Islamic State Cell from Tajikistan Arrested in Germany

On Wednesday, April 15, four suspected members of an Islamic State terror cell were arrested in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The raids took place in the cities of Essen, Siegen, and Neuss. All four individuals are citizens of Tajikistan. According to the German news outlet, Deutsche Welle, the members of the cell are named Azizjon B., Muhammadali G., Farhodshoh K., and Sunatulloh K. Surnames were not released. All four were under the age of 32 and migrated to Germany legally as refugees. Authorities report that the men swore allegiance to the Islamic State in January 2019.[1] It was not immediately reported if their radicalization occurred before or after their arrival in Germany. The group’s leader, identified only as Ravsan B., has been in police custody since March 2019 on firearms charges. Ravsan had been financing the cell with the proceeds from a contract killing in Albania. This attempted assassination was ultimately unsuccessful but the cell was planning another assassination in Germany of an outspoken critic of the Islamic faith.[2] Additionally, Ravsan was known to have contacts with important Islamic State officials in Syria and Afghanistan.[3]

The group’s original plan was to attack targets in Tajikistan but, for unknown reasons, changed their target to United States Air Force bases in Germany. The planned attacks were not imminent but most preparations had been made. The men had accumulated firearms and ammunition, and were awaiting a shipment of bomb-making materials.[4] German authorities ultimately decided that it was time to intervene and stop the attack.

Tajikistan has endured several domestic security incidents since 2010, including armed conflict between government forces and local strongmen in the Rasht Valley and between government forces and criminal groups in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast.

The country suffered its first IS-claimed attack in 2018, when assailants attacked a group of Western bicyclists with vehicles and knives, killing four.[5] IS claimed responsibility for killing four cycling tourists, including two Americans. The IS terror group issued a statement on Twitter in Arabic claiming the attack. The post said that a "detachment from the soldiers of the Caliphate" launched to strike "citizens of Crusader coalition countries," running them over and then using knives, killing four and wounding four others. It declared, "We give glad tidings to the citizens of the Crusader coalition countries with what will disturb them, and what is coming is more devastating and bitter, Allah permitting."[6]

Roughly 9,600 US Air Force personnel are spread across various locations in Germany, including the two US Air Force bases of Ramstein and Spangdahlem in the southwestern state of Rhineland Palatinate.[7] These two were supposedly the target of the future terrorist attack committed by the terrorist cell.

Ramstein Air Base serves as headquarters for U.S. Air Forces in Europe and is also a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) installation. There are more than 16,200 military, U.S. civilian, and U.S. contractors assigned to Ramstein Air Base alone.[8] It is the biggest U.S. Air Force base in Europe and has a significant strategic importance for the alliance.

It is not the first time the base has been under the threat of a terrorist attack. Almost 40 years ago, on August 31, 1981, a powerful explosion went off, injuring 20 people, including a U.S Air Force general. The bombs, placed in cars by anti-American terrorist group, the Rote Armee Fraktion(also called the Baader-Meinhof Group, no relation to the Soviet Red Army), detonated early in the morning, shattering windows, starting fires, and damaging partitions, interior walls, equipment, and furniture in the headquarters. One blast blew a car hood over a five-story building.[9]

Second U.S Air Force Base, Spangdahlem, is located in the federal state of Rheinland-Pfalz, about 20 miles northeast of the city of Trier in the southwest section of Germany along the borders of Belgium, Luxembourg and France. This region is known as the EIFEL.[10] It is located around 130 km away from Ramstein Air Force Base and is significantly smaller; In total, 4,800 military personnel, 840 German nationals and 200 US contractors are working at the base.[11] There were no reported terrorist threats or attacks on the military installation in the past that are known to the public.

Both bases are relatively close to each other, around 130km. Both could have been the subject of an attack. It has not been revealed which base was supposed to be a subject of an attack, however.

All four IS suspects were residing at various locations in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, which is around 400km far away from both U.S. Air Force bases. German police has been observing various terrorist activities in the area since early 2020, when prosecutors in Berlin said that the suspects from Berlin, as well as in the eastern states of Brandenburg and Thuringia and the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia were believed to have staked out locations for a future "Islamist-motivated" attack.[12]

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at the end of 2018 there were almost 1.5 million refugees in Germany. The majority of these refugees came from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, fleeing religious persecution, civil and international wars, and climate change. Germany hosts more refugees and asylum-seekers than any other nation in the European Union. Many Europeans are against their nations accepting large numbers of refugees. This point of contention is one of the factors that has led to the surge of right-wing nationalism in Europe and the United States.

Even though most of the refugees coming to Europe from the Middle East do not pose any security threat, Germany in particular has suffered from radical Islamist based attacks, as well as German police intercepted a few serious domestic Islamist terrorism plots over the period of the last 5 years, arresting foreign nationals seeking asylum in Germany.

In 2015, Jaber al-Bakr arrived in Germany as a 22-year old Syrian refugee. Al-Bakr was granted asylum after passing all requisite security checks. Investigators say they believe he was motivated by the Islamic State and may have become radicalized while in Germany. During a raid on Al-Bakr's Chemnitz flat, police found 1.5 kilograms of TATP, a potent explosive agent. The home-made explosive was the same used in the deadly jihadist attacks in Paris and Brussels.[13]

In the 2016 Düsseldorf terrorism plot, three suspects were registered as refugees and lived in migrant’s residences throughout Germany. A suspect named Saleh A. told authorities he had "information about a sleeper cell" of the Islamic State (IS) group that was prepared "to strike in Germany." The arrests reportedly took place in the city of Mühlheim an der Ruhr in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, in Germany's southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, as well as the eastern state of Brandenburg.[14] The IS “sleeper cell” was planning a gun and suicide bomb assault in the old town center of the western German city of Düsseldorf.[15]

With the rise of the far-right and anti-immigrants attacks in Germany such as the one on hookah bars in Hanau, German authorities have to fight on both fronts at the same time. Law enforcement has to be ready for any threat from Islamist radicals in Europe, who during the spread of COVID-19 are using the internet to incite violence, intimidate targets and promote their ideologies. They intend to recruit and train young people to join the Islamic State and conduct lone-wolf attacks on European and American targets like the US and NATO Air Bases in Germany and around the globe.[16]

Germany’s huge effort to combat radical Islamic terrorist groups results in many intercepted attacks inside Germany and the European Union. Germany, together with its partners, is involved in international efforts to combat terrorism and is making a military contribution to the fight against IS. The country has ratified and is implementing the 14 anti-terrorist conventions of the United Nations as a binding basis under international law for international cooperation in this area. It is also very active in The Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) as well as the international anti-IS alliance’s corresponding working groups and has assumed a leading role in the area of stabilisation as the working group’s chair.

CTG’s EUCOM team will monitor for updates from IS/Islamic radical groups and the German government in order to detect more potential IS-related attacks. EUCOM will also use social media intelligence and open source intelligence sources to identify the groups that carried out these attacks, and to monitor for any similarities between any potential new attacks.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1] “Germany arrests IS suspects plotting attacks on US bases,” Deutsche Welle, April 2020,

[2] “Germany arrests 5 Tajiks in suspected ISIS cell planning attacks on US forces,” The Defense Post, April 2020,

[3] “Germany arrests IS suspects plotting attacks on US bases,” Deutsche Welle, April 2020,

[4] Ibid.

[5] “The World Factbook,” Central Intelligence Agency, March 2020,

[6] “2 American cyclists among 4 dead in Tajikistan attack claimed by ISIS,” ABC News, July 2018

[7] “US military in Germany: What you need to know,” Deutsche Welle, August 2019,

[8] “We Stood The Watch”, p.25, John L. Bisol, January 2020

[9] “This Month in AFMS History: Air Force dentists responded to 1981 explosion at Ramstein Air Base,” Air Force Medicine, August 2018,

[10] “Spangdahlem Base Guide,”, 2020,

[11] “Spangdahlem Military Installation,”, April 2020,,P4_INST_TYPE:1915,INSTALLATION

[12] “Country profile for Germany,” International News Safety Institute, April 2020,

[13] “Politicians respond with shock and dismay after Albakr's Leipzig jail death,” Deutsche Welle, October 2016

[14] “Details of Düsseldorf terror plot begin to emerge,” Deutsche Welle, June 2016,


[15] “Germany jails Syrian who ‘made up’ attack plot to win residency for his family,” The Times of Israel, June 2018,

[16] “Homeland Security warns terrorists may exploit COVID-19 pandemic,” ABC News, March 2020

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