Female returnees who once swore allegiance to ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) recently made the headlines in Germany. A first one, who was not identified by name or given an alias in the media, was sentenced in mid-July 2021 to three years and four months of imprisonment. The now 31-year-old woman traveled from Berlin to Syria in December 2014 with her then three-year-old daughter to join ISIS.
She was convicted of belonging to a foreign terrorist organization, of violation of the duty of care and education toward a minor as well as of violation of the War Weapons Control Act ( constitutional law about the manufactures, sale, and transport of weapons of war (Source). The ISIS returnee was also convicted of fraud as she continued to receive social and child benefits while in Syria. Following the death of one of her husbands, she fled Syria with her children in September of 2018. In April 2019, pregnant with her fourth child, she traveled back to Germany where she has been in custody since August 2020.
A second, more high-profile case is that of Omaima Abdi, the wife of Denis Cuspert, former Berlin-based rapper,who also joined ISIS, (and was killed in an airstrike in 2018). Abdi was sentenced to four years of imprisonment on July 22 2021. She returned to Germany in August 2016 and lived unnoticed in Hamburg while working as an event manager and translator. Another returnee, known as Leonora M., was accused by the Attorney General in late July by the Higher Regional Court in Naumburg, Saxony-Anhalt. This comes in the wake of her initial arrest which took place at Frankfurt airport upon her return to Germany, in December 2020. Leonora M. was then released from pre-trial detention under restrictions after just one month. The 21-year-old is accused of aiding ISIS intelligence services by investigating the wives of ISIS fighters and, together with her husband, allegedly kept a Yazidi woman as a slave before selling her on. These arrests took place in quick succession following the 10-year sentence pronounced in late February of this year of Abu Walaa, the suspected head of the Islamic State in Germany.
These events coincide with statements made by Bruno Kahl, the head of the German foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), who in an interview published in the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung on July 1 2021 , described the Islamic State (IS) as “very active” (Source). Kahl warned that in its current form as a decentralized network, IS and its sub-organizations “are even spreading out” (Source). He also stated that: “The number of terrorist actors and the danger they pose have increased” (Source).
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz) has echoed Kahl’s declarations . In a June 2021 report on the protection of the Constitution (Verfassungsschutzbericht), figures were released indicating a rise of 2.5% in the population vulnerable to recruitment by islamist groups. (Source). This potential is defined by evidenced membership to Islamist groups t such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, Millî Görüş, Hezbollah or the Islamic State (although precise figures are not known for the latter). According to the report, imminent attacks in Germany are likely: “Complex and multiple attacks, controlled by terrorist groups from abroad, have not yet taken place in Germany, but are conceivable at any time” (Source).
Regarding the specific situation of the Islamic State and its returnees, the report mentions that the German security authorities have information on more than 1,070 people who have traveled from Germany to Syria and Iraq since 2012 (Source). It is estimated that approximately one-third of these individuals are now back in Germany and that in 2020 several individuals – predominantly women with underage children – returned to Germany. Of the various individuals who are still in custody or detention in northern Syria and Iraq, there are reportedly indications that some of them intend to return to Germany upon release (Source).