Ricin’s Round Two: Germany Prevents Another Islamic State-Motivated Bioterrorism Attack
Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 5
On January 7, German police special forces arrested a 32-year-old Iranian citizen named Monir J. and his 25-year-old brother Jalal L. in Castrop-Rauxel in North Rhine-Westphalia. According to German law enforcement authorities, Monir J. had been planning to use cyanide and ricin in an “Islamist-motivated” chemical attack. While initial searches at the residence of Monir J. did not produce evidence of explosives or toxic substances, authorities did confiscate electronic storage devices and unspecified “new evidence” in subsequent searches. It was unclear if this included material for the production of toxic substances (faz.net, January 16).
According to German media, Monir J. and his brother initially planned to conduct their attack on New Year’s Eve, but due to the lack of a critical toxic substance, they had to postpone the attack. The plot was reportedly discovered by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which alerted their German colleagues at the Bundeskriminalamt (BKA) on December 30, 2022. On January 6, an IP address was traced to Monir J., which led to him and his brother’s arrest a day later (faz.net, January 16).
The disrupted plot highlights not only the continued threat stemming from Islamic State (IS)-inspired perpetrators—who continue to have interest in developing and deploying a biological weapon—but also the critical international intelligence cooperation needed to prevent such attacks.
The Brothers’ Background
German law enforcement authorities suspect the brothers were IS supporters. However, the authorities never found conclusive links to IS, which indicates that the brothers were likely self-radicalized. In addition to this, the profiles of the two brothers are somewhat puzzling. They arrived in Germany in 2015 and Monir J. claimed in 2016 to be fleeing from persecution in Iran due to his conversion to Christianity. He was therefore allowed to stay in Germany, and did not attract the attention of German law enforcement authorities until the 2023 incident (focus.de, January 9).
Conversely, the younger brother, Jalal L., was known to German law enforcement and was sentenced in 2019 to a seven-year jail term. Jalal L. was convicted for attempted murder after he tossed a 10 kilogram branch from a highway bridge onto a random car below while he was drunk, nearly killing the driver. During the subsequent investigation and his incarceration, Jalal L. showed no signs of Islamist radicalization. The fact that Jalal L. was able to spend weekends outside the jail due to active participation in therapy sessions and good behaviour provoked harsh criticism after news emerged of his participation in the terror plot (bild.de, January 10).
The Terror Case’s Context
The terrorist plot in Castrop-Rauxel is not the first time that Germany has averted an Islamist-motivated terrorist plot involving ricin. In 2018, Tunisian citizen Sief Allah Hammami and his wife Yasmin planned to detonate a ricin bomb in an unknown location, which experts suggested had the capability to kill 13,500 people. In 2020, Hammami was sentenced to a ten-year prison sentence. His wife was sentenced to an eight-year prison sentence a year later (Terrorism Monitor, August 10, 2018; n-tv.de, August 13, 2021).
It is noteworthy that the ricin plot from 2018 was also disrupted thanks to a warning from US intelligence. Germany’s most recent close call has renewed the debate over German reliance on US intelligence to warn its own law enforcement authorities about domestic jihadist terror plots. Germany’s lack of intelligence gathering capabilities has meant that it relies on information from the US—and Israel, in some cases—to disrupt numerous terrorist plots on its own soil (bild.de, January 11, 2023).
In addition, Germany has also diverted some of its limited intelligence capabilities to address far-right threats, though some experts have warned German leaders not to neglect the Islamist threat. According to German security authorities, the country is facing threats from 28,000 Islamists in the country, of which the BKA has identified 520 as gefährder, or “potential violent perpetrators.” This number is more than the number of far-right and far-left potential violent perpetrators combined (focus.de, January 9, 2023). Further, according to Germany’s Interior Minister, the threat from Islamist-motivated attacks continues to be high in Germany, with Islamist terrorist groups still seeking to attack the country (welt.de, January 8, 2023).
The disrupted plot of Monir J. and Jalal L. shows the continued threat from loosely IS-connected and IS-inspired individuals. It also underscores the continued interest of Islamist-motivated perpetrators in bioterrorism and their desire to inflict significant losses of life. For Germany, the disrupted plot was already the second one involving ricin. While US-German counterterrorism intelligence cooperation seems to be functioning well, the potentially catastrophic consequences for any failure should cause Berlin to consider strengthening its own domestic counter-terrorism intelligence gathering capabilities.