Back during the war in Lebanon in the 1980’s there were reports that Europeans were drifting into Beirut to engage in senseless killing as snipers around the green line.  Apparently these people were psychopaths just looking for an excuse to shoot someone.  The more things change… -Jack

German security officials believe that a number of Germans have teamed up with radical Islamists on the frontlines in Syria. What worries them most are the training and ties they’ve gained abroad — and whether they’ll continue the jihad once home.

The trail of Ibrahim R. ran cold in March 2013. The young man from the southwestern German town of Pforzheim had already appeared on the radar of the German domestic intelligence agency when he participated in demonstrations with other Salafists in Germany. But then he got on a bus headed for Turkey and disappeared. Authorities suspect he is now fighting in Syria. The police were able to block his first attempt to enter Syria with a group of fellow Muslim extremists. But now they classify him among those who have made their way or are in transit to Syria.

The case of Ibrahim R. is one of many precarious movements being closely followed by German security officials. Though outside the view of the public, the issue has long been treated as a domestic priority. In a SPIEGEL ONLINE interview Thursday, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich officially confirmed for the first time that there were German “jihadists” in Syria. Friedrich particularly expressed concern about “calls for those Europeans who have been trained in battle (in Syria) to return home and pursue jihad.”

The findings of German officials mirror the general picture of international intelligence agencies, which holds that Muslim extremists are streaming into Syria more rapidly than anywhere else. Since the revolution began there in March 2011, the country has become a virtual training camp for al-Qaida sympathizers. There, they learn how to use weapons and explosives — and they forge new, dangerous ties with likeminded individuals from around the world.

German officials believe that 20 German nationals are currently fighting in Syria. Some have reportedly even taken their wives there and live directly on the frontlines. In July 2012, the US State Department estimated that somewhere between a few dozen and 100 foreign jihadist fighters were active in Syria. But a recently published study posits that this figure has since grown to between 2,000 and 5,500, and the European Union’s top counter-terrorism officials have stated that at least 500 of those come from EU countries. Of these, some are reportedly immigrants holding European passports, while others are native-European converts to Islam.

German Salafists Mobilizing for Syria

For months now, Germany-based preachers of Salafism, an ultra-conservative branch of Islam, have been championing the cause of Syria more than any other. They appear at regularly held large benefit events, where they call for donations for humanitarian relief. At the same time, the preachers leave no doubt that they are not opposed to Muslims who want to do more than just donate money. “Our brothers and sisters in Islam are being killed around the world because they are Muslims. Our brothers and sisters in Syria need our support,” said well-known Salafist preacher Ibrahim Abou-Nagie in December. For him, the civil war in Syria is part of a global war between religions.