As war in Syria and Iraq attracts a growing number of Muslim extremists from Europe, intelligence officials in Germany believe a former gangsta rapper has joined the inner circle of Islamists fighting there.
Denis Cuspert was once a modestly successful member of Germany’s hip-hop scene going by the stage name Deso Dogg. Now he calls himself Abu Talha the German and is a top propagandist for the so-called Islamic State (IS) caliphate, which is blamed for several wartime atrocities.
His ascent into the upper IS ranks is raising concerns that such “homegrown” Islamists could embolden Muslim extremists in Germany or that they might one day return themselves to target the country for terrorism.
“Cuspert won’t come back since there’s an arrest warrant waiting for him,” Elke Altmüller, a spokeswoman for Germany’s Verfassungsschutz domestic intelligence agency said. ”But there’s a danger he could incite others.”
And as the cross-border conflict in Syria and Iraq continues to rage, it is luring hundreds of would-be jihadis from Europe, including radicalized converts like the ex-rapper. Although the German authorities have said they see no indications an attack is imminent, they are attempting to track fighters returning from the war zone.
Currently, there are an estimated 400 Muslim extremists from Germany in Syria, either directly engaging in fighting or otherwise supporting the Islamists. Altmüller said roughly 10 percent of them were German converts to Islam. According to intelligence reports, some 40 have been killed in the conflict.
That was almost the fate of the 38-year-old Cuspert after he was seriously injured in an airstrike by Syrian forces in September 2013. But he survived, and being wounded apparently helped him win respect among the extremists. He eventually swore allegiance in an online video this spring to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has since declared himself caliph of the repressive Islamic State.
Born to a German mother and Ghanaian father, Cuspert grew up in a gritty Berlin neighborhood and got involved in petty crime and gangs while aspiring to become a rap star. He enjoyed some success, even touring in Germany with U.S. rapper DMX.
But he never managed to make it big rapping, and after a car accident he started to look to radical Islam for direction in life. Over the past four years, he abandoned his music career to become an Islamist poster boy in the German-speaking world, posting videos that encourage Muslims to join the caliphate’s holy war.
“I was a sinner. I lived in sin before I turned to Islam. Surrounded by music, drugs, alcohol and women,” he said in one recent propaganda video.
The Islamists clearly see the former rapper’s potential in recruiting others in Germany, which has a thriving Salafist scene promulgating an especially dogmatic form of Sunni Islam.