Berlin is taking very seriously the fourth al Qaeda video in three months to threaten Germany with a widespread bombing attack unless its troops are pulled out of Afghanistan. The escalating threats are calculated to put German voters on notice of their peril before they cast their ballots in their general election next Sunday, Sept. 27.
Al Qaeda made good on a similar threat five years ago in Spain. Before Spaniards went to the polls in March 2004, prime minister Jose Maria Aznar was warned to withdraw Spanish forces from Iraq or face punishment.
Three days before the vote, on March 11, al Qaeda struck Madrid's passenger trains killing 191 people and leaving more than 1,800 wounded. The stunned Spanish electorate threw out the ruling government and returned the Socialist party.
Its leader, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, need no further prodding.
Soon after sitting down in the prime minister's office, on April 18, he announced his decision to bring Spanish troops home from Iraq.
It was the only time in the eight years since the 9/11 attacks on the United States, that al Qaeda was able to effect a change of government in a Western country by wielding the club of terror. By blowing up Madrid's trains, Osama bin Laden also managed to drive a large wedge between the new government in Madrid and Washington and bring the Spanish counter-terror campaign to a standstill.
Germans addressed in their own language – and a business suit
In September 2009, al Qaeda is again holding a ticking bomb over the head of a European voter. But unlike in Spain, where voters were terrorized before they cast their ballots, the German voter is told that all hell will break out across his country two weeks after the vote unless the new government goes back on Chancellor Angela Merkel's policies and shows itself willing to remove German troops from Afghanistan.
This change in threat tactics is adjusted to the German milieu: Al Qaeda's strategists realize that the government in Berlin has a good chance of being returned and is unlikely to alter its relationship with Washington. And none of the parties likely to form or join the next government in Berlin is opposed to Germany's participation in the NATO force fighting in Afghanistan.
Al Qaeda is therefore focusing on a narrow albeit urgent objective: Lifting the cruel pressure the 4,200 German troops are bringing to bear on its allies fighting in the Konduz region of northern Afghanistan.
(Last week's DEBKA-Net-Weekly issue 414 disclosed al Qaeda's return to N. Afghanistan).
Al Qaeda gives the winner of the German election a fortnight's grace for a decision; after that, no holds will be barred.
Bekkay Harrach, who grew up in Bonn, delivers al Qaeda's latest video-taped threat this week in flawless German, dressed unusually for a jihadist leader in a Western-style black suit and blue tie: “If the German people choose war, they have delivered their own sentence,” he says, recalling the attacks in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005. If the forthcoming election fails to give the new government a mandate for withdrawing German troops from Afghanistan, “Jihad would come to Germany.”
A rising terror star lurks behind the red curtain
Standing against a red curtain – another new jihad feature – he calmly advises Muslims to stay clear of places “not essential to daily life” for a period of 14 days after the election and keep an eye on their children. Kiel is exempted from attack for reasons he does not explain. But he warns: “The last mujahedeen will be recalled from Germany when the last German soldier is withdrawn from Afghanistan.”
Harrach, who is believed to be located in Pakistan's Waziristan, has recorded two previous authenticated tapes, styling himself: “Abu Talha, the German.”
According to our intelligence sources, Harrach is rumored to be al Qaeda's leading planner of overseas attacks.
A week ahead of the vote, German armed police placed extra guards at railway stations, airports and Jewish institutions. Germany is only the second country after the US, to be threatened directly and in its own language, the German Federal Criminal Agency has pointed out.
Munich's celebrated Oktoberfest beer festival, the world's biggest open-air drinking party, is seen as a possible al Qaeda target. It takes place around the dates circled in red for attack. Pious Muslims who forswear alcohol will not be among the revelers, making the event a fitting jihadi target. The 660 attendants maintaining order at the event will for the first time carry out spot examinations of bags.
For all these reasons – and one more – DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terror sources report Germany agencies are seriously concerned by al Qaeda's threats: The warning came from Bakkay Harrach, who serves under the operational command based in Waziristan of one the terrorist organization's new rising stars: Mustafa Abu Yazid, aka “Abu Hafez.”
German security is not willing to take any chances if Abu Hafez is in the picture.
(More about the new line of al Qaeda commanders in the next article.)