—a midsize town on the edge of Germany’s industrial heartland—it prompted a 
series of now familiar questions: Why did this “shy, introverted boy” end his own life 
murdering strangers in a faraway land? How does a young German convert to Islam 
become a radicalized jihadist foreign fighter in the span of just a few years? Finally, why 
are increasing numbers of Germans like Baum suddenly leaving relatively comfortable 
lives to fight, and often die, for organizations like ISIS?52 

By the time of Baum’s death, the German government had grown increasingly 
concerned about the rapid increase in the number of Germans traveling to fight in Syria. 
While small groups of German fighters participated in jihadist movements since the 
1980s, the scale mobilization for the Syrian conflict was unprecedented. By the beginning 
of 2014, over 300 Germans had joined the fighting in Syria’s civil war—eclipsing all 
previous German Islamist foreign fighter movements in less than two years. 

B. GERMAN GOVERNMENT ASSESSMENT 

In response to this sharp increase in foreign fighter mobilization, the German 
Interior Ministry Conference, held December 4-6, 2013, commissioned an interagency 
working group between the German Joint Counterterrorism Center (GTAZ) and the 
Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz —Germany’s domestic intelligence service—to 
determine “who has departed Germany for Syria so far and to diagnose which factors 


Jorg Diehl, Hubert Gude, Julia Jiittner, Christoph Reuter, Fidelius Schmid, and Holger Stark, “Mach 
Dir Keine Sorgen” [Do Not Worry Yourself], Der Spiegel June, 2014, http;//www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/ 
d-124838643.html. 

^2 Ibid. 


19 



influenced their radicalization before departure. ”^3 xhe ensuing report was entitled 
“Analyse der den deutschen Sicherheitsbehorden vorliegenden Informationen iiber die 
Radikalisierungshintergriinde und -verlaufe der Personen, die aus islamistischer 
Motivation aus Deutschland in Richtung Syrien ausgereist sind,” (Analysis of the 
information available to German security authorities about the radio alization- 
backgrounds and -processes of persons who have traveled toward Syria under Islamist 
motivations). The report, hereafter cited as the Verfassungsschutz report, was published 
on December 1, 2014 and includes data on 378 people “known to German security 
authorities to have departed Germany towards Syria before the end of June 2014.”54 

Following the release of the federal-level Verfassungsschutz report, several 
German state-level security services also released their own reports on the foreign fighter 
issue. While the national-level report ipso facto incorporated much of the state-level data, 
the state-level reports presented findings in a way that occasionally adds clarity. For 
example, the federal Verfassungsschutz report did not reveal the ethnic backgrounds of 
the German foreign fighters—providing citizenship data instead. The state report from 
Berlin’s security service on the other hand, provides “migration background” numbers on 
all 60 of its subjects—thus giving additional insight into important questions of 
integration and migration status of German foreign fighters.^5 

The state-level report from Berlin was published in June of 2015—six months 
after the federal Verfassungsschutz report was released. By the time the Berlin report was 
published, the total number of foreign fighters who had departed from Germany had 
increased to 680—nearly doubling in the year since the information cutoff date for the 
federal report. The Berlin report incorporated data on 60 foreign fighters who left Berlin 
between the middle of 2012 and the spring of 2015.^^ The following paragraphs present 
an analysis of both sets of reports. 


53 Verfassungsschutz, Awafyse, 3. 

54 Ibid., 3-5. 

55 Senatsverwaltung Ausreisen, 10. 

56 Ibid., 1-2. 


20 



Germany’s decision to release a large dataset on foreign fighters is both rare and 
welcome. One of the more difficult aspects of conducting academic research on 
transnational foreign fighters is that governments and intelligence services usually have 
the best data on individual participants, and most governments are loath to share such 
information with the academic community.This shortage of empirical data has troubled 
academics and has led some scholars to start building their own databases based on open- 
source information gleaned from traditional and social media as well as from ISIS 
propaganda. Hafez, Hegghammer, and Sageman are each involved in such projects. 
Academic databases on foreign fighters are gradually allowing these scholars to 
collaborate to better understand the phenomenon, but it is doubtful that any such 
academic effort will rival the data-collection capacity of state-funded intelligence 
services anytime soon. 

The purpose of this chapter is to apply German government data to this project’s 
analysis of the German foreign fighter phenomenon. This chapter will first present basic 
background and demographic data from the German reports. Next, this chapter will 
analyze the German government data in terms of what it reveals about networks, 
anchoring, and integration into German society. Conclusions from this chapter will 
inform the subsequent analysis of the collected foreign fighter profiles in chapter three. 
Throughout, this chapter will evaluate how the German findings comport with current 
scholarly consensus on social mobilization and radicalization theory. 

C. BASIC DATA 

Anonymized data for the federal Verfassungsschutz report was collected from 
state and local police agencies and analyzed over a four-month period between March 
and July of 2014. In the process, German security services encountered considerable 
case-to-case variance in information availability for departed fighters. While the study 
lists the frequency distribution and average values relative to the entire study group 
(n=378), there are several variables for which the German security services had 
incomplete information. For those variables, the study identified the number of cases with 

Sageman, “Stagation in Terrorism Research,” 572. 


21 


known values. Statistics pulled from the German federal report in this chapter will be 
provided with n=378, unless otherwise indicated. In the Berlin report (which also 
provides more complete picture of its 60 subjects), the statistical information is given 
with n=60. 

The following section is a translated and summarized version of the basic 
demographic data of fighters in the two German government studies. This section 
provides the demographic data on the German foreign fighter contingent traveling to 
Syria before June 2014 and sets the stage for further analysis 

1. Gender 

Of the federal Verfassungsschutz study group of 378 travelers, 335 (89%) were 
male and 42 (11%) were female. Only one traveler’s gender was unknown at the time of 
publication. The Berlin report counted 47 men (78%) and 13 women (22%).^8 

2. Urban vs. Rural 

Approximately 90% of the travelers lived in urban areas of Germany, while 10% 
lived in areas described as rural. 

3. Age 

The report established an average age of German travelers at 26.5 years. The 
youngest traveler was 15 and the oldest 62. Figure 1 offers an age breakout showing that 
a substantial majority of subjects were between 19 and 30 years of age. 


^8 Senatsverwaltung Berlin, Ausreisen, 7. 


22 



Figure 1. Age at Departure 



Adapted and translated from Bundesamt fiir Verfassungsschutz [German Federal Office 
for the Protection of the Constitution], Analyse der den deutschen Sicherheitsbehorden 
vorliegenden Informationen iiber die Radikalisierungshintergriinde and -verldufe der 
Personen, die aus islamistischer Motivation aus Deutschland in Richtung Syrien 
ausgereist sind [Analysis of the information available to German security authorities 
about the radicalization process of persons who have traveled to Syria under Islamist 
motivations], (Cologne, Germany; 2014). 

http://www.innenministerkonferenz.de/IMK/DE/termine/to-beschluesse/14-12- 
11 _ 12/anlage-analy se .pdf?_blob=publicationFile&v=2. 


4. Discussion 

The average age of the German fighters is consistent with other recent data on 
jihadist mobilizations. For example, the Sinjar records of A1 Qaeda recruits arriving in 
Iraq in 2006-7 show that the average age of arriving fighters was 24-25 years (slightly 
younger than the average age of German traveler in this study).^^ xhat young men would 
comprise the largest demographic in a violent foreign conflict is not particularly 
surprising; that this group of jihadists would be accompanied by such a large cohort of 
women, however, is unexpected. 

Women have not historically joined foreign fighter movements in such large 
numbers. In the largest historic example of female foreign fighter participation—the 
Spanish Civil War, where 54 American women joined 2800 of their male compatriots in 
the Abraham Lincoln Brigades—women still only constituted a small minority of 

Felter and Fishman, “Al-Qa’ida’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq,” 16. 


23 
















participants (0.5%).60 Moreover, even among radical Islamists, fighting in jihad has 
rarely been seen as an acceptable female role in any but the most extreme 
circumstances.While A1 Qaeda’s ideologues have come to regard female Palestinian 
suicide bombers and Chechnyan “Black Widows” as legitimate local expressions of 
defensive jihad, most have stopped short of calling on women to mobilize to fight in 
foreign countries.62 

With women now constituting more than one-in-ten German foreign fighters in 
the combat area, it seems clear that the traditional gender mix of jihadist foreign fighters 
has changed. ISIS propaganda efforts now call on Western women to travel to the 
caliphate, either in the company their husbands or in order to marry fighters who are 
already there. At the same time, German news reports warn of female ISIS recruiters who 
actively target young German girls and smuggle them away to Syria. Current estimates 
hold that approximately 550 Western women have already answered that call and are 
now in the conflict area.63 

Bekker and de Leede find that most Western women in the Syrian conflict do not 
participate in direct combat. Instead, these women support their causes indirectly by 
spreading propaganda, nursing wounded fighters, and raising their children in the 
Salafist/jihadist ideology.64 Finally, having more marriageable girls in a jihadist 
organization like ISIS may also play a role in attracting male recruits. Ebrahim B., a 26 
year-old German foreign fighter from the town of Wolfsburg who returned from Syria 
disillusioned in 2014, summarizes how sex and fast cars were part of the recruiting pitch. 
In a 2015 television interview, Ebriham said, “Eor example, in Syria, you can drive the 
most expensive cars that you could not even afford in Europe. You would like to build a 
family and marry? In Germany or in Europe everything is expensive. There you can 

60 Malet, Foreign Fighters, 103. 

61 David Cook, “Women Fighting in Jihad?,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 28, no. 5 (2005): 375. 

62 Ibid., 382. 

63 Edwin Bakker and Seran de Leede, “European Eemale Jihadists in Syria: Exploring and Under 
Researched Topic,” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism The Hague, ICCT Background Note, April 
2015, 3. 

64 Ibid., 9-10. 


24 



marry ... from an Islamic perspective, marry four women! Who wouldn’t want to have 
four women, to be honest?”^^ There must have been some disparity between the promises 
and reality, however, because he returned, disillusioned. 

D. NETWORKS 

As studies of social movements have shown, Islamist organizations frequently 
recruit and radicalize new members within pre-existing networks. Such networks, 
Wickham writes, provide safety for radicalizing individuals where they can ‘“try out’ 
different levels and forms of participation, without initiating a break from their social 
circles.According to German academic and government experts, the German “Salafist 
scene” has grown into a nationwide network that not only attracts new converts into an 
extremely fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, but also fills the role of a radicalizing 
milieu wherein members can experiment with different levels of Islamist activism. Since 
the German federal-level report identifies 99% of the departed foreign fighters (319 of 
323 cases) as Salafists, it is necessary to briefly describe how this Salafist scene fits into 
to the broader phenomenon of Salafi Islam in Germany. 

1. Salafism in Germany 

Among a population of 80 million Germans, approximately 4.6 million identify 
themselves as Muslims. Fewer than 8,000 of these adhere to the fundamentalist Salafi 
interpretation of Islam.67 Among these Salafi Muslims, German scholars identify three 
ideological subgroupings. The first group consists of purist or “quietist” Salafis who 
focus on setting themselves apart to live according to the tenets and practices of the first 
three generations of Muslims, the salaf al-salih.^^ Salafis place a heavy emphasis on the 

66 Britta von der Heide, Christian Baars, Georg Mascolo, Stephan Weis, and Christian Deker, “Von 
Wolsfburg in den Dchihad” [From Wolfsburg to Jihad] Norddeutscher Rundfunk [North German 
Broadcasting], July 16, 2015. http://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/niedersachsen/ 

braunschweig_harz_goettingen/Von-Wolfsburg-in-Dschihad,dschihadl36.html#page=0&anim=slide. 

66 Wickham, “Interests, Ideas, and Islamist Outreach in Egypt,” 232. 

67 “Salafistische Bestrebungen: Inhalte und Ziele salafistischer Ideologic” [Salafist Aspirations: 
Content and Goals of Salafist Ideology], German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution 
website, accessed March 23, 2016, https://www.verfassungsschutz.de/de/ arbeitsfelder/af-islamismus-und- 
islamistischer-terrorismus/was-ist-islamismus/salafistische-bestrebungen. 

6^ Schneiders, Salafismus in Deutschland, 14. 


25 



Qur’an and the Sunna (the life and example of the Prophet).69 Salafis are generally 
critical of the innovations (bid’a) of the traditional schools of Islam, as such innovation 
emerged after the first three generations. 

Political or activist Salafists—with the added -ist suffix—comprise the second 
(and by far the largest) Salafi subgroup in Germany. These political Salafists adhere to 
the same fundamentalist ideology as their quietist coreligionists, but also have the 
political objective of transforming German society to match their ideology. Political 
Salafists in Germany emphasize dawa (inviting non-believers as well as other Muslims 
into the faith) and are active within Germany’s political system.^i According to 
Steinberg, political Salafists “show a marked ambivalence toward violence, often 
displaying sympathy for militant groups fighting for the liberation of what they consider 
to be occupied Muslim territory in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan .”^2 

The final subgroup of Salafis in Germany consists of jihadist Salafists. This group 
takes the activism of the political Salafists and adds violence. Jihadist Salafists are 
willing to engage in violence to achieve their political and ideological objectives. They 
accept the framework that the umma is under attack from outside forces and they actively 
call on Muslims to engage in combat against those they deem responsible for this 

assault.’^3 

Of the three Salafi subgroups in Germany, the political Salafist subgroup is both 
the largest and fastest growing. German domestic intelligence services estimate that 90% 
of the Salafis in Germany belong to this activist subgroup, with the quietist Salafis and 
jihadist Salafists occupying marginal positions on opposite ends of the spectrum.'^^ what 


69 Daniel W. Brown, A New Introduction to Islam, 2nd ed. (Walden, MA; Wiley Blackwell, 2009), 
151-153. 

Jacob Olidort, “The Politics of ‘Quietist’ Salafism,” Brookings Institute Paper, February 2015, 7, 
http://www.brookings.edU/~/media/research/files/papers/2015/02/salafism-quietist-politics-olidort/ 
brookings-analysis-paper_jacob-olidort-inside_final_web.pdf. 

Schneiders, Salafismus in Deutschland, 14. 

^2 Guido Steinberg, German Jihad, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 127. 

73 Ibid., 128. 

74 Schneiders, Salafismus in Deutschland, 20. 


26 



worries German authorities most about political Salafists, however, is the apparent ease 
with which members of this group graduate to more radical forms of activism. According 
to a government report from the German state of North-Rheine Westphalia, “the 
transition between the ‘political’ and the ‘jihadist’ Salafist is fluid.”^^ Finally, it is the 
political Salafist subgroup that dominates what German authorities call the Salafist scene. 

Salafist scene is an umbrella term used to describe the missionary work, 
preaching, Internet outreach, and visible presence of political Salafists in German cities 
and towns. Activities the German government considers part of the scene include Islam 
seminars, Qur’an distribution, Salafist mosques and benefit events raising funds for 
Salafist causes (most commonly in areas of the world where Salafists perceive Muslim 
groups to be under threat or suffering). Spiritual and charismatic leadership of the scene 
comes from several popular Salafist preachers, including Hassan Dabbagh, Ibrahim Abou 
Nagie, Pierre Vogel, and Sven Lau. While earlier Salafist preachers in Germany targeted 
mostly Arab Muslim immigrant groups and preached in Arabic, these new Salafist 
preachers present their Dawa in German to anyone who will listen—generating a wide 
following among second- and third-generation immigrants as well native-German 

followers.”^6 

2. Radicalization within the Salafist Scene 

The federal Verfassungsschutz report on foreign fighters states that Salafist scene 
“had an obvious radicalizing influence at the beginning of the radicalizations process for 
over two thirds of the cases.Moreover, German investigators found that the 
percentage of the foreign fighters with ties to the scene increased to 79% in the “later 


Ministerium fiir Inneres und Kommunales des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen [Ministry for Interior 
and Local Affairs of the State of North Rheine Westphalia], Verfassungsschutzbericht fiir das Land 
Nordrhein-Westfalen fiir das Jahr 2014 [State Office for the Protection of the Constitution Report for the 
Year 2014], (Diisseldorf, Germany: Verfassungsschutz Nordrhein-Westfalen), 263. 
http://www.mik.nrw.de/verfassungsschutz/publikationen/berichte.html 

Nina Wiedl and Carmen Becker, “Populare Prediger im deutschen Salafismus” [Popular Preachers 
in German Salafism], in Schneiders ed. Salafismus in Deutschland, 187-215. 

Verfassungsschutz, Analyse, 13. 


27 



stages of the radicalization. Finally, the report states that 167 of the travelers had ties to 
“well-known Salafists” before their departure to Syria.^^ 

Instead of directly examining personal network connections between individual 
foreign fighters, however, German investigators measured the fighters’ connection to the 
Salafist scene by searching for evidence of their participation in the scene’s various 
activities before radicalizing and before departing Germany. The scene activities 
investigated include, participation with Qur’an distribution campaigns, attending “Islam 
seminars,” attending benefits organized by Salafist groups, and attending known Salafist 
mosques. The federal study singled out Ibrahim Abou Nagie’s “Lies!” organization by 
name as a specific indicator of scene membership. “Lies” is the German imperative form 
of the word “read” and is a reference to the first word spoken to the Prophet Mohammed 

by God in the Qur’an.^9 

The federal Verfassungsschutz report found that 160 out of 221 foreign fighters 
(72%) had connections to the Salafist scene prior to their radicalization. The report lists 
the following connections to Salafist scene activities: 64 were active with the “Lies!” 
campaign, 55 had attended Salafist Islamic seminars, 24 had attended benefits organized 
by Salafist groups, and 88 had contact to known Salafist mosques. Repeat or multiple 
connections were possible. For example, a single person could have been known to 
distribute Qur’an’s with “Lies!” and to attend Salafist mosques. The German study 
repeated the same query for Salafist scene involvement after the radicalization process 
had begun and found that 187 of 235, or 79% of travelers were influenced by their 
connections to the Salafist scene “during the further course of radicalization.”80 

Family and friend connections followed Salafist scene connections in significance 
for pre-and post-radicalization, but also had considerable overlap with Salafist scene 
factors. 128 of the 221 travelers for whom pre-mobilization data was available had 
family, friend, or school connections to Salafist networks. However, 85% of this group 


^^Verfassungsschutz, Awafyse, 13. 
Qur’an 96:1 

so Verfassungsschutz, Analyse, 14. 


28 



was simultaneously involved in the German Salafist scene. This left only 35 persons who 
radicalized through family, friend, or school connections without also participating in the 
Salafist milieu. The post-radicalization story is similar: The number of individuals 
influenced exclusively by family, friend, or school connections without known scene 
involvement drops to 13% in the post-radicalization data.^i 

3. Online Radicalization vs. Traditional Social Networks 

Anecdotal evidence supports the case that at least some jihadists are radicalized 
and mobili z ed exclusively through online and social-media interactions. The case of 21- 
year-old German Kosovar, Arid Uka, is one such example. On March 2, 2011, Uka 
opened fire on a bus full of U.S. Air Force personnel at Frankfurt International Airport— 
killing two Airmen. Subsequent investigations found that Uka had radicalized exclusively 
over the Internet with no known face-to-face contact to other jihadists.*2 while stories 
like Uka’s draw headlines and frighten governments, most scholars do not consider them 
major contributors to radicalization. According to Rabasa and Benard, “the transition 
from radicalization to terrorism almost always takes place in face-to-face encounters and 
very seldom on the Intemet.”^^ 

Data from the German studies strongly support the scholarly consensus regarding 
online radicalization. The Internet was identified as an “influential radicalization factor” 
in 67 cases during the pre-radicalization phase. However, of these 67, only 13 were not 
also connected to either the Salafist scene, and/or did not have family, friend or school 
connections to Salafist networks. Thus, only 6% of the pre-radicalization cases were 
identified as being exclusively influenced by the Internet in the early stages of 
radicalization. During the later phases of radicalization the number of online-only cases 
drops to just 3%.Thus, while Internet radicalization captures headlines, the 
overwhelming empirical evidence shows that it is not a significant mobilization factor. 


Verfassungsschutz, Awafyse, 14-15. 

^2 Steinberg, German Jihad, 3-5. 

^2 Rabasa and Benard, Eurojihad, 192-193. 
Verfassungsschutz, Analyse, 14-15. 


29 



4. 


Bloc Mobilization 


One of the most significant results of the German studies was strong evidence of 
bloc mobilization. As discussed in Chapter I, bloc mobilization describes a group of 
several volunteers or recruits from the same social circle join a movement together. When 
one or two members of a tight-knit peer group join a radical movement or commit to a 
higher-risk form of activism, peer pressure and a desire to conform will often induce 
other members of the group to follow suit. *5 

The German Verfassungsschutz study showed that 140 out of 263 travelers 
departed Germany with friends. A further 69 (18%) traveled to Syria with family 
members. Only 54 of the travelers (14%) were identified as having departed alone. The 
combined number known to have traveled in groups of friends or family is 209 out of 
263, or 79%. The report did not have any data on whether the remaining 116 foreign 
fighters traveled alone or in groups; however, even if all of these 116 unknown cases 
traveled alone, the group-travelers would still constitute over 55% of the total German 
foreign fighter contingent. Moreover, a large number of the Berlin study (35%) traveled 
to Syria or Iraq with some combination of spouses and children. 

E. INTEGRATION IN GERMAN SOCIETY 

The German government studies provide some clues about the relative integration 
of foreign fighters in German society. Many have suggested that that the poor economic 
and cultural integration of migrant groups in Germany has led to an increase in anger 
among young Muslim immigrants. They contend that the relegation of many of these 
migrants to communities in inner-city ghettos has made these locations prime targets for 
recruitment.86 while no precise metric for societal integration exists, data on ethnicity, 
migrations background, citizenship, criminality, conversion status, and previous jihadist 
experience all provide indications of the level to which German foreign fighters were 
integrated into German society. 

85 Hafez and Mullins, “Radicalization Puzzle,” 15-16. 

86 Robert S. Leiken, “Europe’s Angry Muslims,” Foreign Ajfairs 84, no. 4 (Jul, 2005) 120-135; 
Timothy Savage, “Europe and Islam,” Washington Quarterly 7, no. 3 (2004): 25-50. 


30 



1. Ethnicity and Migrations Background 

As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, the federal Verfassungsschutz 
report is short on information about the ethnic makeup of the German foreign fighters. 
From the report, we learn that 229 of the travelers were born in Germany (61%). This 
number includes both those of German ancestry as well as those bom into migrant 
families. The remaining 39% of travelers were first-generation immigrants. The federal 
Verfassungsschutz report does, however, reveal the birth nations of these first-generation 
immigrants—indicating the ethnic origins of at least some of the fighters. Of the first- 
generation immigrants in the federal study, significant groupings included 31 Syrians 
(8%), 24 Turks (6%), 12 Lebanese, and 12 Russians (3% each). 

Meanwhile, the Berlin study uses the term “migrations background” to address 
the question of ethnicity. Of the 60 travelers from Berlin, only 16 were without 
migrations backgrounds and can be assumed to be of German ancestry. The remaining 
travelers’ migrations backgrounds from the Berlin study are reflected in Figure 2. Here 
we see that the majority of foreign fighters had a migration history from politically 
unstable regions with significant Muslim populations. While these migrants (or their 
parents) might have left their homelands for economic or political reasons, they were 
attracted back as jihadists. 

Figure 2. Migrations Background of Fighters from Berlin 

■ Turkey (15) 

■ Former USSR inch Caucasus (16) 

■ Arab Worid (16) 

■ Former Yugoslavia (5) 

■ Other (4) 

■ No Migrations Background (4) 

Adapted and translated from Senatsverwaltung fiir Inneres und Sport—Berlin [Berlin 
Senate Department for the Interior and Sports], Ausreisen von Personen aus dem 
islamistischen Spektrum in Berlin nach Syrien/Irak [Foreign Travel of Persons from the 
Islamist Spectrum in Berlin to Syria and Iraq], (Berlin, Germany; 2015), 1-24. 
https;//www.berlin.de/sen/inneres/verfassungsschutz/publikationen/lage-und- 
wahlanalysen/. 



31 


Another factor related to integration examined in the federal Verfassungsschutz 
report is the age at which the foreign fighter originally immigrated into Germany. An 
immigrant arriving in Germany as a young child would be more likely to have mastered 
the German language, have German friends and benefited from Germany’s education 
system—providing a first approximation of the extent to which they might feel integrated 
into German society. The Verfassungsschutz report reveals the age-at-immigration for 82 
of the foreign-bom travelers. Of this group, 25 arrived in Germany as children under 14 
years of age, 27 arrived as adolescents between the ages of 14-21, and 30 immigrated to 
Germany as adults (over 21). This limited data set might suggest that age of migration 
was not a significant factor at all, yet it is probably too small to be significant. 

2. Citizenship 

Another potential measure of integration is citizenship. While citizenship does not 
always relate to feelings of integration, Rabasa and Benard find that Germans with a 
migration background who have German citizenship do score better on other measures of 
integration including education and employment. Yet according to the German 
Verfassungsschutz study, 233 of the travelers (61%) had some degree of German 
citizenship at the time of travel; 141 (37%) of the travelers had exclusively German 
citizenship; 92 (25%) had German and secondary (dual) citizenship. Among this group of 
92 travelers with dual or multiple citizenships were the following: 18 German- 
Moroccans, 17 German-Turks, 12 German-Syrians, and ten each for German-Afghans 
and German-Tunisians. Finally, Foreign citizenship numbers included 54 Turkish citizens 
(14%), 19 Syrian citizens (5%), and 13 with Russian citizenship (4%). Another 13% were 
listed as “other” and 2% as “unknown.” With a total of 61% of the foreign fighters in the 
German Verfassungsschutz report having some form of German citizenship it seems clear 
that German citizenship alone was insufficient to dissuade jihadist mobili z ation. 


Rabasa and Benard, Eurojihad, 12. 

32 



3. 


Conversion Status 


While the majority of fighters seemed to have an existing connection to Islam, 
conversion accounted for far fewer. Of the 294 cases for which the German government 
had data, 54 (18%) were identified as converts to Islam. 

4. Criminal Backgrounds 

A more significant contributor to radicalization appears to be criminality, which 
may also be connected to a lack of integration. The federal report indicates that 249 of the 
378 travelers had criminal backgrounds with local, state, or federal police (Figure 3). The 
study compared types of crimes before radicalization and after radicalization with 
interesting results. Before becoming radicalized, 117 of the eventual German travelers 
had criminal histories. Most common pre-radicalization offenses are broken up as 
follows: violent crime (87), property crimes (84), and politically motivated crimes (7).^^ 

After radicalization, 161 were known to have committed crimes in Germany 
(Figure 4). In the post-radicalization look, however, the politically motivated crime 
category jumps to become the largest single category at 107 records, or 32% of the total. 
In the post-radicalization look every other category of criminality stays flat or is slightly 
reduced (as a percentage of total crime), with notable exception of drug related crimes, 
which drop from 15% of the pre-radicalization total to only 4% after radicalization, 
possibly indicating the influence of Islam on the lifestyle of the foreign fighters. 


Verfassungsschutz, Anafyie, 12. 
89 Ibid. 


33 



Figure 3. Pre-Radicalization Criminal Records 


Sexual 
Crimes 
3% 

- - J 

Violent 

Crimes Property 

28% Crimes 

28% 


Drug- 

related 

15% 


Politically 
_ Motivated 
2 % 

Other 

24% 


Adapted and translated from Bundesamt fiir Verfassungsschutz [German Federal Office 
for the Protection of the Constitution], Analyse der den deutschen Sicherheitsbehorden 
vorliegenden Informationen iiber die Radikalisierungshintergriinde und -verldufe der 
Personen, die aus islamistischer Motivation aus Deutschland in Richtung Syrien 
ausgereist sind [Analysis of the information available to German security authorities 
about the radicalization process of persons who have traveled to Syria under Islamist 
motivations], (Cologne, Germany; 2014), 12. 

http://www.innenministerkonferenz.de/IMK/DE/termine/to-beschluesse/14-12- 
11 _ 12/anlage-analyse .pdf?_blob=publicationFile&v=2. 


Figure 4. Post-Radicalization Criminal Records 


Sexual 

Drug- 

Crimes 

related 

1% 

4% 


Violent 

Politically 

Crimes 

Motivated 

23% 

32% 

Property 

Crimes 

20% 

Other 

20% 


Adapted and translated from Bundesamt fiir Verfassungsschutz [German Federal Office 
for the Protection of the Constitution], Analyse der den deutschen Sicherheitsbehorden 
vorliegenden Informationen iiber die Radikalisierungshintergriinde und -verldufe der 
Personen, die aus islamistischer Motivation aus Deutschland in Richtung Syrien 
ausgereist sind [Analysis of the information available to German security authorities 
about the radicalization process of persons who have traveled to Syria under Islamist 
motivations], (Cologne, Germany; 2014), 12. 

http://www.innenministerkonferenz.de/IMK/DE/termine/to-beschluesse/14-12- 
11 _ 12/anlage-analyse .pdf?_blob=publicationFile&v=2. 


34 




5. 


Education 


While 73 of the travelers were known to be in school up until their departure to 
Syria, only 21 of those were attending Gymnasien (college-preparatory high schools).90 
This indicates that migrants tended to be either less educated or less able to access higher 
education, possibly due to migration and language difficulties in childhood. This is 
further supported by the following numbers: 116 of the travelers had completed high 
school. Forty-one (35%) of those completed the college-preparatory Gymnasium, while 
27 (23%) had completed the mid-tier Realschule. The study noted that this is slightly 
lower than the average German population statistics for completing those respective high 
schools (43% and 35%). 

6. Previous Conflict Experience 

The last significant factor found in the Berlin government report was that 25% of 
the Berliner foreign fighters (15 total) had experience in previous foreign conflicts. 
Twelve of the fighters had previously fought in the Afghan-Pakistan region, two in 
Bosnia, and one in Chechnya. All 12 of the Afghan-Pakistan group had been members of 
the “German Taliban Mujahidin” (DTM)—the first all-German unit of jihadist foreign 
fighters.91 

F. ANCHORING 

The data from the German study are mixed on the question of anchoring. Some 
social movement theorists have argued that people who are anchored through regular 
work and who have commitments to spouses and children are unlikely to join movements 
and are even less likely to engage in the more risky forms of activism.92 On the one hand, 

90 German high schools are based on a tiered-track system where students are divided into different 
high schools beginning at age 10 based on assessed potential. The brightest are selected for the college- 
preparatory Gymnasien, average students are sent to Realschulen to prepare for trades or white-collar jobs. 
The lowest performing students are sent to vocational Hauptschulen. Immigrant communities are 
traditionally underrepresented in Gymnasien and overrepresented in Hauptschulen. For more, see Vanessa 
Furhmans, “In Search of a New Course,” Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2011, http://www.wsj.com/articles/ 
SB10001424052702304066504576341353566196300. 

91 Steinberg, German Jihad, 30-31. 

92 McAdam, “Recruitment to High Risk Activism,” 70-71. 


35 



data from the German government do show that the German travelers tended to be on the 
lower end of the employment and education spectrum with approximately one-fifth 
unemployed and many others in low-wage jobs. The data on marriage and children, 
however, revealed a much higher number of married Germans undertook the personal 
risk of the trip to a war zone than original theories on anchoring would predict. 
Furthermore, that over a quarter of the travelers had children indicates that family 
commitments did not prevent these fighters from moving to higher-risk forms of 
activism.93 

1. Family Status 

In the federal study, 148 of the travelers were listed as married, 149 were known 
to be single, and the marital status of the remaining 81 travelers was unknown. According 
to the study, 104 of the travelers were known to have children. Whereas in the federal- 
level report only about half of the travelers were married, the Berlin numbers were 70%. 
Moreover, a surprising number of German foreign fighters brought their families with 
them to the combat area. The federal Verfassungsschutz reports shows 18% of the foreign 
fighters traveled with family members while 35% of the Berlin subgroup traveled with 
some combination of spouses and children. This raises two questions for further study: 1) 
is marriage to an equally radical co-religionist a significant push into joining the ranks of 
foreign fighters? and 2) is travel to a romantic vision of sacred jihad more attractive than 
remaining home? 

2. Employment and Career 

Out of the 378 German foreign fighters, 119 were either in school or employed 
before departure. The employment status of the remaining 177 foreign fighters was 
unknown. Of those not in schools, 46 were employed and 82 were officially listed as 
unemployed. Three very different interpretations of these numbers are possible. First, if 
one examines just the known employment data—ignoring full-time school 
commitments—this data would indicate that 64% of the German foreign fighters were 


93 Verfassungsschutz, Awafyse, 14-15. 


36 



unemployed before their departure. A second interpretation would be to treat school as an 
employment-like occupation. Factoring in school attendance as a form of employment 
changes the equation to 119 gainfully occupied against 82 unemployed—meaning just 
fewer than 40% of the fighters were unemployed. The third way to look at the numbers is 
to assume that Germany (like most governments) is reasonably good at tracking who is 
drawing unemployment checks, but is not as efficient at knowing where all of its 
employed residents work. By this estimation, the rate of 82 out of 378, or 21%, would be 
number of unemployed Germans joining radical jihad. By any of the above 
interpretations, it is safe to say that the unemployment rate among German foreign 
fighters was high before departure. Finally, the Verfassungsschutz report states that the 
jobs that were identified were overwhelmingly found in the lowest-skill and lowest- 
paying sectors of the German economy.94 

G. CONCLUSION 

The German studies provide an unusually close look at a Western government’s 
perspective on the foreign fighter phenomenon. Demographic data pulled from this and 
similar sources will assist researchers in better understanding the radioalization 
phenomenon within European Muslim communities. The data overwhelmingly indicate 
that face-to-face social networks—notably through Germany’s Salafist scene—remain 
the most powerful force in radicalizing and mobilizing Islamist fighters. The German 
reports also indicate that bloc mobilization accounts for large numbers of Europeans 
traveling overseas to combat zones. 

The data also show that integration issues, such as migration histories (either 
parental or personal), education, and employment do at least correlate to radicalizing, 
mobilizing and recruiting Islamist fighters to the end of 2015. The German government 
data suggests that either full or partial German citizenship had little to no deterrent effect 
on foreign fighter mobili z ation. 

Einally, family anchoring factors (marriage and children) did not appear to 
dissuade foreign fighter mobilization. According to McAdam, people involved in high- 

94 Verfassungsschutz, Anafyse, 12. 


37 



risk activism should be “relatively free of personal constraints that would make 
participation especially risky .”95 Yet roughly half of the German foreign fighters in the 
Verfassungsschutz report and over 70% of the Berlin study were married when they left 
for jihad. The German federal government’s report as well as several follow-on state 
government reports will continue to provide a trove of exceptional data for researchers 
examining why Europeans continue to leave their homes to join jihadist organizations. 


95 McAdam, “Recruitment to High Risk Activism,” 71. 


38 



III. GERMAN FOREIGN FIGHTERS: A MICRO-LEVEL 

ANALYSIS 

A. INTRODUCTION 

The German government perspective on foreign fighters is instructive primarily 
because of its depth. Governments generally have access to a wide variety of information 
about their citizens, such as arrest records, immigration documents, passport applications, 
and vehicle registration documents. Moreover, government investigators can interview 
fighters’ fa mi lies and friends after departure and have access surveillance reports and 
dossiers of radicalized Islamists already under investigation. Taken together, these data 
sources imbue the German Verfassungsschutz reports with a level of demographic detail 
nearly impossible for an academic study to replicate. As useful as the findings of these 
German government reports are, however, their fundamental data remain largely 
inaccessible to academic researchers. Because of how the Verfassungsschutz data were 
collected—not to mention security concerns and a host of privacy laws—academics 
cannot simply revisit the data to test new hypotheses or conduct follow-on analysis of the 
German dataset. Open source data collection remains therefore an imperfect but 
necessary tool for academic research on jihadist foreign fighters. 

The purpose of this chapter is to introduce the author’s analysis of 99 German 
foreign fighters who all departed Germany between March of 2012 and October of 2015 
and headed in the direction of the Syria/Iraq conflict zone. The 99 profiles were collected 
entirely from open sources between October of 2015 and mid-January of 2016. The 
dataset was analyzed in order to reveal the network connections of the 99 fighters, to 
measure their integration into German society and to assess their degree of anchoring or 
biographical availability for jihadist mobilization. Ancillary information discovered in the 
course of this analysis, but not directly related to networks, integration, and anchoring, is 
also presented in the hopes that it will provide a more complete picture and potentially 
inform future academic studies of the foreign fighter phenomenon. 


Sageman, “Stagnation in Terrorism Research,” 573. 


39 



This chapter will first describe the research methodology and will then present 
the basic demographic data on the 99 foreign fighter profiles. Next, this chapter will 
reveal the results of the link analysis on the connections between the 99 profiles prior to 
travel. The study will then return to a statistical examination of the German foreign 
fighters’ integration and anchoring factors. The chapter will conclude with a discussion 
of how this new information aligns with both the German Verfassungsschutz conclusions 
as well as and scholarly consensus on foreign fighter mobilization. 

B. METHODOLOGY 

Google and other online search engines were the primary tools used to find news 
articles containing information on German foreign fighters. Since most of the news 
stories of interest for this research are found in German press reports, search terms were 
entered in German. The initial Boolean search string used was “Dschihad AND (Syrien 
OR Irak).” The initial search yielded multiple German news articles with dozens of 
names. Once the name or alias of a potential foreign fighter was identified, it was 
recorded in a spreadsheet and follow-on searches were conducted. Follow-on Google 
search terms included fighter’s names or other identifying information from the initial 
results. Often, a media report about one foreign fighter would mention the names of 
friends or associates who were also foreign fighters.In this way a total of 143 initial 
profiles were collected and added to the spreadsheet with up to 40 potential data fields to 
hold information on each foreign fighter. 

The original list of 143 profiles was eventually reduced to 99. Several names were 
eliminated due to a lack of additional information discovery in follow-on searches. Other 
names were removed because further research revealed that these had not actually 
traveled to Syria or Iraq and had merely provided material support to travelers. Four of 
the original 143 profiles were found to be duplicates caused by media reporting 
irregularities, such as swapped first- and last- names and listing of aliases instead of 

The method of using data from the first query to define subsequent searches is sometimes referred 
to as snowball sampling. This method is not as statistically reliable as random sampling, but is often the 
only way to gather data on populations who wish to remain hidden. See Douglas D. Heckathorn, 
“Respondent-Driven Sampling: A New Approach to the Study of Hidden Populations,” Social Problems 
44, no. 2 (1997): 174, doi: 10.2307/3096941. 


40 



names. A good example of this sort of irregularity is Munir Ibrahim: a foreign fighter 
from the city of Pforzheim, who left Germany in 2012 and now fights for ISIS.^* Munir 
Ibrahim appears as “Munir 1.” in some German press reports and as “Ibrahim M.” in 
others. Because of guidelines in the German press code, which emphasizes privacy rights 
of people accused of crimes, it is standard practice for German media to identify foreign 
fighters only by their first name and last initial.Following the discovery of the Munir 
Ibrahim double listing, the database of foreign fighters was re-examined searching for 
overlapping demographic or background data as well as reversible first and last initials. 
In this way, one final double listing was eliminated. 

Data sources for the profiles were primarily German national media 
organizations. The most detailed profiles of German foreign fighters are found in the 
national news magazine Der Spiegel, followed by Die Welt, BILD, Frankfurt’s 
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and Munich’s SUddeutsche Zeitung. A variety of smaller 
local news sources and German television news websites also contributed to the 
information in the 99 profiles. For three profiles, additional biographical information was 
found in ISIS’ propaganda magazine Dabiq. This information concerned the friendship 
and familial relationship between three German foreign fighters Ibrahim B. (Abu 
Junaydah al Almani), Badr B. (Abu Hafs al Almani), and Fared Saal (Abu Luqman al 
Almani).ioo While ISIS propaganda should generally be treated with suspicion, there is 
no reason why the preexisting friendship between Fared Saal and Ibrahim B. and the 
familial relationship between Ibrahim and Badr B. should be a fabrication. Finally, two 
German-language weblogs were very helpful in assembling the profiles of the German 
foreign fighters. Both are considered credible sources by mainstream German media. The 


98 Joseph Rohmel “Mann mit den vielen Leben; Netzwerk der Totgesagten” [The Man with Many 
Lives: Network of the Presumed-Dead], Bayerischer Rundfunk [Bavarian Broadcasting Service], 
November 18, 2015, http://www.br .de/nachrichten/is-kaempfer-auferstehung-100.html. 

99After a fighter achieves a certain level of public notoriety, however (appearing unmasked in a 
beheading video or publicly calling for death of the German Chancellor in a YouTube video, for example), 
the German press tends to abandon their earlier self-restraint and freely publishes the fighter’s full name. 
For the German Press Code, see: “Pressekodex” [Press Code], Deutcher Presserat [German Press Council], 
accessed March 4, 2016, http://www.presserat.de/presserat/downloads/. 

“Amongst the Believers are Men” Dabiq 12, (2015): 55, http://jihadology.net/2015/11/18/new- 
issue-of-the-islamic-states-magazine-dabiq-12%E2%80%B3/. 


41 



first is Jih@d, which is a side project of German journalist Florian Flade, who also writes 
on radical Islamism and foreign fighters for the national publication Die WeltJ^^ The 
second blog consulted for this project was Erasmus Monitor, the author of which remains 

anonymous. 

Profiles were kept in the database only when at least two independent sources 
could be found to agree that the profiled individual was a German resident prior to 
departure and that the person’s apparent intended destination was the Syria-Iraq conflict 
area. The two independent sources could be two separate news articles, a weblog and a 
news article, or a news article and Dabiq. 

Discarded profiles were not entirely abandoned, however; some were retained for 
use in the Palantir network analysis. Among the profiles that did not meet the criteria for 
inclusion in the primary foreign fighter dataset were individuals identified as recruiters, 
supporters, or enablers of foreign fighters. Mrs. S., the mother of foreign fighters Emra 
and Ismail S., is a good example of several such enablers encountered. The brothers Emra 
and Ismail from Cologne were both members of the German jihadist Salafist group 
Millatu Ibrahim who left Germany in the spring of 2013 after their organization was 
outlawed in Germany. Eike the rest of the Millatu Ibrahim travelers, the brothers first 
went to Egypt before continuing on to Syria. Since her sons departed Germany, Mrs. S. 
has been stopped and searched at the Cologne Bonn Airport on two separate occasions on 
her way to Turkey. On the first occasion, in November of 2013, Mrs. S. had 50 AK-47 
assault rifle magazines packed in her luggage. On her second trip a month later, Mrs. S. 
was in possession of 187 magazines, 3 rifle scopes, 5 cellphones, and both of her sons’ 
passports. On both occasions, German authorities allowed Mrs. S. to continue her journey 
with all of her possessions. ^^3 Mj-s. S. and other similar supporters were added to a 
separate list for inclusion in the network analysis because determining network 
interconnectedness of foreign fighters was a primary objective of this research. Eor the 

Florian Flade, Jih@d (blog), accessed February 5, 2016, https://ojihad.wordpress.com/. 

Erasmus Monitor (blog), accessed February 4, 2016, http://erasmus-monitor.blogspot.com/. 

103 Markus Wehner, “Immer mehr deutsche Frauen im Dschihad,” [Always More German Women in 
Jihad], Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, March 8, 2014, http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/syrien- 
krieg-immer-mehr-deutsche-frauen-im-dschihad-12837534 . html 


42 



supporter and recruiter category, only network connection data was retained (the 
relationship between Mrs. S. and her sons, for example). Other demographic data, such as 
age, hometown, and marital status were not collected or maintained for these actors. 

Analysis of the 99 foreign fighters and their surrounding network was conducted 
using the Palantir visual analytics tool. Once assembled, the entire dataset of 99 foreign 
fighters was imported into Palantir as a single structured upload. Next, relationship links 
between the 99 foreign fighters and any known recruiters, supporters, enablers, and 
public figures of the Salafist scene were added to the dataset. Finally, geographical 
information, such as city coordinates, and German state boundaries from were uploaded 
to Palantir to create the basic framework for a limited geographic analysis of German 
foreign fighters.^04 jn this way both the social network connections and the geographic 
distribution of the 99 foreign fighters could be analyzed visually. 

Integration and anchoring factors of the 99 profiled fighters were analyzed using 
traditional statistical methods outside of Palantir. Factors used to determine integration 
into German society included ethnicity and migration backgrounds, citizenship, previous 
criminality, conversion status, and previous conflict experience. Biographical availability 
factors used to determine anchoring included family, school and career status of the 
profiled fighters. 

As with all such studies, the profiles of the 99 German foreign fighters suffer 
from information gaps. One of the limitations of collecting data through press reports, 
blogs, and social media postings is that information is not uniformly accessible for all 
variables in all cases. Indeed, even the German domestic intelligence service—despite 
their additional access to police and intelligence reports—lamented gaps in their 
background and radicalization data on the subjects of their report. Had the goal of this 
thesis been limited to assessing anchoring and integration in German society, more 
profiles would have been eliminated in favor of higher information density. Since this 

104 German State boundaries and other geographic data sourced from DIVA GIS, http;//www.diva- 
gis.org/Data. 

105 Snow, et ah, “Social Networks and Social Movements” 794. 

106 Verfassungsschutz, Analyse, 5. 


43 



research was designed to also examine the network integration of the foreign fighters, 
however, a larger sample set (N=99) was necessary. Therefore, profiles that had good 
network connection data but were otherwise short on biographic data were retained. 
Statistical results presented in this analysis will therefore clearly specify when smaller 
subsample (n) sizes were used. 

C. DEMOGRAPHIC DATA OF THE 99 FOREIGN FIGHTERS 

This section provides the basic demographic data of the 99 profiles, including 
gender, age, and current status (alive, dead, or imprisoned). It also provides context on 
the timing of their departure from Germany as well as their most recent German city and 
state of residence. 

1. Gender 

In this new dataset, 85 of the foreign fighters are men and 14 are women. This 
male/female ratio is similar with that of the German Verfassungsschutz study, which 
found a ratio of 89 men to 11 women. As discussed in Chapter II, however, the 
number of women mobili z ed for the jihadist cause in Syria is unprecedented: female 
participation in historic foreign fighter or jihadist mobili z ation prior to 2012 has never 
exceeded 

2 . Age 

Out of the 99 profiles, the ages of 60 German foreign fighters were discoverable 
in the source material for this study. For consistency, the age at the time of departure was 
recorded, rather than the age that a given foreign fighter would be today. German press 
reports occasionally differed on the ages of individual fighters. Sometimes this was the 
result of press articles being published at different dates—fighters continued to age and 
German newspapers reported fighters ages based on their age at the time of publication— 
not their age at the time of departure. In cases where a fighter’s age was in question, 
article publication dates were compared with reported departure dates to determine if an 

107 Verfassungsschutz, Analyse, 8. 

108 Malet, Foreign Fighters, 103. 


44 



age at departure could be determined. Finally, for reporting purposes, all ages are binned 
in three-year groupings in order to smooth out any misreported or misinterpreted age 
data. 

The average age of the German foreign fighter in this dataset is 26 at the time of 
departure. This finding is consistent with the Verfassungsschutz data (26.5), Hafez’s 
study of suicide bombers in Iraq (27), and the Sinjar records ( 27 ).1^9 Figure 5 provides an 
overview of the age ranges of the dataset. 

Figure 5. Age at Time of Travel 

25 
20 
15 
10 
5 
0 

15-18 19-22 23-26 27-30 31-34 35-38 39-42 43-46 47-50 Over 50 




I Female 
I Male 


3. Gender 

The Average age for women was 21 while the average age for men was 27. 
Indeed, in this analysis, the 15-18-age bracket is disproportionately female: 6 women to 
2 men, while very other age bins are male-dominated with a maximum of 2 females in 
each age grouping. This shows a preference toward recruiting extremely young women. 

4. Current Status 

A large number of the German foreign fighters (46 of 99) have died since leaving 
Germany. An additional 13 were listed in media sources as being detained, and most of 
those are in German prisons after returning home for various reasons. Of the 46 deceased 
foreign fighters, 16 died in unspecified combat, nine were listed as suicide bombers, eight 
died in enemy airstrikes, two died at the hands of a rival jihadist group, two died in a 

Hafez, Suicide Bombers in Iraq, 23; Fetter and Fishman, “Al-Qa’ida’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq,” 

23. 


45 

























vehicle accident, and one was killed by friendly fire. This total leaves eight causes of 
death unaccounted for. All of the above deaths were men except for the two car accident 
victims who died in Egypt before their travel group continued on to Syria, no Figure 6 
shows the current disposition of the profiled German foreign fighters. 


Figure 6. German Foreign Fighter Disposition 



5. Date of Departure 

Of The 99 fighters profiled in this dataset, all of the known departure dates 
occurred between April 2012 and fall of 2015. Travel dates could be determined for 44 of 
the 99 profiles and Figure 7 shows the distribution of the foreign fighter travel dates by 
year and quarter. A quarterly display was necessary because German press reports 
typically list departure dates by month or season, rather than providing the exact 
departure date. Some of the fighters had multiple departure dates, meaning they returned 
to Germany after some time in Syria only to return to the combat zone later. Kerim Mark 
B., from the German-Dutch border town of Kleve, counts as a sort of frequent flyer by 
German foreign fighter standards. According to German news sources, originally 

Florian Flade, “Deutsche Salafistinnen sterben bei Autounfall” [German Salafists Killed in Vehicle 
Accident], Die Welt, November 8, 2012, http://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/articlell0767894/ 
Deutsche-Salafistinnen-sterben-bei-Autounfall.html. 


46 




radicalized in 2008. He first traveled to Syria in 2013, but returned to Germany in 
January of 2014 to have his leg treated in a German hospital. He had apparently suffered 
a shrapnel injury fighting in the outs ki rts of Aleppo. He managed to evade German 
authorities and return back to Syria later in 2014 and was ultimately arrested in Turkey 
(presumably on another cross-border sojourn) whence he was remanded to German 
custody.m In cases like Kerim’s, only the fighter initial departure date to the combat 
area was included in the statistical analysis. 



The departure dates in Figure 7 correlate with some significant instances of group 
travel noted in German media reports. The first data spike coincides with the departure of 
several members of the outlawed German Salafist organization Millatu Ibrahim}^^ Due 
to Millatu Ibrahim’s importance in the development of the German foreign fighter 
movement, as well as the infamy several of its members have achieved, a brief 
deseription of the organization’s development and key leaders is necessary. 

a. Millatu Ibrahim: the First Wave of German Foreign Fighters in Syria 

In late 2011, Austrian jihadist Salafist Mohammed Mahmoud was released from 
prison in Vienna, where he had served a four-year sentence for his founding role in the 


m Marc Drewello, “Diese Terroristen bedrohen Deutschland,” [These Terrorists Threaten Germany], 
Stern, January 29, 2015, http://www.stern.de/ politik/deutschland/deutsche-dschihadisten—diese-islamisten- 
bedrohen-deutschland-3477254.html 

Florian Flade, “Deutsche Salafisten fliehen nach Agypten” [German Salafists Flee to Egypt], Die 
Welt, August 10, 2012, http://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/articlel08566593/Deutsche-Salafisten- 
fliehen-nach-Aegypten.html. 


47 




Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), a German-language jihadist propaganda site that 
translated and posted A1 Qaeda and other jihadist media for German-speaking 
audiences.! 13 After his release, Mahmoud and his wife moved to Germany where 
Mahmoud immediately made contact with the more radical elements of the Salafist scene 
in Berlin. There, Mahmoud met former gangster rapper Denis Cuspert (aka Deso Dogg, 
aka Abu Talha al Almani), who by this time was a rising star in a growing movement of 
politically active German Salafists.n^ 

Denis Cuspert was born in Berlin in 1975 to a German mother and a Ghanaian 
father, who left the family not long after Cuspert’s birth. As a young adult, Cuspert 
gained modest recognition as a gangster rapper in Berlin’s Hip Hop scene. His tattooed 
body and his criminal record, including firearms charges and property crimes, bolstered 
his “street cred.” Despite his contacts in both the United States and German Hip Hop 
community and despite his well-circulated rap albums, Cuspert never managed to turn his 
musical career into a financial success. 

Cuspert’s transformation from mediocre gangster rapper to jihadi Salafist 
superstar occurred in the span of about three years. Between 2008 and 2010 Cuspert 
gradually distanced himself from the Hip Hop scene and became increasingly active in 
Berlin’s Salafist scene. There, he caught the attention of well-known Salafist preacher, 
Pierre Vogel. Not long after Cuspert and Vogel’s first recorded meeting in February 
2010, Cuspert found himself on the Salafist speaking circuit—appearing in Islam 
seminars held in cities across Germany—where Cuspert would recount his personal story 
of redemption from a life of crime and drugs to one of purity and service to God.!!^ 


!!3 Steinberg, German Jihad, 133. 

Dirk Baehr, “Dschihadistischer Salafismus in Deutschland” [Jihadist Salafism in Germany], in 
Schneiders ed. Salafismus in Deutschland, 240. 

!!3 Senatsverwaltung fiir Inneres und Sport—Berlin [Berlin Senate Department for the Interior and 
Sports], Lageanalyse Denis Cuspert—eine jihadistische Karriere [Situation Report Denis Cuspert: A 
Jihadist Career], (Berlin, Germany: Verfassungsschutz, September 2014), 7-8, https://www.berlin.de/sen/ 
inneres/verfassungsschutz/aktuelle-meldungen/2014/artikel. 175431 .php. 

!!!! Senatsverwaltung Berlin, Lageanalyse Denis Cuspert, 9-12. 


48 



During this time Cuspert appeared at Islam seminars alongside several of 
Germany’s most well-known Salafist preachers. In addition to being mentored by Pierre 
Vogel, Cuspert appeared in YouTube recordings at Islam seminars alongside Abdellatif 
Rouali and Ibrahim Abou Nagie and created a YouTube video greeting with Sven Lau in 
Mecca in late 2010.^1^ Having forsworn rap music as haram (forbidden), Cuspert turned 
his lyrical talent toward composing Islamic chants called anashid {anashid is the Arabic 
plural form of nashid) in German and took performing those anashid at Salafist events 
were he was increasingly in demand. By the end of 2010, Cuspert’s anashid had taken on 
decidedly jihadist themes—openly calling for German Muslims to travel and fight in 
Afghanistan and Palestine, for example. Cuspert’s radioalization thus took place while he 
was under the direct tutelage of several of Germany’s most prominent Salafist preachers 
and while he was in a position to influence large audiences of young Muslims at seminars 
across Germany. 

By the time Cuspert met Mahmoud in Berlin in late 2011, Cuspert had been under 
the observation of German authorities for several months due to his increasingly radical 
anashid and his growing influence among young and radicalizing Salafists in Germany. 
Arid Uka, the young German mentioned in Chapter II who murdered two U.S. service 
members on a bus at Frankfurt’s airport is one such example. Uka and Cuspert were 
connected through Facebook and Uka apparently listened to some of Cuspert’s anashid 
immediately before launching his attack. Cuspert was never directly linked to the attack, 
but the apparent influence he had on Uka was enough to put Cuspert on government 
watch lists. 

Also around the same time that Mahmoud moved to Berlin, a new web-based 
Salafist organization calling itself Millatu Ibrahim emerged and became popular among 
jihad-inclined Salafists in Germany. Though it is not known how the organization was 

11^ “Abu Malik Deso Dogg Live mil einer video Botschaft aus Mekka bei der Hadsch mil dem EZP 
Team” [Abu Malik Deso Dogg Live with a Message from Mecca at the Haj with the EZP Team], YouTube 
video, 1;34, Posted by “ThePighterOflslam,” November 21, 2010, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jhx- 
ZQSjdjA. 

11^ Senatsverwaltung Berlin, Lageanalyse Denis Cuspert, 14 

119 Senatsverwaltung Berlin, Lageanalyse Denis Cuspert, 15 


49 



first established, it is clear that Mahmoud, Cuspert, and Cuspert’s good friend, Hasan 
Keskin ah rose to Millatu Ibrahim’s leadership inner circle in short order in the first 
months of 2012. Not long after Mahmoud’s arrival in Berlin, he relocated to the German 
industrial town of Solingen in North Rheine-Westphalia along with several of Millatu 
Ibrahim’s members. In Solingen, the group established the Millatu Ibrahim Mosque— 
giving the Internet-based organization a physical headquarters. Besides Solingen and 
Berlin, the group had a notable presence in Hamburg, Frankfurt, Dinslaken, and several 
other German cities. Millatu Ibrahim continued to grow and to attract new members, 
including the young convert and eventual suicide bomber, Robert Baum, mentioned at the 
beginning of Chapter II. It was not long before Millatu Ibrahim faced its first challenge 
from another radical group and took the next step in its development as a jihadist 

organization. 121 

b. Clashes with Right Wing Extremists and German Police 

During the spring 2012 federal elections campaign in Germany a rightwing 
extremist organization, “Citizen’s movement pro North Rheine-Westphalia,” (pro-NRW) 
began holding a series of campaign events deliberately designed to provoke Islamic 
organizations. Pro-NRW events generally included anti-immigrant and ant-Islamic 
messaging, they chose demonstration sites that were near Islamic community centers and 
mosques. Finally, Pro-NRW activists were known to occasionally flash signs depicting 
the Prophet Mohammed in caricature—hoping to provoke a response. 122 

One such political demonstration organized by pro-NRW occurred in the Solingen 
on May 1, 2012. Members of Millatu Ibrahim, along with other Muslims in the area 
organized a counter demonstration. Both the pro-NRW demonstration and counter¬ 
demonstration proceeded peacefully until a pro NRW member hoisted a new poster 
depicting the prophet Mohammed in an unflattering manner. Following this insult the 
Millatu Ibrahim counterdemonstrators began to throw rocks and bottles and engage in 

120 Baehr, “Dschihadistischer Salafismus in Deutschland” 240. 

^^21 Ministerium fiir Inneres und Kommunales des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen, 
Verfassungsschutzbericht 2014, 146. 

^^22 Senatsverwaltung Berlin, Lageanalyse Denis Cuspert, 15-16. 


50 



violent clashes with pro NRW demonstrators as well as with German police. Two 
German police officers and 14 Salafists were hurt in the action. 123 

The entire melee repeated itself in Bonn a few days later on May 5. This time, 
nearly 400 Salafists turned out for a counterdemonstration against a Pro-NRW rally. 
Denis Cuspert, Munir Ibrahim, Hasan Keskin and several others already mentioned in the 
preceding pages were among this crowd. When Pro-NRW activists predictably displayed 
the Mohammed caricatures, a rolling street battle ensued. After about 45 minutes of 
fighting 29 German police officers were injured, two of them seriously, and over 100 
activists were arrested. 124 One of the arrested Salafists was Murat K, who was later 
convicted of attempted murder for stabbing two police officers with a knife during the 

brawl. 125 

The events of 1 and 5 May led the German Interior minister to officially ban and 
disband Millatu Ibrahim on May 29, 2012. Not long after the official ban, approximately 
30 members of the organization left Germany. The core of the group, including 
Mahmoud and Cuspert, went to Egypt next, where they remained for several months. 
After leaving Egypt, most Millatu Ibrahim members continued on to Eibya and then on to 
Turkey and ultimately Syria in late 2012 or early 2013.126 Although officially disbanded, 
Millatu Ibrahim continued to influence the development of jihadist Salafism in Germany. 
Many of those who left Germany became prolific recruiters over the Internet, and many 
who stayed behind continued their activism—recruiting new followers who would join 
the fight in Syria in later waves of German jihadist mobilization. 


123 Senatsverwaltung Berlin, Lageanalyse Denis Cuspert, 15-16. 

124 “Salafisten vs. Pro-NRW: Gewaltausbruch alarmiert Sicherheitsbehorden” [Salafists vs. Pro-NRW: 
Outbreak of Violence Alarms Security Authorities], Spiegel Online, May 6, 2012, http://www.spiegel.de/ 
politik/deutschland/ salafisten-gegen-pro-nrw-innenminister-kuendigt-konsequenzen-an-a-831641 .html. 

125 Baehr, “Dschihadistischer Salafismus in Deutschland,” 241. 

126 Guido Steinberg, “Junud al-Sham and the German Foreign Fighter Threat,” CTC Sentinel, 9 no. 2, 
(February, 2016): 26, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/february-2016. 


51 



6. Geographic Distribution 

As discussed in Chapter I, the geographic distribution of foreign fighter 
recruitment helps to indicate whether online factors or face-to-face network connections 
were more influential in mobili z ation of foreign fighters. If Internet-based radicalization 
is dominant, recruits should be evenly distributed across German society—or at least 
German Muslim populations. If, however, face-to-face recruitment and radicalization 
predominates, then this should be evidenced through geographic clusters. Previous 
research shows foreign fighter recruitment to be a clustered phenomenon. According to 
Holman, “Belgian and French foreign fighters might have represented a quarter of all 
European foreign fighters in Iraq. The majority traveled between 2004 and 2005. Two 
foreign fighter networks, Kari and 19th, were responsible for the bulk of these 
individuals. These networks were involved exclusively in supporting the movement of 
foreign fighters to Iraq and bringing back into Europe individuals who had been fighting 
or were wounded.” ^27 

Analysis of the data on the 99 German foreign fighters shows distinct geographic 
clusters at both the state and city levels. A state-level analysis reveals that nearly half of 
the fighters (44) lived in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia before 
mobili z ation. The second most common state of origin was Hessen, followed by Eower 
Saxony and Baden-Wurttemberg. When adjusted for state population, the German city- 
state of Bremen ranks first with the highest fighter/population ratio. Table 1 shows the 
foreign fighter distribution among Germany’s 16 federal states. 


^^27 Timothy Holman, “Belgian and French Foreign Fighters in Iraq, 2003-2005: A Comparative Case 
Study,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 38, no. 8 (2015): 616. 


52 



Table 1. Foreign Fighter State of Origin 


state 

# Fighters 

Rank 

Population 
(2011 Census) 

Population 
Adjusted Rank 

North Rhine-Westphalia 

44 

1 

17,538,251 

2 

Hessen 

14 

2 

5,971,816 

3 

Lower Saxony 

9 

3 

7,777,992 

6 

Baden-Wiirttemberg 

7 

4 

10,486,660 

8 

Bavaria 

6 

5 

12,397,614 

9 

Berlin 

6 

6 

3,292,365 

5 

Hamburg 

4 

7 

1,706,696 

4 

Bremen 

2 

8 

650,863 

1 

Schleswig-Holstein 

2 

9 

2,800,119 

7 

Saxony-Anhalt 

1 

10 

2,287,040 

11 

Thuringia 

1 

11 

2,188,589 

10 

Brandenburg 

0 

- 

2,455,780 

- 

Mecklenburg-West Pomerania 

0 

- 

1,609,982 

- 

Rhineland-Palatinate 

0 

- 

3,989,808 

- 

Saarland 

0 

- 

999,623 

- 

Saxony 

0 

- 

4,056,799 

- 


Additionally, city-level data shows clear signs of clustering around five German 
cities: Dinslaken, Wolfsburg, Herford, Solingen, and Bonn. Four of these cities are 
identified in German media sources as cluster cities with up to 20 foreign fighters 
traveling to the combat area from Wolfsburgi^s and more than a dozen from Dinslakeni29 
Table 2 shows the top nine cities German cities source cities inlet study group. Together, 
these nine cities account for nearly 60% of the fighters in the dataset. 


Table 2. Foreign Fighter City of Origin 


City/Town 

# Fighters 

Population 

Population 
Adjusted Rank 

Dinslaken 

7 

69,472 

1 

Wolfsburg 

9 

121,758 

2 

Herford 

3 

64,088 

3 

Solingen 

6 

155,316 

4 

Bonn 

9 

309,869 

5 

Frankfurt 

12 

687,775 

6 

Hamburg 

5 

1,734,000 

7 

Berlin 

5 

3,502,000 

8 

Bremen 

2 

650,863 

9 


128 Yqjj (jgj- Heide, et al., “Von Wolsfburg in den Dchihad.” 

^^29 Ministerium fiir Inneres und Kommunales des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen, 
Verfassungsschutzbericht 2014, 146. 


53 










































Five German states had no foreign fighters identified in this study. Most of those 
states were part of the former East Germany, where foreign immigration was virtually 
nonexistent during the Cold War and only picked up in any measurable way within the 
last decade. This distribution also reflects migration patterns discussed in Chapter I. 
Figure 8 shows the population adjusted state density of the 99 foreign fighters as well as 
the top nine cluster cities. 


Figure 8. 


Population Adjusted State Density of German Foreign Fighters 



Schleswig- 

Holstein 


'Bfemenl 


B.ower 

Saxony 


iHeilordl 


North 
Rhine-Westphalia 


iDinslakenl 


AjUecklenburg 




Saxony 


Rhineland* 

J^alatinat^ 


^varia 


Wu^ember^' 


Fighters per 


population 


D. NETWORKS 

Networks have traditionally played an important role in the recruitment, 
radicalization, and mobilization for high-risk activism. Networks help to forge a common 
in-group identity, facilitate recruitment among like-minded individuals, and provide safe 
areas in which members can “try-out” increasingly riskier forms of activism. 130 Yet, 
several high-profile lone-wolf attacks in the West, along with an increasingly competent 
jihadist recruiting presence on the Internet, has led some to argue that terrorist recruiting 

^^30 Hafez, Suicide Bombers in Iraq, 21; Wickham, “Interests, Ideas, and Islamist Outreach in Egypt,” 

232. 


54 








in the West has undergone a transformation. As Sageman argues, “face-to-face 
radicalization has been replaced by online radicalization. The same support and 
validation that young people used to derive from their offline peer groups are now found 
in online forums away from traditional social networks.”^31 

The findings of the German Verfassungsschutz report, however, seem to challenge 
Sageman’s assessment. The Verfassungsschutz study indicates that 79% of German 
foreign fighters in the Syrian Civil War were connected to some element of the Salafist 
scene before they departed Germany.132 xhe report finds that connection to the Qur’an 
distribution network “Lies!, ” attendance of Islam seminars, attendance of Salafist 
mosques, and connection to well-known Salafist leaders are all indications of scene 
connection. 133 What the Verfassungsschutz assessment leaves unclear, however, is the 
extent to which these scene activities are related to each other and whether attending an 
Islam seminar is the same thing as being in a traditional social network. 

To address this gap, this study collected relationship data on the face-to-face 
social connections between the 99 profiled foreign fighters before their departure to 
Syria. This relationship data was then combined with the information on each foreign 
fighter’s scene connections (participation with “Lies!,” connection to Salafist scene 
leaders, etc.) and then aggregated in the visual analytics program, Palantir. Visual 
analysis of the dataset reveals the complex interconnections between the profiled fighters 
and demonstrates that most of the fighters in this dataset were mobili z ed within a single 
and interconnected network. 

1. The German Foreign Fighter Network Map 

The first Palantir network map (Figure 9) represents the 99 profiled German 
foreign fighters, their connections to recruiters, supporters, popular Salafist preachers, 
and Salafist scene organizations. It also shows how the fighters are connected to the top 9 
cluster cities in Germany. Links and nodes on the network map are color-coded by type. 

^^31 Marc Sageman, “The Next Generation of Terror,” Foreign Policy 165 (March-April, 2008): 41. 

132 Verfassungsschutz, Analyse, 14. 

133 Verfassungsschutz, Anafyie, 14. 


55 



Red nodes represent the original 99 fighters and the red links indicate personal 
connections between those 99 nodes. Blue nodes represent the recruiters, supporters, and 
preachers of the Salafist scene while blue links represent the connections to the same. 
Yellow nodes and links represent prominent Salafist scene organizations and their 
connections. 

The first network map shows that most of the profiled fighters were mobili z ed 
within a single interconnected traditional social network. The network map also shows a 
high degree of interconnectedness among fighters around the individual cluster cities— 
strong evidence for bloc recruitment. 



Ill 


Figure 9. The German Foreign Fighter Network 



The overall German foreign fighter map in Figure 9 shows ten orphan nodes in 
the top left comer of the network map. Orphan nodes are those nodes that have no 
verifiable connection to any other node in the network. Additionally, three pairs of nodes 
are displayed below the orphan nodes. These represent foreign fighters who, while 
connected to one another, could not be tied to the larger network. 


56 









In the following paragraphs and figures, the different layers of the foreign fighter 
network will be analyzed independently. Breaking the network map down by connection 
types allows a clearer understanding of the relationships between different nodes. In all of 
the network maps, the relative position of the connected nodes within the network is 
retained. When different layers of the network map are removed, some nodes become 
disconnected (orphaned) from the rest of the network. Orphan nodes and pairs are 
displayed on the top left corner of the map. In this way the significance of connection 
types is revealed. 

2. Personal Connections Between the 99 Profiled Foreign Fighters 

The first level of the link analysis (Figure 10) shows all of the personal friendship 
connections and associations between each of the 99 foreign fighters before they departed 
to the combat area. Each node on the network map represents a single German foreign 
fighter. This analysis shows that 71 of the 99 profiles had a personal connection with at 
least one other German foreign fighter before departing Germany. This initial network 
picture also shows 27 orphan nodes and seven disconnected pairs. Finally, this first level 
of link analysis shows three distinctive clusters of individual fighters. These clusters 
correlate geographically to Dinslaken, Bonn, and Wolfsburg. 


57 



Figure 10. Personal Connections Between Foreign Fighters Before Travel 






3. Connections with Recruiters, Supporters, and Salafist Scene Leaders 

While maintaining the relative position of the 99 fighters on the map, the 
connections to recruiters, supporters, and Salafist scene leaders are added in Figure 11. 
Blue-colored nodes and links represent these people and relationship. Relationships with 
Salafist scene leaders were tracked because of the Verfassungsschutz report finding that 
167 of the 378 foreign fighters in that study had connections to “well-known Salafists” 
before their departure to Syria. 1^4 

In total, 35 fighters had links to one or more recruiters, supporters or Salafist 
scene leaders before departure. When these relationships are added to the network map, 
the number of orphan nodes is reduced to just 17 with only five pairs of fighters 
remaining disconnected from other fighters or recruiters. Therefore, 82 of the 99 profiled 
fighters had a preexisting face-to-face relationship with at least one fighter, recruiter, 
supporter, or Salafist scene leader before their departure to the combat area. 


II 



134 Verfassungsschutz, Analyse, 13. 


58 











Figure 11. Foreign Fighter Links to Recruiters, Supporters, and Salafist Scene 

Leaders 



4. Group Membership and Participation 

As the German federal Verfassungsschutz report indicated, connections to Salafist 
groups in Germany were relevant for a large number of foreign fighters.^35 ^ext layer 
on the Palantir network map (Figure 12) shows those connections. German Salafist 
groups—most importantly “Lies!” and Millatu Ibrahim —are depicted in yellow on the 
network map. Research for this project identified 20 fighters with membership in Millatu 
Ibrahim and 18 who had participated with the “Lies!” Qur’an distribution campaign. 
Five of the fighters are linked to both “Lies!” and Millatu Ibrahim. Other Salafist 
organizations on the map include Salafist mosques, dawa organizations, and jihadist 
organizations, such as A1 Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. 

Establishing that these fighters belonged to the same organizations does not mean 
that they knew one another. Indeed, both “Lies!” and Millatu Ibrahim had members in 
multiple German cities and it would be unrealistic to assume that all members of these 


135 Verfassungsschutz, Anafyie, 13. 


59 









organizations knew all other members. Shared membership in such organizations does, 
however, establish that these fighters were part of a common network before or during 
their radio alization. 

When the group links are added to the network map in Figure 12, the number of 
orphan nodes is reduced to just 14 with three remaining disconnected pairs. Thus, the 
Palantir network analysis shows that 79 out of 99 profiles were mobilized out of a single 
and interconnected Salafist network inside Germany. Only 20 foreign fighters could not 
be directly linked to the network—making it possible, but not definitive, to suggest that 
these 20 were radicalized and recruited online. A closer examination of these remaining 
fighters is therefore necessary in order to determine whether all 20 were, in fact, truly 
disconnected from the Salafist scene and whether they may have been radicalized through 
online social media, instead of through traditional network connections. 


Figure 12. Foreign Fighters, Known Preachers and Recruiters 



60 




5. 


Traditional vs. Online Mobilization 


The 20 remaining foreign fighters consist of 14 men and 6 women. Their average 
age is 24 and they come from 18 different cities in Germany, although three of them do 
come from previously identified cluster cities (two from Frankfurt and one from 
Hamburg). Based on qualitative analysis on the background and demographic data of 
these remaining fighters, four broad categories emerge. These categories are reflected in 
Figure 13 and discussed in detail over the following paragraphs. 

Figure 13. Possible Online Radicalization Among 20 
Non-Connected Foreign Fighters 

Confirmed 
Likely 
Possible 
Unlikely 


I Male 
I Female 


10 



In the first category, German press reports confirm online social media was the 
primary radicalization factor. All four of these cases are women who were radicalized 
and recruited through undisclosed social media contacts. All four came from different 
German cities, though each linked up with one other woman immediately before 
traveling to Turkey. German press reports indicate that jihadist groups in Syria are 
running a deliberate recruiting campaign to attract Western women to the combat area, 
and that they particularly target very young women. 13^ 

Fighters in the second category were similarly geographically dispersed in 
Germany and press reports provide no indication of face-to-face contact with the Salafist 
scene. At the same time, press reports do not specifically cite online factors in their 
radicalization either. This group includes two women and one man. One of the women in 
this group, Sarah O., has since become a regular blogger—encouraging other young 

136 Wehner, “Immer mehr deutsche Frauen.” 


61 








women to join her in Syria. ^37 Sarah was just 15 years old in the fall of 2013 when she 
forged her father’s signature on the appropriate paperwork and purchased an airline ticket 
to Turkey. Sarah told friends over on social media she wanted to marry a jihadist fighter. 
Not long after arriving in Syria, Sarah apparently got her wish. German media sources 
state that in January of 2014, Sarah, still only 15 years old married the foreign fighter 
Ismail S.138 Ismail’s mother, Mrs. S., was already mentioned in this chapter for 
transporting AK-47 magazines and other equipment to Turkey in November and 
December of 2013. One might joke that these deliveries should be regarded as not as 
material support but as wedding gifts. 

The third category group of the non-connected fighters has the lowest overall 
information density when it comes to network connections. This group includes the four 
fighters from the three cluster cities mentioned above. It also includes the twins Kevin 
and Mark K. from the North Rheine Westphalia town Catrop Rauxel. According to ISIS’ 
propaganda magazine Dabiq, the twin converts died as suicide bombers in a battle near 
Baiji, Iraq. 139 Detailed German press reports about Kevin and Mark’s histories reveal no 
specific connection to the Salafist scene, though Kevin is said have come under the 
“influence” of radical Salafist preachers like Ibrahim Abou Nagie and Pierre Vogel, 
The exact radicalizing influences for these fighters remains unclear, but online social 
media cannot be ruled out. 

The final subgroup of non-connected fighters includes four fighters who were 
most likely either part of the Salafist scene or mobilized in face-to-face encounters, 
instead of over online social media. The first, Aleaddine T., was a member of the 


137 Ulrike Hummel, “Als ‘Gotteskriegerin’ in den Dschihad” [As ‘female jihadist’ into jihad], 
Deutsche Welle, May 4, 2014, http://dw.eom/p/lBZPp. 

138 Christoph Ehrhardt and Markus Wehner, “Bis dass der Tod sie scheidet” [Until Death Do Them 
Part], Frankfurter Allgemeine, March 10, 2014, http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/deutsche- 
dschihadisten-bis-dass-der-tod-sie-scheidet-12838855.html. 

139 “The Capture of the 4* Regiment Base,” Dabiq 9, (April, 2015): 30, http://jihadology.net/2015/05/ 
21/al-%El%B8%A5ayat-media-center-presents-a-new-issue-of-the-islamic-states-magazine-dabiq-9/. 

140 Jorg Diehl and Roman Lehberger, “‘Islamischer Staat’: IS wirbt mit deutschen Terror-Zwillingen” 
[“Islamic State”: IS advertises with German Terror-Twins], Spiegel Online, May 27, 2015, 
http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/islamischer-staat-is-wirbt-mit-terror-zwillingen-aus-deutschland-a- 
1035688.html. 


62 



Wolfsburg group for whom a direct connection to the other fighters could not be 
established through this thesis’ methodology. While he cannot be linked to any individual 
fighter from Wolfsburg, several reports claim he was part of the group. The other three 
fighters in this category are Aslanbek F., Kerim Mark B., and Yannik Pipiorka. 

Aslanbek F., a Chechen-German from Kiel, traveled to Syria with a group of eight 
other men, whose names were not identified, in December of 2012. He was killed shortly 
after arriving in Syria during clashes outside of Aleppo. German newspaper interviews 
with Aslanbek’s wife reveal that in the days after his death, his family received visitors 
from “all over Europe” who both knew about Aslanbek’s death and (like his wife) 
believed Aslanbek to be a martyr.Before his departure Aslanbek had attended the Ibnu 
Taymiyya Mosque in Kiel, which has been under observation by the German authorities 
for radicalizing several members and sending them to fight in jihadist causes. Despite the 
similarities between Aslanbek’s story and the stories of countless other German foreign 
fighters, no links could be found in German media that would connect either Aslanbek or 
the Ibnu Taymiyya mosque with other parts of the Salafist scene or the remaining foreign 
fighter profiles. Nevertheless, based on the description of Aslanbek’s departure in a group 
of eight others and his ties to a fundamentalist mosque, it seems likely that Aslanbek was 
recruited and mobili z ed within a traditional social network and not in isolation as a lone 

Another foreign fighter who could not be directly connected to the rest of the 
network is Kerim Mark B.: the fighter mentioned earlier in this chapter who traveled 
back to Germany to have his shrapnel wound treated only to return to Syria in 2014. 
Kerim first appeared in German media in 2012 when his name was added to a German 
government list of potentially dangerous Islamists living in Germany. ^43 At the time 
Kerim was living in Diisseldorf and was active in a Salafist mosque near the city’s central 


Jan Liebold and Volkmar Kabisch, “Mein Mann ist ein Schahid” [My Husband is a Martyr], 
Siiddeutsche Zeitung, 9 April, 2013, http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/deutsche-im-syrischen- 
buergerkrieg-mein-mann-ist-ein-schahid-1.1644758 

142 Ibid. 

143 Drewello, “Diese Terroristen.” 


63 



train depot. Like Aslanbek F., Kerim Mark B. was likely connected with the Salafist 
scene, but those contacts could not be verified by German press reports. 

A final example of the disconnected foreign fighter is Yannik Pipiorka. Yannik 
was a developmentally challenged and occasionally homeless 23-year-old Polish- 
German. Prior to his radicalization and travel to Syria, Yannik lived on the streets in the 
Southern German city of Freiburg. According to acquaintances and social workers in 
Freiburg, Yannik encountered his jihadist recruiters “on the streets of Freiburg.” 
Subsequent searches for evidence that Yannik may have been radicalized online were 
fruitless: Yannik had no social media accounts. Yannik’s radicalization took place 
between the fall of 2013 and the summer of 2014, when he departed for Turkey and then 
on to Syria. In May of 2015, Yannik made headlines in Germany after he detonated an 
explosives-laden truck at a military checkpoint in Baiji, Iraq—killing himself and eight 

Iraqi soldiers. ^^4 

While Yannik, Kerim, and Aslanbek could not be directly linked to the rest of the 
German foreign fighters through the Palantir analysis, such connections likely existed. 
Their background stories have much more in common with the backgrounds of those who 
were mobili z ed through traditional face-to-face contact, rather than through online social 
media. 

To review the information available on the 20 disconnected foreign fighters only 
seven (approximately 7% of the total group) were either clearly recruited online or likely 
to have been recruited online. Evidence from German press reporting strongly suggests 
that four others were recruited through Salafist scene contacts while there was not enough 
information to determine how the remaining nine were recruited. Based on this 
information it is possible to estimate that online recruitment accounted for between 4% to 
a maximum of 16% of the total foreign fighter dataset. 


^^44 Alfred Hackensberger, “Die neuen IS-Kampfer? Obdachlose und Behinderte” [The New IS- 
fighters? Homeless and Disabled], Die Welt, June 11, 2015, http;//www.welt.de/politik/ausland/ 
article 142217606/Die-neuen-IS-Kaempfer-Obdachlose-und-Behinderte.html. 


64 



6. Bloc and Family Mobilization 

Research into the mobilization and travel patterns of the 99 foreign fighters 
revealed that over one third (34 out of 99) traveled to the combat area in groups. For 64 
of the profiles, no information about group travel was available. Only one of the 99 
fighters, Yannik Pipiorka, was specifically listed in German press reports as having 
traveled alone. 

These bloc mobilization rates are not as high as the Verfassungsschutz report 
figures, which showed that over half of the German fighters traveled with friends and 
only 18% traveled alone. The simplest explanation for this disparity is that the 
government data used in the Verfassungsschutz report is more thorough when it comes to 
travel details. It is likely that several of the 64 travelers with missing travel data traveled 
in groups, but that this information never made it into the hands of reporters. 

As the Verfassungsschutz report also discovered, a surprising number of fighters 
in this dataset traveled to the combat area with family members. Of the 99 foreign 
fighters, at least ten traveled to Syria or Iraq with some combination of spouse or 
children. An additional 21 either traveled with or traveled to join other relatives, 
including spouses, brothers, sisters, and cousins. Finally, four of the 99 profiled fighters 
are believed to have become couples after arriving in Syria—Sarah O. and Ismail S.i^^ 

E. INTEGRATION IN GERMAN SOCIETY 

To address the claim that jihadist radicalization is primarily driven by an 
integration deficit experienced by Muslim immigrants in European society, this study 
collected the profiled foreign fighters’ migrations backgrounds, criminal history, and 
conversion status of the profiled foreign fighters. ^46 A look at this integrations data 
shows mixed results. While the profiled group includes many first- and second- 
generation immigrants, it also contains a surprising number of native German converts 
who, from a cultural and linguistic perspective, would be completely integrated with 

145 Ehrhardt and Wehner, “Bis dass der Tod” [Until Death]. 

146 Leiken, “Europe’s Angry Muslims,”120-135. 


65 



German society. Finally, the number of fighters with criminal records was lower than 
expected. 

Testing the level of integration with this dataset was challenging. Information 
such as how many generations a fighter’s family lived in Germany, or whether someone 
had dual- or single- nation citizenship was rarely reported even the most thorough press 
articles. Governments enjoy a clear advantage in assembling such information. 
Nevertheless, the available data on the 99 profiled fighters was examined for migrations 
background, ethnicity, conversion status, and criminal history with the expectation that 
highly integrated members of German society would be less inclined toward criminality. 

1. Migrations Background and Ethnicity 

Research on the 99 foreign fighters revealed the national origin of the families of 
61 fighters. Of these 61, 13 were native Germans with both parents having German 
ancestry. The remaining 48 had at least one parent of non-German ancestry. Ten were 
identified as first-generation immigrants to Germany and 12 were identified as second or 
third generation immigrants. 

When organized by region, the national backgrounds of the 61 fighters for whom 
information was available is as follows. The largest grouping was of foreign fighters with 
migrations backgrounds from Arab countries (25). Twenty of these were from North 
Africa and only 5 from the Levant and Arabian Peninsula. Sixteen had backgrounds from 
Western states, including the 13 native Germans and three who were half German and 
half American, British, and Italian respectively. Another 10 had Turkish migrations 
backgrounds. These family national origins are shown in Figure 14. 

German press reports did not reveal family origin for the remaining 38 foreign 
fighters. A brief analysis of the first names and conversion status of this group reveals 
that only four of the 38 were identified as Muslim converts. These four also and had 
traditionally German-sounding names. The remaining 34 have names—like Amira, Fatih, 
Ismail, and Samir—which do not conclusively prove Turkish or Middle Eastern heritage, 
but do strongly suggest it. 


66 



Figure 14. Migrations Background by Region (n=61) 


Sub- 


Other, 3 


Former 

Yugoslavia, 

4 



2. Conversion Status 

Of the group of 99 profiles, 23 were listed as converts to Islam. Thirteen of these 
23 were native Germans with no other foreign background. These 12 had names like 
David Gable, Christian Emde, and Philip Bergner. Of the remaining 10 converts, three 
came from decidedly Western backgrounds (US-German, UK-German, and Italian- 
German). Two other converts had immigration backgrounds from Ghana and one from 
Poland. Finally, three were identified as converts, but their ethnic and migration 
backgrounds could not be determined. The names of one would indicate that they are 
possibly of German origin, while the other two are only identified by alias. 

The death rates found in this study group seem to suggest that being an Arab 
immigrant or birth Muslim in Germany does not translate into special treatment upon 
joining ISIS’ ranks. Some have argued that ISIS disproportionately uses foreign fighters 
as “cannon fodder,” and preserves the Arab fighters for less dangerous tasks, Gates 
and Potter, for example, show that foreign fighters are often steered toward suicide 
missions where their relative lack of combat skill is less of a liability for the 


Eli Lake, “Foreign Recruits are Islamic State’s Cannon Fodder,” Bloomberg, February 11, 2015, 
http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-02-l 1/foreign-fighters-are-islamic-state-s-cannon-fodder. 


67 





organization. 148 Eleven of the converts have died in the combat area and four have been 
detained following deportation from Turkey. This convert death rate aligns closely with 
the overall death rate among German foreign fighters (48% vs. 46%). Although the 
numbers are small, this finding indicates that the ethnic background of German foreign 
fighters does not determine their eventual assignment within jihadist organizations. 

3. Education 

The education status of only 27 of the 99 fighters was available. Only two of the 
fighters had above a bachelor’s degree. The first had an advanced degree in engineering 
and the other was attending medical school before leaving Germany. Four of the fighters 
had completed some college or were still attending universities before departing. Eleven 
had completed secondary school and five were identified as high-school dropouts. 

4. Criminal Background 

A final measure of integration in German society is criminality. Criminality can 
be seen as both a symptom and a cause of poor integration in society: Disenfranchised 
people may have greater incentive to commit crimes and having a criminal past often 
excludes people from greater levels of participation in society. Criminality also fits well 
in the conversion narratives of many German Salafists. Denis Cuspert was in high 
demand at Salafist seminars not only because he was almost famous, but more 
importantly because his personal story of escaping from an immoral past served as an 
allegory for an escape from a modern jahiliyya (the ignorant and dark pre-Islamic era).i49 

Among the 99 foreign fighters profiled for this report, only 16 had clearly 
discoverable criminal backgrounds (press reports implied connections to criminal mi lieus 
for several others, but these implications were too ambiguous to warrant inclusion in the 
foreign fighter profiles). At 16%, these results are much lower than those found in earlier 
empirical studies of jihadist mobilization. The Verfassungsschutz report, for example. 


^^48 Scott Gates and Sukanya Fodder, “Social Media, Recruitment, Allegiance and the Islamic State,” 
Perspectives on Terrorism 9, no. 4 (July 21, 2015). 

^^49 Baehr, “Dschihadistischer Salafismus in Deutschland” [Jihadist Salafism in Germany], 242. 

68 



found that 30% of German foreign fighters had criminal records before radicalizingd^o 
The most plausible explanation for this disparity is that the German Verfassungsschutz 
researchers have access to the full range of government databases while German 
journalists do not. 

F. ANCHORING 

Finally, the German foreign fighter profiles were examined for evidence of their 
biographical availability—presence or absence of anchoring factors, such as marriage, 
children, and busy careers. According to social movement theory, being involved in a 
busy job and caring for children naturally limits how much time a person has to join 
radical causes to begin with and particularly reduces a person’s willingness to engage in 
more risky forms of activism.Thus, the difference between being exposed to a social 
movement and actually deciding to join it comes down to how much time a potential 
recruit has available. 1^2 

1. Family Status 

Marriage and family status was available for 47 of the 99 profiles. Of these, 23 or 
nearly half were married before leaving Germany. Moreover, 17 (or 36%) had children. 
As mentioned above, over 10% of the profiled group traveled to the combat area with 
their spouse, their children, or both. Finally, only 16 of the 47 were identified as single. 
Like the German government data, this information suggests that having the 
responsibility of families to care for in Germany did little to anchor these foreign fighters 
or prevent their mobili z ation. 

2. Career 

Employment information for the 99 profiled fighters was limited. Research for 
this project was able to discover employment data for only 30 of the 99 profiles. While 


150 Verfassungsschutz, Anafyse, 12. 

151 McAdam, “Recruitment to High Risk Activism,” 71. 

152 Michelle Petrie, “A Research Note on the Determinants of Protest Participation: Examining 
Socialization and Biographical Availability,” Sociological Spectrum 24, no. 5 (2004): 553-574. 


69 



the types of jobs identified are diverse, they were predominantly lower-skill and lower- 
wage jobs. The group included a computer engineer, a massage therapist, a hairdresser, a 
soldier, a pizza deliveryman, a sales clerk, and one gangster-rapper. Ten of the 30 were 
listed as full-time students, two had only partial employment, and three were listed as 
unemployed. 

G. CONCLUSION 

Palantir network analysis of this robust dataset shows that face-to-face traditional 
networks remain the most important mobilization factor for jihadist foreign fighters. The 
network analysis in this chapter has shown that at least 80% of German foreign fighters 
were mobili z ed and radicalized within a traditional social network. This radicalizing 
network extends across Germany and appears entirely embedded within the politically 
active German Salafist scene. 

While traditional social networks are the most important mobilizing factor for 
German foreign fighters, this analysis also finds that some fighters are indeed radicalized 
and recruited over the Internet. This research shows, however, that this is a very small 
percentage. Based on the evidence in the 99 profiles, it is possible to conclude that online 
radioalization accounts for between 4% and 16% of the total foreign fighter movement. 
Furthermore, those recruited online tend to be female and much younger than those 
mobilized within traditional face-to-face networks. Finally, Palantir analysis shows the 
foreign fighter movement in Germany to be a geographically clustered phenomenon— 
with over half of German foreign fighters originating from just seven German cities. 

At the same time, the statistical analysis of the foreign fighter integration in 
German society is less clear. On the one hand, most German foreign fighters in this 
dataset had migrations backgrounds. As a group, they also tended to be less educated, 
underemployed, and were somewhat more likely to have criminal records. On the other 
hand, the group also included many who did not fit the above description including at 
least 13 native Germans as well as migrants and children of migrants who appeared 
completely integrated in German society before becoming radicalized. 


70 



Finally, the anchoring and biographical availability data from the 99 profiles 
shows over half of the German foreign fighters were well anchored in family 
relationships and traveled to the combat area despite this biographical unavailability. Not 
only did having a spouse or children not prevent these fighters from radicalizing, but also 
nearly half of the fighters with families brought those families with them to the combat 
area. At the same time, the foreign fighters in this dataset were unanchored in terms of 
career or job commitments. 


71 



THIS PAGE INTENTIONALLY LEET BLANK 


72 



IV. CONCLUSION 


A. INTRODUCTION 

This thesis analyzed robust empirical data from both the author’s independent 
research and from German government reports to explain why and how over 700 German 
foreign fighters mobili z ed for a violent jihadist cause in the Middle East between 2012 
and 2015. The project’s most important contribution is in demonstrating that German 
foreign fighters are primarily mobilized through a traditional social network that is 
embedded in a nationwide politically active German Salafist scene. The project also 
showed that while Western governments often worry about the looming threat of online 
radicalization, verifiable examples of purely Internet-based radioalization remain rare. 
Finally, this thesis demonstrated that neither poor integration nor biographical availability 
sufficiently predicted mobilization of individual foreign fighters. 

This chapter will first present the major findings of the thesis by revisiting the 
original hypotheses proposed in Chapter I. Next this chapter will discuss the implications 
of these findings for the present crisis in Syria and for the future of jihadist Salafism in 
the West. Finally, the chapter will conclude with recommendations for future research. 

B. HYPOTHESIS EVALUATION 

I. HI: German Foreign Fighters Are Mobilized Primarily Through 
Traditional Social Networks 

HI attempted to examine to what extent German foreign fighters were connected 
to one another and to their recruiters through face-to-face traditional networks prior to 
mobilizing. The German foreign fighter network was analyzed with the expectation that 
high levels of preexisting connections between fighters, geographic clustering, and high 
instances of bloc mobili z ation would be strong evidence that fighters are mobili z ed 
within traditional networks. 

Network analysis of the German foreign fighter dataset overwhelmingly 
demonstrates that face-to-face traditional networks are the most important mobilization 
factor for jihadist foreign fighters. Of the 99 foreign fighter profiles analyzed for this 

73 



study 79 could be directly linked to a single interconnected network using only 
information gathered from open source media reporting. This analysis is further 
supported by the German Verfassungsschutz report findings, which place the 
phenomenon within a politically active and growing Salafist movement in Germany. 

Both the author’s research and the German government findings show high levels 
of bloc mobilization and geographic clustering. Overall bloc mobilization statistics show 
that between one third (author’s profiles) and one half {Verfassungsschutz report) of all 
German foreign fighters traveled to the combat area with groups of friends and family. 
Additionally, the geographic analysis conducted in Chapter III shows that more than half 
of all German foreign fighters came from just seven German cities while multiple 
German sources cite major clusters in Dinslaken, Herford, Wolfsburg and Solingen. 
These findings align well with social movement theory, showing that like traditional 
social movements, jihadist organizers in Germany recruit within “dense social networks” 
and “preexisting formal and informal groups. 

Finally, these findings align with other research that shows foreign fighter 
recruitment to be a clustered phenomenon, such as Holman’s study of French and Belgian 
foreign fighters in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. According to Holman, “two foreign fighter 
networks, Kari and 19th, were responsible for the bulk of these individuals. These 
networks were involved exclusively in supporting the movement of foreign fighters to 
Iraq and bringing back into Europe individuals who had been fighting or were 

wounded.” 


2. H2: Social Media Has Replaced Traditional Social Networks in 

Mobilizing German Foreign Fighters 

H2 attempted to empirically test the claim that jihadists are increasingly 
mobilized as lone wolves through online social media, instead of through face-to-face 
recruitment in traditional social networks. This hypothesis predicted few interpersonal 


153 Della Porta, “Introduction; On Individual Motivations,” 6. 

154 Holman, “Belgian and French Foreign Fighters,” 616. 


74 




connections between fighters and geographically dispersed—rather than clustered— 
incidences of radicalization. 

This study did find clear evidence of limited online recruitment for the German 
foreign fighter movement, however, the findings do not support the contention that online 
recruitment is growing or that it threatens to replace traditional social networks. The 
German Verfassungsschutz study finds that only 6% of German foreign fighters were 
recruited or mobilized solely through online social networks, while the author’s network 
analysis in Chapter III finds the number of confirmed and likely online recruiting 
incidents to be somewhere between 4% and 

Finally, the author’s analysis of the confirmed and likely cases of online 
recruitment shows that this group is predominantly female and younger than those 
mobilized though traditional social networks. 

3. H3: Integrated Muslims in Germany Are Less Likely to Become 

Foreign Fighters 

The goal of the third hypothesis was to test the contention that the poor 
integration of Muslims in Europe is a cause of Islamist radicalization. 1^6 xhe hypothesis 
predicted that the ranks of the German foreign fighter movement would be primarily 
filled with those who are not well integrated in German society. The hypothesis was 
tested using background data of the foreign fighter dataset such as migration histories 
(either parental or personal), citizenship, education, and employment. 

Empirically proving the effect of an “integration deficit” on individual foreign 
fighters proved difficult for three reasons. Eirst, the data available in both German 
government sources as well as published media reports is incomplete. Second, even when 
objective data were able to hint at a particular foreign fighter’s level of integration, these 
data were still lacking an essential subjective element, that is how integrated the 
particular foreign fighter felt. Einally, the integration question does not account for the 
statistically significant numbers of converts and native Germans joining the movement. 

155 Verfassungsschutz, Awflfyse, 14-15. 

Leiken, “Europe’s Angry Muslims,” 25-50. 


75 



The data in both Chapter II and III do show that poor integration factors at least 
correlate to foreign fighter mobilization in Germany. In both the Verfassungsschutz report 
and in the author’s 99 profiles, foreign fighters tended to have migration backgrounds, 
were frequently underemployed, unemployed and many had criminal records. At the 
same time, both datasets included seemingly well-integrated Germans of both foreign and 
native-born ancestries. Finally, the Verfassungsschutz report showed that German 
citizenship—considered to be a positively linked with societal integration—did not make 
Germans any less likely to join the foreign fighter movement, Given the sparseness of 
the data, the mixed outcome of the results, and the essentially subjective component of 
assessing integration, this research does not support the hypothesis that poor integration 
is a causal factor in mobilizing foreign fighters. 

4. H4: Unanchored Members Of German Society Are More Likely to 

Become Foreign Fighters. 

The final hypothesis was also inconclusive. H4 sought to test the claim that less 
anchored Germans, or those with more biographical availability would be more likely to 
mobili z e as foreign fighters. 

Research in this thesis did show that in terms of employment, the German foreign 
fighters were indeed unanchored. Many were students, unemployed, or working odd jobs 
in the lower paying sectors of Germany’s economy. On the other hand, in terms of family 
anchoring factors, such as marriage and children, the German foreign fighters were well 
anchored. While some social movement theorists would predict that being a parent would 
discourage an individual from engaging in high-risk activism, this anchoring factor 
seemed to have little effect on the German foreign fighters.xhe Verfassungsschutz 
report shows that about half of the German foreign fighters were married when they left 
for jihad. 


Rabasa and Benard, Eurojihad, 12. 

158 McAdam, “Recruitment to High Risk Activism,” 71. 
Ibid. 


76 



The findings on family anchoring in the German foreign fighter movement do 
align with previous research on Salafist jihadist. Sageman’s study of global Salafist 
mujahedeen before 2001 for example, finds that 73% of his dataset were married. 
Sageman associates the high marriage rate with the tenets of Salafi Islam and argues that 
marriage between mujahedeen families “sealed their religious and political 
relationships.” 

C. IMPLICATIONS AND FOLLOW-ON RESEARCH 

A major implication of this research concerns the unprecedented percentage of 
female recruits being drawn into the jihadist foreign fighter movement. This thesis 
demonstrated that women are more frequently recruited through online social media than 
their male counterparts. Additionally, women are recruited at younger ages and seem to 
have a much higher survival rate than their male counterparts. Only two of the 14 female 
foreign fighters analyzed in Chapter III have died and both of these were killed in an 
accident before arriving in the combat area.^^i As far as this research has been able to 
determine, no German female foreign fighters have died in Syria since 2012. This finding 
raises the question of whether it is appropriate to use the term foreign fighter when 
describing European Salafist women who travel to combat areas. Additional research into 
female recruitment and mobilization into foreign jihadist organizations is necessary, 
particularly in regard to their relationship to online recruitment. Further research might 
reveal how young Muslim women in Europe might gain more stature by joining a 
fundamentalist movement abroad. From a recruiter’s perspective, online social media 
may be the best vehicle for reaching young women in European Muslim fa mi lies 

An additional area for follow on research is to take the geographic analysis in this 
thesis down to the neighborhood level within German cities. This thesis used German 
cities as a unit of analysis for German foreign fighter clustering. While this method 
revealed geographic clusters, it did not show whether the clustering effect continued 


160 Marc Sageman, Understanding Terror Networks, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 
2004), 79. 

Flade, “Deutsche Salafistinnen sterben” [German Salafists Killed]. 


77 



down to the district-, neighborhood-, or local mosque-level within German cities. A close 
examination of smaller geographic areas may be able to shed light on the integration 
factors that were not satisfactorily explained in this thesis. Neighborhood-level economic 
and census data, overlaid with foreign fighter mobili z ation data may reveal additional 
patterns related to Muslim immigrant integration in German society and help to refine 
scholarly understanding of how integration relates to foreign fighter mobili z ation 

The most important implication of the findings presented in this thesis is the 
degree to which foreign fighter mobili z ation is interconnected with the German Salafist 
scene. The data confirms that four leaders, Ibrahim Abou Nagie, Pierre Vogel, Sven Lau 
and Bilal Giimus, appear to be a the center of the radicalization movement. How to 
monitor them and their local representatives presents a true dilemma for the German 
government. On the one hand the German government is bound by its constitution and 
democratic values to protect civil liberties. On the other hand, the German government is 
faced with growing movement that has seen approximately 9% of its estimated 8,000 
members join a foreign jihadist conflict. 162 Karl Popper expressed this dilemma, “the 
Paradox of Tolerance” several decades ago writing, “unlimited tolerance must lead to the 
disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are 
intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the 
intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”i63 The German 
government should devote resources to understanding the Salafist scene, learning to 
dialogue with its members and to or undermine the intolerant minority among them. 


162 Schneiders, Salafismus in Deutschland, 14. 

163 Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 1: The Spell of Plato, 5* ed. (Princeton, 
NJ: Princeton University Press, 1966), 265. 


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