Suspected head of Daesh in Germany handed lengthy prison term

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A man who calls himself Abu Walaa, alleged leader of Daesh in Germany, greets his lawyer Thomas Koll through a pane of glass at the Higher Regional Court in Celle, Germany

HANOVER (Germany), Feb 27 (NNN-AGENCIES) — Abu Walaa, an Iraqi preacher accused of being the head of Daesh in Germany, was sentenced to 10 and a half years in prison.

A court in the northern German town of Celle found the 37-year-old guilty of supporting terrorism and membership of a terrorist organization.

Abu Walaa was an imam at an infamous mosque in the city of Hildesheim that attracted Islamists from across Germany but has since been shut down by authorities.

He and his network recruited young people predominantly from north-west Germany to defend the terrorist militia’s caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

Abu Walaa was in the dock with three other men in a costly, high-security trial that began in 2017 in the northern German town of Celle.

His three co-defendants were handed sentences ranging from four to eight years for supporting Daesh.

Prosecutors had sought a prison sentence of eleven and a half years for Abu Walaa, while the defence had argued for an acquittal and criticised key witness testimonies.

Abu Walaa arrived in Germany as an asylum seeker in 2001, and was arrested in November 2016 after a long investigation by Germany’s security services.

Based in a mosque in the northern city of Hildesheim, he is alleged to have recruited at least eight exremist – most of them “very young” – to Daesh, including a pair of German twin brothers who committed a bloody suicide attack in Iraq in 2015.

Dubbed the “preacher without a face” for his online videos in which he always appeared with his back to the camera, he is also alleged to have preached extremism at the now-closed Hildesheim mosque.

Among those who Abu Walaa allegedly helped radicalise was at least one of three teenagers who were convicted of a 2016 bomb attack on a Sikh temple in Essen, western Germany.

Another terrorist with possible links to Abu Walaa was Anis Amri, the Tunisian who killed 12 people when he drove a truck into a Berlin Christmas market in 2016.

Amri was allegedly in contact with Abu Walaa’s co-defendant Boban Simeonovic, who is believed to have put the Tunisian asylum seeker up in his flat in Dortmund.

Simeonovic was sentenced to eight years in prison on Wednesday.

Amri, who was killed by police in Italy while fleeing police, also attended a Berlin mosque known for its links to extremism at which Abu Walaa occasionally preached.

A direct link between Amri and Abu Walaa remains unproven.

The charge against the Iraqi preacher is largely based on the testimony of a security service informant who spent months collecting evidence.

The informant was exempted from testifying in person before the court over fears that it would put his life in danger.

Another key informer was a disillusioned extremist who agreed to cooperate after returning to Germany from Daesh-controlled territory, and told investigators how he had been part of Abu Walaa’s network before travelling to Syria.

Yet Abu Walaa’s lawyer Peter Krieger insisted that these testimonies were untrustworthy, telling the court that the key witness was a “notorious liar”.

While German authorities now see far-right terrorism as the primary danger to domestic security, the threat of Islamist extremism remains.

Two weeks ago, three Syrian brothers were arrested in Denmark and Germany on suspicion of planning bomb attacks.

According to the interior ministry, German security forces have prevented 17 such attacks since 2009, the majority since a spate of successful attacks in 2016.

Authorities believe there are 615 potentially dangerous Islamists currently living in Germany, five times as many as in 2013. — NNN-AGENCIES