BERLIN (Reuters) – A suspected ex-bodyguard for Osama bin Laden has been living in Germany for eight years and spreading radical views but attempts to deport him have stumbled on his marriage to a German citizen, German authorities said on Tuesday.
They said the man, named only as Sami A., 36, had recruited young Muslims in the city of Bochum for “holy war” after spending time in Afghanistan and Pakistan before the September 11, 2001 attacks. Bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader, was killed in a U.S. commando raid on his Pakistan hideout last year.
“We know that Sami A. was in Afghanistan and Pakistan at the end of 2000 where he was believed to have been one of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards,” a spokeswoman for Germany’s constitutional watchdog in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) said.
“Both the intelligence services and security services have had a close eye on him since 2004,” she added. “We consider him dangerous as he had been spreading extremist views in Germany while trying to radicalise young people.”
Sami A. has not been detained but has been required to report to Bochum police daily since 2006, a spokeswoman for the NRW interior ministry said.
German authorities have tried to deport Sami A. to his native Tunisia since 2006 because he is seen as a possible threat to national security, but not succeeded because he is married to a German woman and they have three children.
Two of Sami A.’s followers belong to a group of four accused of membership of an al Qaeda cell and charged in Germany with plotting an attack. They went on trial in July. Prosecutors said the four, aged between 20 and 30, had intended to stage a “sensational terror attack”.
German media reports said Sami A. had given religious classes in Bochum to the German-Iranian Amid C., 21, and German citizen Halil S., 28, who are suspected of handling the group’s communications with al Qaeda leaders abroad.
Germany has stepped up surveillance of Salafist Islamists – believed to number about 4,000 among the 4 million Muslims in the country – after they sought to hand out free copies of the Koran and clashed with police earlier this year.
Police raided scores of buildings across Germany on June 14 in a clampdown on Salafists suspected of plotting against the state. Salafists want to establish sharia (Islamic law) in Europe and police fear they are fuelling militancy among a small minority of socially alienated young Muslims in Germany.
But despite the prominence of Germany in the saga of al Qaeda due to Hamburg’s role as a base for three of the September 11 suicide airline hijackers, its indigenous militant scene is much smaller than that in Britain or France, security experts say.
Britain has been trying for more than a decade to deport Abu Qatada, a radical Muslim preacher of Palestinian origin and described by a Spanish judge as bin Laden’s “right-hand man in Europe”, to Jordan to face terrorism charges. His case remains mired in legal wrangling.
(Reporting by Elisa Oddone; Editing by Mark Heinrich)