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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

‘ISIL chief recruiter’ goes on trial in Germany

Radical preacher is accused of radicalising and sending young Muslims to Iraq and Syria where they killed at least 150 people, say prosecutors

Abu Walaa covers his face as he appears in court accused of being ISIL's chief recruiter in Germany. Julian Stratenschulte/dpa via AP
Abu Walaa covers his face as he appears in court accused of being ISIL's chief recruiter in Germany. Julian Stratenschulte/dpa via AP

A radical preacher has gone on trial in Germany accused of recruiting a network of foreign fighters for ISIL who went on to kill scores of people in Iraq.

The 33-year-old Iraqi, known by the nickname of Abu Walaa, recruited at least seven people who travelled to the Middle East where they fought alongside ISIL militants, according to German prosecutors.

They included two who died during separate suicide bomb attacks against Iraqi army positions in 2015 which killed more than 150 soldiers.

Abu Walaa, described as ISIL’s de facto leader in Germany, is standing trial with four alleged members of the network he set up. They had run religious lessons with potential recruits handed radical Islamist material, said prosecutors.

They created a regional network in which Abu Walaa took on the leading role as the representative of ISIL in Germany, according to prosecutors.

Those on trial with him at a court in the northern city of Celle are from Germany, Turkey, the Cameroon and a fourth man holding dual German and Serbian nationality. They were held during raids in Germany in November and have been held in custody ever since. They have decided to remain silent during the trial.

"The federal prosecutor essentially accused the suspects of being members of and supporting a foreign terrorist organisation," a spokeswoman for the Higher Regional Court in Celle said.

Abu Walaa is known as the “faceless preacher” because of his habit of turning his back, or covering his face in propaganda videos - and did the same as he appeared in court this week to hide his face from photographers.

He arrived in Germany in 2001 and set up base in the northern town of Hildesheim. Abu Walaa - named in court as Ahmad Abdulaziz Abdullah A. - became known as an extremist preacher at a mosque there, which has since been shut down.

Prosecutors believe that Abu Walaa had ties to ISIL and used the mosque as a venue to radicalise young Muslims, before sending them to Syria and Iraq to fight for the terrorist group.

He later gave sermons around the country and is believed to have spoken at a Berlin mosque frequented by Anis Amri, a Tunisian who drove a truck through a crowded Christmas market in the city in 2016 killing 12 people and injuring more than 50.

Amri was pictured by German intelligence visiting Hildesheim ten months before the attack, prompting speculation that he was part of the Abu Walaa network.

Amri allegedly acted as an intermediary for Abu Walaa, passing on messages from the preacher to his followers, according to Der Spiegel. He was shot dead days later by police in Italy.

The network also included a man from Duisburg who was allegedly in contact with people who bombed a Sikh temple in Essen, according to Der Spiegel.

The case against the five men - based in part upon the evidence of recruits who later turned against ISIL – is expected to last into 2018.

Michael Murat Sertoez, a lawyer for one of the suspects, said: "There will be a lot of protected witnesses who will testify and that is not acceptable for us".