Abu Walaa

Abu Walaa is a radical Islamic preacher based in Hildensheim, Germany. He preached at the Deutschsprachiger Islamkreis Hildesheim eV (DIK) mosque from its founding in 2012 until his arrest in 2016. The mosque has since been shut down. Walaa’s lectures were popularized through online videos released through Facebook.Lizzie Dearden, “German Terror Network Sending Isis Fighters to Syria Arrested,” Independent, November 08, 2016, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/isis-supporters-terror-cell-germany-hildesheim-saxony-nord-rhein-westphalia-abu-walaa-five-arrested-a7405171.html; “Trial of German 'IS Leader' Begins,” Gulf, September 27, 2017, https://www.gulf-times.com/story/565273/Trial-of-German-IS-leader-begins. Walaa claimed to be teaching an “authentic understanding of Islam” through his online speeches, videos, and texts.Lizzie Dearden, “German Terror Network Sending Isis Fighters to Syria Arrested,” Independent, November 08, 2016, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/isis-supporters-terror-cell-germany-hildesheim-saxony-nord-rhein-westphalia-abu-walaa-five-arrested-a7405171.html. He became known as “preacher without a face,” as he hid his face from the camera during his viral teachings. The Facebook page where Walaa posted his sermons had more than 25,000 followers at its peak around 2015 to 2016.Lizzie Dearden, “German Terror Network Sending Isis Fighters to Syria Arrested,” Independent, November 08, 2016, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/isis-supporters-terror-cell-germany-hildesheim-saxony-nord-rhein-westphalia-abu-walaa-five-arrested-a7405171.html.

Walaa arrived in Germany in 2001 as a teenager from Iraq.“Germany Puts on Trial 'Abu Walaa,' Radical Preacher and Accused IS Recruiter,” Deutsche Welle, September 26, 2017, https://www.dw.com/en/germany-puts-on-trial-abu-walaa-radical-preacher-and-accused-is-recruiter/a-40684714. He originally lived in the town of Tönisvorst in Germany’s northwestern state of North Rhine-Westphalia before setting up his proselytizing base in Hildesheim in Lower Saxony state.“Germany Puts on Trial 'Abu Walaa,' Radical Preacher and Accused IS Recruiter,” Deutsche Welle, September 26, 2017, https://www.dw.com/en/germany-puts-on-trial-abu-walaa-radical-preacher-and-accused-is-recruiter/a-40684714.

Walaa is believed to be the head of an Islamic group focused on recruiting young Muslims in Germany to fight for ISIS.Lizzie Dearden, “German Terror Network Sending Isis Fighters to Syria Arrested,” Independent, November 08, 2016, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/isis-supporters-terror-cell-germany-hildesheim-saxony-nord-rhein-westphalia-abu-walaa-five-arrested-a7405171.html. Walaa’s official Facebook page contained tacit references to jihad violence. “The Arabs fight us with their religion and they call it terrorism,” says one post, with an altered picture of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and other American politicians.Lizzie Dearden, “German Terror Network Sending Isis Fighters to Syria Arrested,” Independent, November 08, 2016, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/isis-supporters-terror-cell-germany-hildesheim-saxony-nord-rhein-westphalia-abu-walaa-five-arrested-a7405171.html. Walaa was also active on al-manhaj.de, an online Quranic instruction website which is closely tied to the Hildesheim mosque.Georg Heil, “The Berlin Attack and the ‘Abu Walaa’ Islamic State Recruitment Network,” CTC Sentinel, February 2017, pp. 1-11, https://ctc.usma.edu/february-2017/. He also ran a YouTube channel and app called AbuWalaa which was supported on both Android and iOS devices.Georg Heil, “The Berlin Attack and the ‘Abu Walaa’ Islamic State Recruitment Network,” CTC Sentinel, February 2017, pp. 1-11, https://ctc.usma.edu/february-2017/. Walaa’s content also appeared on the social media accounts of ISIS members and supporters.>Georg Heil, “The Berlin Attack and the ‘Abu Walaa’ Islamic State Recruitment Network,” CTC Sentinel, February 2017, pp. 1-11, https://ctc.usma.edu/february-2017/.

Walaa’s main base for his proselytization was the DIK mosque in Hildesheim, where he preached regularly on Fridays.Georg Heil, “The Berlin Attack and the ‘Abu Walaa’ Islamic State Recruitment Network,” CTC Sentinel, February 2017, pp. 1-11, https://ctc.usma.edu/february-2017/. The mosque’s attendance rates for Friday prayers were regularly around 350 people, with German intelligence officials estimating as many as 10 percent of attendees were radicalized so that “they were willing to use violence.”Georg Heil, “The Berlin Attack and the ‘Abu Walaa’ Islamic State Recruitment Network,” CTC Sentinel, February 2017, pp. 1-11, https://ctc.usma.edu/february-2017/.

In November 2016, German federal prosecutors arrested Walaa and five other men in the small northern city of Hildesheim in Lower Saxony.Jack Moore, “ISIS’s Leader in Germany, the ‘preacher without a Face,’ Charged with Terrorism Offenses,” Newsweek, July 20, 2017, https://www.newsweek.com/isis-leader-germany-preacher-without-face-charged-over-jihadi-recruitment-ring-639796. The men were arrested for being part of a “national Salafist-jihadi network,” which supported ISIS, and for funding terrorism.Lizzie Dearden, “German Terror Network Sending Isis Fighters to Syria Arrested,” Independent, November 08, 2016, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/isis-supporters-terror-cell-germany-hildesheim-saxony-nord-rhein-westphalia-abu-walaa-five-arrested-a7405171.html. The indictment claimed Walaa had direct contact with ISIS leadership circles, and he could face up to ten years in prison for the charges.“Germany Puts on Trial ‘Abu Walaa,’ Radical Preacher and Accused IS Recruiter,” Deutsche Welle, September 26, 2017, https://www.dw.com/en/germany-puts-on-trial-abu-walaa-radical-preacher-and-accused-is-recruiter/a-40684714. CNN reported that 19 Germans who successfully joined ISIS, and seven others who attempted to travel, had ties to the network of which Walaa was the central figure.Paul Cruickshank, “A Look inside the Abu Walaa ISIS Recruiting Network,” CNN, December 29, 2016, https://www.cnn.com/2016/12/22/world/isis-abu-walaa-investigation/index.html; Georg Heil, “The Berlin Attack and the ‘Abu Walaa’ Islamic State Recruitment Network,”  CTC Sentinel, February 2017, pp. 1-11, https://ctc.usma.edu/february-2017/. Similar to Khalid Zerkani’s ISIS recruiting network in Belgium, Walaa raised money for jihad travel through fraudulent loans and robberies.Paul Cruickshank, “A Look inside the Abu Walaa ISIS Recruiting Network,” CNN, December 29, 2016, https://www.cnn.com/2016/12/22/world/isis-abu-walaa-investigation/index.html.

According to investigators, Abu Walaa’s network had a clear hierarchy. Hasan Celenk, a 51-year-old Turkish-Kurdish preacher, and Boban Simeonovic, a Serbian and German national who had converted to Islam, were appointed as regional leaders. Walaa was in charge of the federal level operations of a “nationwide network of salafi-jihadi indoctrinators, which are closely interlinked and act in a work sharing manner.”Georg Heil, “The Berlin Attack and the ‘Abu Walaa’ Islamic State Recruitment Network,” CTC Sentinel, February 2017, pp. 1-11, https://ctc.usma.edu/february-2017/. Investigators have said that Walaa alleged that he was the only person in Germany authorized by ISIS to issue fatwas (religious decree).Georg Heil, “The Berlin Attack and the ‘Abu Walaa’ Islamic State Recruitment Network,” CTC Sentinel, February 2017, pp. 1-11, https://ctc.usma.edu/february-2017/.

Walaa is also thought to have connections with Anis Amri, the Tunisian asylum seeker who carried out a terrorist attack in Berlin in December 2016. Amri hijacked a truck, driving it into the Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 people.“Germany Puts on Trial ‘Abu Walaa,’ Radical Preacher and Accused IS Recruiter,” Deutsche Welle, September 26, 2017, https://www.dw.com/en/germany-puts-on-trial-abu-walaa-radical-preacher-and-accused-is-recruiter/a-40684714.

The trial of Walaa began in September 2017, with the proceedings due to occur over the course of 29 days through January 2018.“Germany Puts on Trial ‘Abu Walaa,’ Radical Preacher and Accused IS Recruiter,” Deutsche Welle, September 26, 2017, https://www.dw.com/en/germany-puts-on-trial-abu-walaa-radical-preacher-and-accused-is-recruiter/a-40684714. On February 24, 2021, the Higher Regional Court in Celle sentenced Walaa to 10-and-a-half years in prison for his role in planning an attack in Germany and collecting funds and fighters for ISIS. Walaa allegedly recruited seven individuals who eventually traveled to the Middle East where they fought alongside ISIS. Additionally, two of Walaa’s recruits reportedly killed more than 150 Iraqi soldiers in suicide bombings.Martin Schlicht, “German court sentences Islamic State recruiter,” Reuters, February 24, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-security-trial-walaa/german-court-sentences-islamic-state-recruiter-idUSKBN2AO1A4?il=0.

 
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