An intriguing, densely packed, somewhat murky journalistic exposé of disgruntled Muslims who fled Soviet Russia and were politically manipulated over the decades by dubious Western elements.
Pulitzer Prize–winning Wall Street Journal reporter Johnson (Wild Grass: Three Stories of Change in Modern China, 2004) was surprised to learn that the Islamic Center in Munich held such a prominent place in the Muslim world. He soon discovered that the mosque had been built and financed by a unique group of émigré Muslims and refugees in West Germany who had troubling ties to Nazi Germany and the CIA. The story begins on the battlefields of Russia during World War II, when the Nazis captured minority Russian soldiers—Georgians, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, etc.—and recognized that their oppression by, and hatred of, the Soviets could render them valuable tools for the Nazis. These soldiers were employed in the Ostministerium, an administrative arm of the Wehrmacht charged with managing the newly conquered East European territories. Johnson pursues one of the key administrators, Gerhard von Mende, a Turkic studies expert whose work in the Ostministerium, including the wooing of the notoriously anti-Semitic Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, nicely dovetailed with his postwar Cold War intelligence work for the West Germans. The author also examines Robert Dreher, a CIA agent working for the American Committee Liberation from Bolshevism (“Amcomlib”), which mostly ran Radio Liberty and kept close watch on von Mende’s activities and agents. Plans to build a mosque in Munich in 1960 as a place of political activity brought together these disparate elements. It also offered a meeting place for the Muslim Brotherhood, a grassroots Islamist organization founded in 1928 with questionable ties to terrorists yet embraced by the United States and others.
A tirelessly researched investigation, this work unravels many strands to be taken up for subsequent exploration.