Doh!

Metin Kaplan, the ‘Caliph of Cologne’, is a Turkish Islamist long resident in Germany. The Turkish government would like to try him for treason. The German government would like to oblige their Turkish friends by extraditing him. The courts, thus far, have stood in the way. It looks as though a final decision may be rendered soon. But that might all be irrelevant now, because Kaplan has gone missing.

Kaplan was head of a soi-disant ‘Caliphate State’ in Cologne. In the eyes of German law, the ‘state’ was a registered voluntary association, a Verein, like so many others in Germany (I belong to a couple myself, though so far as I can tell none is an Islamist extremist group.). To Kaplan, it was the government of God on earth; his followers numbered a couple of thousand, who paid taxes to their leader’s state. That state’s policy was pretty much what you’d expect: death to the infidel, drive the Jews into the sea, sharia all round, blah blah blah. Kaplan himself had spent several years as involuntary guest of the larger state surrounding his own, convicted of incitement to murder. After his release, Innenminister Otto Schily (who has come a long way from his days defending RAF members*) revoked the Verein‘s status, declared it illegal and sought to ship the Caliph back to Turkey.

Kaplan fought hard against the expulsion order, not with the scimitar but with legal briefs. (A pragmatist, he shrewdly chose to engage a German lawyer rather than an imam.) Some of the evidence the Turks had amassed on him, it seems, had been extracted by measures one has come to associate with Abu Ghraib. The courts ruled such evidence could not ground extradition (Germany has taken this sort of thing seriously for the past half century). Lawyers rubbed their hands in glee as the appeals process began.

Wednesday evening, the Superior Administrative Court at M?nster ruled that Kaplan could be extradited after all – but permitted a final appeal. When the authorities arrived at Kaplan’s flat (which is, amusingly, across the road from the Cologne offices of the Verfassungsschutz, the agency charged with monitoring extremists), they found that Kaplan had disappeared.

He could be anywhere. His lawyer claims he’s still in Cologne, and that he’ll swing by the police station voluntarily at some point, or maybe send a note from his doctor explaining why he can’t.

The German government has been left looking rather silly, and the Turks are fuming. But there’s more to all this than merely a story that is almost as amusing as it is alarming. Why on earth was Kaplan still free? Why hadn’t he been packed off to Turkey years ago?

The answer is that the present German legal system, for understandable reasons, has a lot of built-in safeguards, and that as a downside people like Kaplan have benefitted from a very long leash. Until quite recently, Islamist (and other) extremist groups enjoyed a good deal of immunity so long as they could characterise themselves as ‘religious’ organisations. Schily fixed that shortly after the al Qaeda attacks in the USA. Still, Germany preserves a lot of procedural protections that some think no longer affordable since 11 September 2001.

The state is wrestling with itself on the issue. And it’s doing so in a serious way. John Ashcroft and David Blunkett may have a few Doppelg?nger in Bavaria, but these, thankfully, are not in government. Extremists must not be permitted to turn the rule of law into a weapon against those who, unlike themselves, prize it. But nor must the state discard the rule of law when it proves inconvenient. I hope the authorities find Kaplan soon; I hope they succeed against Kaplan’s appeal and bundle him off shortly to the land of his fathers. But I am glad they have had to go by the book in trying to get rid of him.

* No, not the Royal Air Force, but the Rote Armee Fraktion, a terrorist group that developed out of the Baader-Meinhof Gang.

You can read more about the disappearance of Kaplan at the S?ddeutsche Zeitung; for the full background, follow the links. (Articles in German.)

4 thoughts on “Doh!

  1. Why is he named “Kaplan”? Is he from a branch of the Khazars that converted to Islam?

  2. “Kaplan” is a normal (last)name in Turkish–it means “Tiger”

  3. Why couldn’t they hold him in prison awaiting the extradition decision? Is it that he had not charges pending in Germany?

    I think you say the right thing here: “Extremists must not be permitted to turn the rule of law into a weapon against those who, unlike themselves, prize it. But nor must the state discard the rule of law when it proves inconvenient.”

    But, what should we actually do? Is it discarding the rule of law to go through the normal legislative process of review and notice that some of the procedural rules need to be changed because they are being abused by those who want to destroy us? Is it wrong to notice that the balance of some safeguards is much less safe than we thought? The rule of law is not about ‘rights’ appearing then never to be reviewed or analyzed.

    I guess the question is: “Is Islamist terrorism fundamentally different from regular criminal activity and if so should it be treated differently?”

  4. Sebastian,

    Why couldn’t they hold him in prison awaiting the extradition decision? Is it that he had not charges pending in Germany?

    That’s pretty much it. He was convicted in the past of criminal violations in Germany, but had served his time.

    At this point you’ll no doubt be asking yourself, Why, pray, did they not pack him onto the first plane for Istanbul directly he was released from German prison? The answer is that he had previously been granted asylum in Germany. (Germany used to take political asylum extremely seriously; something to do with large numbers of Germans who had needed to find it elsewhere 70 some-odd years ago.) Before it could throw him out, the government would need to revoke his right to asylum, and that can’t be done (yet) by the Innenminister’s unappealable fiat. (They still take asylum somewhat seriously.)

    After much legal wrangling, he was stripped of asylum status; from that point, he was geduldet, i.e., he had no right to be present in Germany but his presence was tolerated pending the final settlement of the legal questions. He was, SFAIK, subject to certain restrictions, but these did not rise to the level of having to keep the police informed of his whereabouts at all times or being subject to 24/7 surveillance (and could not have done, without probable cause, hearings and that sort of thing).

    I don’t need to reach your question about Islamic terrorism being a different threat to ‘ordinary’ criminal activity, because it doesn’t matter for my present purposes where a threat comes from, merely that it be a threat. (The same discusson could be had about the RAF or about violent neo-nazi organisations, though as their members are generally German citizens sending them someplace else is, sadly, not an option.) But you ask:

    But, what should we actually do? Is it discarding the rule of law to go through the normal legislative process of review and notice that some of the procedural rules need to be changed because they are being abused by those who want to destroy us? Is it wrong to notice that the balance of some safeguards is much less safe than we thought?

    Of course not. Maybe there are times in which procedural protections must be curtailed or rights abridged. That’s absolutely unacceptable absent grave emergencies (and pretty unpleasant even in those cases). Grave emergencies can arise, though, and these things might sometimes need to be done. But it should not be left to an unchecked government to decide that; those whose rights the government seeks to abridge should be able to challenge the legality of the measures. And, however grave the emergency, those measures must not fundamentally violate the constitution that is the basis of any legitimate use of state power. If you take a look at the very first article of the German constitution (sorry I can’t find an English translation; hope you can manage Hun or Frog), you will see that that document treats the matter very seriously, and so too should the government.

    So, in sum, I’ll repeat: I’m glad that Germany may soon be rid of this creature; but I’m glad the government couldn’t get rid of him merely by waving its wand.

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