State Department designates German national as an al Qaeda terrorist

The State Department announced today that it has added Emrah Erdogan, a German national born in Turkey, to the U.S. government’s list of specially designated global terrorists.

Prior to his arrest in 2012, Erdogan was a “member” of al Qaeda and Shabaab, al Qaeda’s official branch in East Africa. He “recruited foreign terrorist fighters, participated in fighting, and raised funds for both groups,” according to State.

Erdogan “was known to have trained with [Shabaab] and to have carried out attacks in Kenya and Uganda before being apprehended in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.” He was arrested in Tanzania in June 2012 and then extradited to Germany, where he was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison “for joining militant groups in Pakistan and Somalia and for phoning in a false terror threat of attacks in Pakistan and Germany in Nov. 2010.” Erdogan is currently serving his sentence.

In its Country Reports on Terrorism for 2012, the State Department briefly mentioned Erdogan’s arrest. “Foggy Bottom” cited Tanzania’s interagency National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which noted that Erdogan’s arrest “suggests” both al Qaeda and Shabaab “have elements and plans within the country’s borders.” In August 1998, Al Qaeda bombed the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam and the NCTC has worked to prevent similar attacks since then.

State’s description of Erdogan as a member of both al Qaeda and Shabaab is not surprising. Al Qaeda seeded operatives throughout Shabaab’s ranks well before the group publicly announced its allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri in Feb. 2012. Letters recovered during the May 2011 raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan revealed that Osama bin Laden instructed Shabaab’s leader in 2010 to hide his organization’s ties to al Qaeda. However, bin Laden’s files showed that Shabaab was a part of al Qaeda’s international network at the time. Bin Laden simply thought it was wise to avoid any official acknowledgment of the alliance for tactical reasons. Shabaab has remained openly loyal to al Qaeda since publicly revealing its fealty to Zawahiri in early 2012.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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