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.)