BERLIN — The man German security officials call a major security risk looks like a figure from a rap video, especially with the tattoos on his hands. The right one says “STR8,” and the left one “Thug.”
“This is from the days when I lived the life of an unbeliever,” said the man, Denis Mamadou Cuspert, as he clenched his fists and looked at the tattoos. “Allah will erase them from me one day.”
Mr. Cuspert, once a popular rapper in Germany, today is one of the best-known singers of nasheeds, or Islamic devotional music, in German. Security officials say, though, that he is an influential figure who incites violence and unrest through inflammatory videos and fiery speeches that praise terrorists and attack the West.
German authorities say people like him inspired the fatal shootings of two American airmen at the Frankfurt airport in March. The 21-year-old man accused of the killings, Arid Uka, whose trial began in Frankfurt on Wednesday, has said he opened fire on a busload of American service members after seeing a video that claimed to show Muslim women being raped by men in United States military uniforms. American officials have said the video — which Mr. Cuspert acknowledged posting on his Facebook page, and which Mr. Uka copied — was staged by militants.
Mr. Uka said he was listening on his iPod to nasheeds calling for opposition against occupation forces and the West as he traveled to the airport just before the shootings. “It made me really angry,” Mr. Uka told the judge on Wednesday, referring to the songs’ lyrics. During a tearful confession, he said that Islam had given him strength after a period of depression, but that he now realized that “I have damaged my faith.”
German terrorism investigators see Mr. Cuspert, 35, as a threat who provokes young people angered by what they see as a Western campaign against Islam; some even likened him to Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born preacher now in hiding in Yemen who is also accused of promoting violence through speeches and videos.
“After establishing rapport through music, he introduced radical ideology to an audience already receptive to him,” said Raphael F. Perl, who runs the antiterrorism unit for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
In an interview at a mosque here, Mr. Cuspert denied any direct connection to Mr. Uka, though he said he supported his actions. “The brother hasn’t killed civilians,” he said. “He has killed soldiers who had been on their way to kill Muslims.”
That is similar to the message in videos posted on YouTube and jihadi Web sites that have made Mr. Cuspert popular among Al Qaeda supporters in Europe and elsewhere. As evidence of his reach, a man who goes by the name Abu Bilal in the tribal areas in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region said of Mr. Cuspert: “The brother’s voice has reached the hearts of many people here, too.”
Mr. Cuspert gives speeches all over Germany, and young people are drawn to elements of his personal story, including his membership in Berlin street gangs — he said he used to be a “real bad boy” — and the notion that he finally found the “right way.”
Mr. Cuspert says that Shariah, the legal code of Islam based on the Koran, permits self-defense. “My duty is to use my voice for telling people the truth, and the truth is, jihad is a duty,” he said...If there's a German version of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, I bet it would claim that when Cuspert says jihad is a duty, he doesn't really mean that that kind of jihad (the bad kind) is a duty.
Here's Cuspert's bio on the website Global Jihad, an invaluable source of info. And here's the rapper performing a number in his previous, non-jihadi--albeit already quite violent--incarnation.