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Daghestani Imam Arrested In Berlin On Suspicion Of Recruiting IS Militants

  • Joanna Paraszczuk

Daghestani Imam Murad Atajev is also suspected of purchasing military equipment, including rifle scopes and night-vision devices, for militant groups in Syria.

Daghestani Imam Murad Atajev is also suspected of purchasing military equipment, including rifle scopes and night-vision devices, for militant groups in Syria.

A notorious Daghestani imam who openly runs pro-Islamic State (IS) social-media accounts has been arrested in Berlin on suspicion of recruiting IS militants.

The suspect is Gadzhimurad K., better known as Murad Atajev. He was detained on October 14.

A well-known figure in the Russian-language pro-jihadi world, the 30-year-old Atajev is a Russian national from Daghestan who is the imam of a Russian-speaking mosque in Berlin.

A joint statement from the Berlin prosecutor's office and the police said that Atajev was suspected of recruiting IS supporters and militants via the Internet, according to Deutsche Welle.

The Daghestani is also suspected of purchasing military equipment, including rifle scopes and night-vision devices, for militant groups in Syria.

The Russian state-run news outlet RIA Novosti quoted a representative of the Berlin prosecutor's office as saying that Atajev was "accused of recruiting young people, mostly of Chechen origin, who were worshippers in his mosque, and also via social networks to send them to Syria to fight alongside IS."

Ties To Recruiters?

Atajev is thought to be connected to a group of individuals from a second mosque in Berlin's Moabit neighborhood, including Ismet D., a 41-year-old man of Turkish origin arrested alongside another individual in January on suspicion of involvement in recruiting Turkish and Russian nationals from Chechnya and Daghestan to fight in Syria.

The German authorities have alleged that those involved in the group procured funding to help send fighters to Syria as well as for military equipment such as night goggles -- allegations similar to those now being leveled against Atajev.

'Information Activism'

This is not the first time that the authorities in Germany have investigated Atajev regarding his connections with IS.

In May, Berlin police investigated a media interview the Daghestani imam gave to the Russian news website Meduza, which quoted Atajev as describing himself as an "information aggregator" for IS.

Atajev later complained that Meduza had "mixed up" his words and that he had not personally written any of the pro-IS material he was spreading.

Atajev was not charged following his police questioning, and afterward he continued to promote IS on various social-media platforms.

Spreading IS Propaganda

Atajev calls himself an "information activist" and has denied that he is an official IS propagandist or recruiter. But to say that Atajev is a well-known figure in the Russian-language "jihadosphere" -- the loose network of pro-jihad social media and forums -- would be an understatement.

For over a year now, the Daghestani imam has run a number of accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and the Russian social-media site VKontakte, where has been prolific in posting news about IS's activities in Syria and Iraq, as well as other pro-jihad information.

Atajev currently tweets as @AtajevWitness, and has had several previous accounts suspended by Twitter for violation of the site's terms of service.

A screen grab of Murad Atajev's Twitter account

A screen grab of Murad Atajev's Twitter account

On October 8, Atajev opened an account, ST-News, on Telegram to promote IS-related news. In a promotional tweet for the account, Atajev described it as "the news channel of the informational publication ST-News with an analytical overview of Middle Eastern events and the military situation around the Islamic State (IS)."

A screen grab of Murad Atajev's Telegram IS news account that he openly runs

A screen grab of Murad Atajev's Telegram IS news account that he openly runs

Atajev was previously connected with a group known as ShamToday, a media group run by Russian-speaking IS militants close to IS military commander Tarkhan Batirashvili (aka Umar al-Shishani).

ShamToday published a number of videos of Friday sermons given by Atajev at his Berlin mosque.

Atajev also spoke on ShamToday broadcasts run via the social-networking channel Zello, including a broadcast in November 2014 that discussed IS scholars' responses to issues of Shari'a law.

ShamToday was the precursor of IS's current de facto official media wing, Furat Media. It is unclear if Atajev is involved with Furat Media, which is run by an ethnic Karachai and Russian national nicknamed Abu Jihad, a.k.a. Islam Seit-Umarovich Atabiyev, who was recently blacklisted by the United States as a "specially designated national."

German Recruitment Fears

Reports have suggested that Germany is concerned about the radicalization of members of its Chechen and other North Caucasian diasporas, some of whom have gone to Syria to fight alongside IS.

There is evidence from social media that a number of German militants of North Caucasian origin have been recruited to IS.

One militant, known as Adam al-Almany, is an ethnic Chechen from Germany who was active on social media until a few months ago. Almany was one of a number of Russian-speaking militants who fought alongside IS in Kobani.

In recent weeks, Germany's domestic security agency, the Federal Service for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), warned that radical Islamist groups were trying to recruit newly arrived refugees in hostels.

BfV head Hans-Georg Maassen told the Rheinische Post newspaper last month that radical Salafist groups were posing as charities and volunteers in order to recruit vulnerable refugees in Germany.

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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