Home-grown radical shocks German town
07 September 2007, Ulm (AFP) - The quiet town of Ulm is well-known in Germany as home to a group of Islamic extremists but its residents never imagined it could produce the presumed ringleader of a plot to bomb US targets.
07 September 2007
Ulm (AFP) - The quiet town of Ulm is well-known in Germany as home to a group of Islamic extremists but its residents never imagined it could produce the presumed ringleader of a plot to bomb US targets.
"Everyone here knew that there was an Islamist centre in Ulm, but people are in shock. Noone imagined that it would go this far," Ivo Goenner, mayor of the town of 120,000 people on the banks of the river Danube told AFP.
Fritz Gelowicz, 28, was the suspected leader of a three-man extremist cell planning to bomb US citizens in Germany, grew up in Ulm.
Gelowicz was not an immigrant. He was born into a middle-class family in Munich -- his mother was a doctor and his father a businessman -- and the family moved to Ulm when he was five.
Most recently, he was studying social sciences and lived in a small, well-maintained flat in a leafy area of the town, just a few steps from a children's creche.
Willi Boehmer, a journalist for the local Suedwestpresse newspaper, learned from speaking to friends and relatives of Gelowicz that he converted to Islam when he was a teenager and asked his friends to call him Abdullah.
"It's not clear why he converted but he said that he had been at school with a lot of Turkish children," Boehmer said.
In January, he married a German woman of Turkish origin whom he met in a mosque.
Last year, he went abroad for several weeks on the pretext of making a trip to Syria to learn Arabic but had in fact went to a training camp in Pakistan, Boehmer said.
Investigators refused to confirm the details, saying only that Gelowicz was a regular visitor to an Islamic centre in Ulm, housed in a tiny office in a quiet road in the town centre.
The office of the Islamic Information Centre (IIZ) remained firmly closed on Thursday, but a sticker on the door said: "Islam is peace".
"For a long time now, we have been watching this group, which practises a radical form of Wahhabism," said a spokesman for the domestic intelligence services of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.
"Under the cover of religion, the IIZ promotes a potentially dangerous message: on one side devout Muslims, and on the other infidels, who are bad people and to be hated," the spokesman said.
Another Islamic centre on the other side of the Danube, in Ulm's sister town of Neu-Ulm, was closed two years ago after it was linked with extremist attacks.
One visitor to the centre, known as the Multi-Cultural House, was Seyam Reda, a German of Egyptian descent once suspected of links to Al-Qaeda and of taking part in the bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali which killed 202 people in 2002.
Khaled el-Masri, a Lebanese-born German who says he was seized by the CIA in Macedonia and tortured in Afghanistan, also used to pray at the centre.
In 2005, the regional authorities closed the centre because it "preached a message of hate against parliamentary democracy, non-Muslims and Israel".
But officials believe many of its followers simply switched allegiance to the centre in Ulm attended by Fritz Gelowicz.
"Some of them come and pray with us on Fridays," said Timur Nur, 18, sitting at a cafe at a mosque in Ulm.
"We know them just to say hello. None of them had ever seemed suspect to me. I know the IIZ too. I go there to buy perfume made in Saudi Arabia because it doesn't contain any alcohol."
The days of the centre in Ulm also seem numbered. As prosecutors were announcing on Wednesday that they had foiled the bombing plot, the centre was raided.
"I hope that will be enough for us to get permission to shut down the centre," said Heribert Rech, the interior minister of Baden-Wuerttemberg.
Subject: German news