With their own group of mercenaries, two former German soldiers wanted to get involved in the civil war that had been raging in Yemen for years - the two men were sentenced to prison terms of 14 and 18 months on Monday in Stuttgart for the failed plans. Both sentences were suspended.
According to the court, the person who came up with the idea and his long-time friend were pursuing a seemingly naïve goal: with a group of up to 150 men from former or still active soldiers, the 53 and 61-year-old ex-soldiers had hoped to bring about peace in Germany to force the torn African country. The war party Saudi Arabia was supposed to pay for the troops - and if things had gone well, the whole thing could have become a lucrative business model for other countries.
But the plan didn't work out. In the case of football, one would even speak of a hearty smack: The two men were "unsuccessful across the board," summed up the presiding judge of the state security senate. No contacts to Saudi Arabia, no commitments for their own plans. "The defendants have achieved nothing at all." The result was "ultimately zero". Nevertheless, the men were guilty of attempting to found a terrorist organization. In addition, they would have accepted the death of uninvolved people in advance, as can be seen from chat histories and witness statements.
billion dollar business
A mercenary force? A group of cold-blooded, ordered soldiers like the "Wagner" group, which is feared for its brutality and acts as a Russian shadow army not only in Mali, Libya, Sudan and Syria, but also in Ukraine? The temptation must have been enormous for the two financially disadvantaged friends. Because foreign mercenaries and so-called security services share a multi-billion dollar world market as profiteers.
For months, the Stuttgart trial has shed light on this obscure role played by foreign mercenaries and so-called security services. For them, a war is increasingly becoming a business because more and more countries are relying on private outside help. States often circumvent sanctions by using mercenary companies, explains Andreas Heinemann-Grüder from the Bonn International Center for Conversion, or BICC for short. As a client, they could end up "always distancing themselves politically" from potentially dirty operations. In addition, mercenaries can be used more flexibly than regular military personnel.
It wasn't just the money that motivated the defendants
The two men in the Stuttgart dock were not only driven by the bare hope of cashing in and monthly wages of up to 40,000 euros. From the point of view of the court, there was a whole "bundle of motives". "The accused allowed themselves to be influenced by Christian-fundamentalist ideas and the prophecies of a Turkish seer," the court said. They were also influenced by a certain sense of mission and a thirst for adventure.
The two men who left the Bundeswehr many years ago were arrested two years ago in the Breisgau-Hochschwarzwald district and in Munich, and they have comprehensively admitted to the allegations. The verdict is final because both the federal prosecutor's office and the defense have decided not to appeal.
Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world. It has been torn apart by armed conflict for years. Saudi Arabia has been fighting with the UAE on the side of the internationally recognized government against the insurgent Houthis since 2015. In 2014, they overran large parts of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa.