In his hometown of Berlin-Steglitz, Fatih T. seemed like a typical German youth. This is how the son of Turkish immigrants came to lead a deadly Pakistani terror outfit.
A mosque in Lahore, Pakistan (JacksonCam)
STEGLITZ - A tall, nondescript building stands in the residential district, just south of Berlin city limits. This is the place Fatih T., a German-born son of Turkish immigrants, called home for years. His parents lived on the ground floor, and Fatih shared the floor above them with his older sister. The family was Muslim, but not particularly religious: his mother wore a headscarf, his sister never did.
Fatih was born in 1985 into a well-integrated, middle-class environment in Steglitz-Berlin. His father had a steady job, and Fatih lived a life similar to most young Berliners, with a wide circle of mostly German friends. The group went out often, spending their weekends at parties and dance clubs, where alcohol was always present. Once, his friends now recall, he organized an "all you can drink" party with a fixed price for unlimited booze. Fatih had various girlfriends, though his relationships often ended abruptly.
As a teenager, his friends say, he never seemed to stand out in any way. He was interested in politics, sometimes expressing his sympathies with the "Grey Wolves," the Turkish nationalists, but it was never a real focus of his interests.
As for religion, it never figured into the discussion much, and Fatih never spoke about the Koran or mosques or jihad, and never bore any trace of fundamentalism. Although Fatih was often the only one who proudly described himself as Muslim within his circle of friends, outsiders never saw him as any sort of devout servant of Allah. Over time however, this was bound to change.
"He wasn't very confident," says an old friend, adding, "Not in terms of appearance, but inwardly, he was helpless." To those who knew him for years, Fatih was always "looking for something," as one friend put it. He was sensitive to group dynamics and wanted badly to be part of a community, which he found in some way through his interest in martial arts.
"Maybe once, because of his eastern-looking appearance, he was denied entry to a disco," recalls a former classmate. But whether Fatih faced such discrimination on a regular basis is unclear. Within his own group of friends, he was always accepted as one of the crew.
Fatih's focus on partying and hip-hop music led him to neglect his school work. But after being forced to change schools in 2003, he would go on to successfully obtain his high school diploma.
Fatih didn't know exactly what he wanted to do after graduating. He worked at a local Burger King for a while and toyed with the idea of joining the armed forces. Science had been Fatih's best subject in school, and he eventually enrolled in the Technical University (TU) of Berlin to study industrial engineering.
To that point, there was still no indication that he would one day become a radical Islamic extremist.
With a beard and a prayer cap
Students at TU report that one day, Fatih began to appear in class with a beard and a prayer cap. He began to regularly attend the university's prayer room to meet with fellow believers. Within a short time, he adopted a very clear religiosity. "He's running around with a beard and caftan on," his old friends told each other, incredulously.
But even at this point, he was still a friendly young man, and socialized often with non-Muslim friends. Fatih, it seemed, was only practicing his religion more seriously than before. Now, the Kaaba in Mecca graced his profile page on social networking sites, and he began to send his friends video links to lectures held by the Salafist preacher Pierre Vogel.
His friends still wonder today what turned the party guy into a religious warrior in such a short time. The answer, they think, lies in the backyard mosques of the Berlin neighborhood and the radical environment that is supported there. When an old friend ran into him by chance in 2009, Fatih said he was coming "from a wedding, from the mosque." Though his life was going well, he told the friend that something was worrying him: his older sister's secular behavior. His friend was taken aback. Was this macho posturing, or an expression of a more radical understanding of Islam?
His old friends began to lose touch with Fatih. He spent more and more time at the mosque, and found a new circle of friends among fellow Muslims. Yusuf O. was most likely in this group. Yusuf, who was also born and raised in Berlin, disappeared with Fatih in May of 2009 without a trace.
Terrorist group from Waziristan
In April 2010, a year after Fatih's disappearance, one of his friends from high school came across an Islamist propaganda video from Afghanistan while he was surfing online. It had been produced by the "German Taliban Mujahideen" (DTM), a terrorist group from Pakistan's Waziristan which had joined forces with German Islamists in recent years. A bearded jihadist named "Abdel Fattah al-Almani" (the German) appeared during several segments of the video. He carried a bazooka on his shoulder and trudged through the wreckage of a downed military helicopter in eastern Afghanistan.
Four soldiers appeared to have been killed when their helicopter was shot down. "How incredibly these apostates stink," says the German jihad fighter. "They have only been around a few days and already they're starting to stink - they are kuffar (non-believers)."
Though the face of the German Islamist was pixelated and unrecognizable, his Berlin accent stood out clearly. The friend quickly sent the video to other members of their old clique. "Is this not Fatih?" he asked. Although none of them could be certain, they all recognized the voice in the video - "Abdel Fattah" from the video was Fatih T. of Steglitz.
By the time Fatih's friends informed Berlin authorities, the frequent exchanges between Berlin Islamists and the training camps in Pakistan's Waziristan were already well known. In recent years, a growing number of second and third-generation German Muslims, as well as converts and even pregnant women, have moved to Pakistan to take up the jihadist cause. Fatih T. is one of them.
In the summer of 2009, he traveled with Yusef O. through Turkey to Iran and then to Pakistan. There, he moved to the tribal areas of Waziristan in order to join the German Taliban and become a fighter in the holy war. By the time his friends discovered his whereabouts, Fatih had been training in Pakistani terror camps for quite some time, and was still receiving student loan payments. In Berlin, he was registered as a student.
As it turned out, Fatih T. gave his first propaganda performance as early as September 2009. In his first video, under the name "Abdel Fattah," he thanked members of the DTM for their Ramadan donations from Germany. "We should not forget that we continue to fight against the infidels," Fatih said in a low, hesitant voice, "Although we are in the blessed month of Ramadan, the fight must continue at all times."
In his last video appearance, which took place in April of 2010, he called on German Muslims to join the jihad in Afghanistan. Sitting on the floor, with two machine guns beside him, Fatih said, "I call on Muslims to fight for the religion of Allah. I invite you to come to the occupied countries and to fight against the infidels, in the same way that they fight against us." He noted that financial support and missionary energy were also welcome. "We will prevail in any case," he proclaimed, "the question is only whether you will contribute your part!"
Many deaths in the ranks of the German Jihadists
By the time the video surfaced on the Internet, a large part of the "German Taliban" was no longer alive. Eric Breininger, the convert Danny R., and Ahmet M., the former leader of the DTM, all died in April of 2010 during a gun battle with Pakistani soldiers. Another convert from Berlin, Thomas U., left the group along with his pregnant wife in late summer 2010 - both were arrested last September in Turkey. They'd had enough of their life in Waziristan, and wanted to return to Germany.
Despite the many arrests and deaths in the ranks of the German jihadists, German authorities are far from declaring an official end to the DTM group. Fatih T. and Yusuf O. are still fighting, and are thought to be responsible for several recent attacks on the U.S. military in Afghanistan.
Hayrettin S., who was also born in the Berlin suburbs, is on a U.S. military watch list, and is believed to be hiding in the Afghan-Pakistani border region. Intercepted chat conversations have led military officials to believe that he has joined the DTM, and that he may even be ready to carry out attacks in Germany.
After months of radio silence, a letter claiming to be from the "German Taliban Mujahideen" appeared on a Turkish-language Islamist website a few weeks ago. It stated that Fatih T. a.k.a. "Abdel Fattah al-Almani" had been appointed as the new emir of the group. His jihadist career is still on course. For the 26 year-old, a return to his native Berlin is now no longer an option. He is, after all, the leader of the "Berlin Taliban" - he is regarded as a dangerous terrorist and is wanted for arrest.
Back in Berlin, Fatih's high school friends are shocked at the path that he's chosen. They never could have guessed that the friendly hip-hop fan would one day mutate into to an Islamic terrorist. The process of his radicalization remains inexplicable to them. In all the time that they knew him, he never showed hatred towards the West, the U.S., or Germany, nor did he classify his surroundings in terms of believers and non-believers.
A few years ago, one of Fatih's close friends from high school also went to the same region in the Hindu Kush mountains - sent by Germany as a soldier in the Bundeswehr.
Read the original article in German
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
- From Beirut To Baghdad, Syria's Spillover Is Redrawing The Middle ... ›
- Tamales To Gonorrhea: How Violence Shaped Colombian Spanish ... ›
- Destination Chernobyl? Radioactivity, Jobs And Tourism ... ›