German 'IS leader' faces verdict

Berlin (AFP) –


A German court will hand down Wednesday its ruling in a case against Abu Walaa, a notorious Iraqi preacher believed to be the Islamic State jihadist group's de facto leader in Germany.

Ahmad Abdulaziz Abdullah Abdullah, better known as Abu Walaa, is accused of being "IS' representative in Germany" and directing a jihadist network which radicalised young people in Europe and helped them travel to Iraq and Syria.

The Iraqi preacher, 37, is in the dock with three other men in a costly and high-security trial that began in 2017 in the northern German town of Celle.

Abu Walaa is charged for his membership of IS, while the other three defendants are accused of backing the jihadist organisation.

Prosecutors have sought a prison sentence of eleven and a half years for Abu Walaa.

The defence however demanded an acquittal, with Abu Walaa himself declining to make a closing statement last week.

- 'Preacher without a face' -

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 Hildesheim, Lower Saxony, he is alleged to have recruited at least eight jihadists -- most of them "very young" -- to IS, 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 jihad at the since-closed Hildesheim mosque.

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

Another notorious 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.

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

A direct link between Amri and Abu Walaa remains unproven.

- 'Notorious liar' -

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 jihadist who agreed to cooperate after returning to Germany from IS-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.