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German Sentenced For Fighting With Islamic State


Kreshnik Berisha (right) listens to his lawyer as he arrives at court in Frankfurt in September.

Kreshnik Berisha (right) listens to his lawyer as he arrives at court in Frankfurt in September.

A Frankfurt court has sentenced a German national to three years and nine months in prison, after he admitted fighting with Islamic State (IS) group militants in Syria.

The man, 20-year-old Kreshnik Berisha, spent six months in Syria last year, fighting with Islamic State in Aleppo Province. Berisha was arrested in December 2013 immediately on his return to Frankfurt, his hometown.

Berisha is one of an estimated 500 Germans who have traveled to Syria to fight with Islamic State. Of those 500, German intelligence estimates suggest that 180 have returned home to Germany and another 60 have been killed in Syria, nine in suicide attacks.

Why have so many German nationals traveled to Syria to fight with Islamic State, and even to commit suicide for the group? One reason for the large numbers of Germans being recruited into Islamic State has been linked to the militant group's ability to spread its propaganda by talking directly to wannabe jihadis via social media.

Claudia Dantsche, a German specialist in Islam who counsels families whose relatives are at risk of radicalization, told the McClatchy news agency in June that there has been "a massive increase in propaganda from recruiters for ISIS...They have Germans spreading their propaganda on Facebook in German, in groups frequented by teenagers and on pages of people they identify with. The extent and effect of this radical direct approach is a new thing."

The same phenomenon has also been apparent among British recruits to Islamic State, who have been able to directly communicate with British militants already with Islamic State in Syria via social-media sites like Twitter and Ask.fm.

Who Are The Germans Fighting With IS?

According to Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, many of the Germans in Syria have an immigrant background. Berisha's family is orginally Kosovo.

Most of them are young men aged between 17 and 30, Maasen said.

As is the case with other Westerners, some of the Germans joining Islamic State are recent converts to Islam and were radicalized in Germany after their conversions.

A December 3 report by NPR tells the story of Alfons R., a 19-year-old German convert who was killed fighting with Islamic State in Syria.

Alfons converted to Islam when he was 17. After his 18th birthday, he took his savings and went on a trip to Turkey with two friends. He returned to Germany, but then traveled to Turkey again. This time, the teenager did not go home. Instead he went to Syria. He was killed in October.

Berlin Rapper

Perhaps the most high-profile German Islamic State militant is the former popular Berlin gangsta rapper, Deso Dogg. His real name is Denis Mamadou Gerhard Cuspert, but he now calls himself Abu Talha al-Almani.

Earlier this year, Cuspert -- also a convert to Islam -- appeared in an Islamic State mass beheading video, in which he holds aloft a severed head and explains that the victim and his murdered comrades had fought against the militant group.

Cuspert is also suspected of being behind Islamic State's propaganda outlet, Al Hayat Media.

Prior to joining Islamic State, Cuspert became known to the German authorities for making videos praising terrorists and criticizing the West, and for giving speeches across Germany in which he preached extremist Islam.

After his 2010 conversion to Islam, Cuspert also swapped rap and began to write nasheeds, Islamic devotional songs, that "The Guardian" claims are "not dissimilar" to those put out by Al Hayat.

'Blowback'

The German authorities have long expressed concern about potential blowback from German militants fighting in Syria who return home to Germany.

In his 2013 interview with Deutsche Welle, Maassen of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution admitted that Germany is "highly concerned about returnees" because they have fighting experience and know how to make weapons. Moreover, returnees who are "suffused with ideology" could act as role models for others, warned Maassen.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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