Al Qaeda warns Germany
The banner announcing Bekkay Harrach's latest video.
A senior al Qaeda leader has threatened to attack Germany just days before the nation will go to the polls to choose a new Chancellor.
Bekkay Harrach, alias Al Hafidh Abu Talha al Almani, resurfaced Friday in a chilling new video produced by al Qaeda's al Fajr Media Center and distributed across the major jihadi Web forums. Dressed in an ill-fitting black blazer, blue tie, and shoulder-length greased hair - looking more like a teenager dressed for his first job interview - he slammed Germany for its military presence in Afghanistan and warned that if Chancellor Angela Merkel is reelected on Sept. 27, Germany will be directly attacked.
His previous warning to Germany, on Jan. 17, 2009, coincided with a massive car bomb attack on the heavily guarded German embassy in Kabul that was orchestrated by the notorious Haqqani Network. Four Afghan civilians and an American soldier died in the attack.
Bekkay Harrach, alias Al Hafidh Abu Talha al Almani, from his latest video.
"The vote on September 27 is more than a choice between a man and a woman," he warned in the new video, which was acquired by the Long War Journal. "As an old aphorism says, 'Security is foremost.' In the democratic system, only the people can return the soldiers to their homeland. If the people insist on continuing the war (in Afghanistan), they sentence themselves to retaliation and clearly show the world that civilians in the democratic system are not innocent people."
He addressed Germany's Muslim community and said "(S)tay clear of all that is not necessary in the two weeks of the elections if the German people did not decide to withdraw its soldiers from Afghanistan. Keep your children near you at this time. Ask God to bless you and your children."
"The city of Kiel," he continued inexplicably, "will remain a safe city no matter how long the conflict in Germany. This is a promise from me."
He reminded viewers of the attacks in Madrid and London and, addressing the German chancellor, asked "Lady Merkel, what is the logical outcome earned by British Conservatives and the Spaniards for their support for the Iraq war? Why is Germany involved in the war on Afghanistan? The Afghan people did nothing to the German people and the Mujahideen have not done anything to the German people." At one point in his speech he also mentioned the Mumbai attacks, but it is unclear if his reference relates to the 2008 siege or to the bombings in 2006, which like those in Madrid and London targeted the city's busy railway.
"God commands us in the Qur'an - Al-Anfal, verse sixty - that we must do what we can to force our enemy to surrender," he stated. "But if the enemy can find a peaceful solution... the Holy Qur'an commands us to forgive." According to his statement, Germany's only option to avoid an attack is to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan.
If Germany does so, he said, al Qaeda will withdraw from Germany. "This is a promise from al Qaeda. This is the tolerant Islam that the West knows well and praises so much. The German people can now take advantage of this tolerance and use the appropriate time. Al-Qaeda is ready according to its constitution, the Qur'an, to turn a blind eye on Germany. It is now in your hands and your hands alone."
Germany cannot count on the United States for protection, he said. Germany does not have the benefit of the Atlantic Ocean as a buffer against al Qaeda fighters as the US does. As evidence, he pointed to the disruption of the Sauderland Group, which plotted attacks on Ramstein Air Base and Frankfurt International Airport but was discovered in September 2007. Four members of the cell, who trained with the Islamic Jihad Union in Pakistan, are now on trial in Germany. "The Sauerland cell was not detected until after German security was alerted by the Americans. The Americans cannot always save the Germans. German security does not have the power to protect the Germans at all."
This is Harrach's third propaganda address since January. His previous statements were produced by As Sahab, the main studio for al Qaeda senior leadership, a sign that suggests he has taken on an increasingly senior role in the terror organization. German authorities unmasked him in the press after he appeared hidden behind a black turban in his first video, "Rescue Plan for Germany."
Bekkay Harrach, alias Al Hafidh Abu Talha al Almani, from a video released at the beginning of the year.
Bekkay Harrach, al Qaeda's new external operations chief?
Harrach is a 32-year-old Moroccan whose family emigrated to Germany when he was two years old; he became a naturalized German citizen in 1997. According to reports, the Sept. 11 attacks on the US energized him on Islamist causes. In 2003, he traveled to the West Bank and was injured during a skirmish with Israeli troops. Authorities believe that he traveled twice to Iraq in an attempt to join al Qaeda. An effort was made to recruit him to spy for Germany but failed. He took university courses in laser technology and business mathematics but dropped out in 2004. He then worked part-time at the Muhadshirin Mosque in Bonn, where he ultimately met al Qaeda scout Aleem Nasir and received a letter of recommendation that opened doors to the terror network's training camps.
In 2007, using Nasir's letter, Harrach followed smuggling routes to Waziristan through Turkey and Iran and was finally assigned to train under the network's then-operations chief for global strikes, Abu Ubaidah al Masri. He narrowly escaped an airstrike in February 2008 that targeted Ubaidah. Ubaidah survived the strike but later died from complications due to hepatitis.
Since that attack, Harrach has become a rising star in al Qaeda's new generation and is reportedly on its shura council for global strikes. Reports suggest that his travels are tracked by intelligence agencies, however, according to Spiegel Online, he is directly protected by Siraj Haqqani and his deadly network.
Harrach is rumored to excel at planning major attacks. "If we want to do something," a source in the Haqqani Network told Spiegel, "we always ask the German for his opinion." The Haqqani Network is blamed for the attack on the German embassy in Kabul that coincided with Harrach's initial video. Its ties with the Islamic Jihad Union, which is implicated in the foiled 2007 attack on Ramstein and is suspected of maintaining a presence in Germany, are strong.
Although unconfirmed, his high-profile appearances in al Qaeda propaganda suggest that he may have succeeded Abu Sulayman Jazairi as al Qaeda's operations chief for global strikes. Jazairi was killed in a May 2008 airstrike in Pakistan.
The latest video by Harrach is most striking because its themes and packaging are targeted almost exclusively for a Western audience. Speaking softly in fluent German, without the usual militant or religious props featured in past al Qaeda messages, he stares directly into the camera and only occasionally looks down to turn over the pages of his speech. He never wags his finger or raises his voice. The video carries no subtitling in Arabic. The only visual hint to the nature of the tape - other than the obligatory title screen and occasional nasheeds that espouse militancy - are the dark circles under his eyes. Mirroring his previous messages, German economic problems are offered as an argument for heeding his call for a troop withdrawal. He does not dwell on religious justifications for the attack.
Harrach acknowledged assistance he has received from German authorities over the years and explained that his warning was in return for their acts of good faith. "I thank Germany for its assistance quickly to get me out of prison in Syria," he said. "I thank Germany for its help me when my injury in the city of Hebron in Palestine. I thank Germany for it did not hurt my family after my trip to Afghanistan, nor prevent them from traveling (to rejoin me), despite long-term surveillance. Since the reward for good in Islam is charity, today I will show my gratitude."
The increasing tempo of propaganda messaging specifically directed at Germany has alarmed authorities. The militant Web forums have been buzzing for months with talk about a "German 9/11," and statements from other jihadis have been published or released in German. The timing of his previous threat with an actual attack against German interests is not comforting. The Interior Ministry acknowledged the "increased threat situation" immediately following the release of the tape and announced that "adjusted security measures in particular at airports and stations" are now in effect.