Reports of Denis Cuspert's Death: The End of the Islamic State's Most High-Profile German Fighter

Guest author Marlon Saadi analyzes reports of the possible death of Denis Cuspert, who was the most prominent German fighter for the Islamic State.

Image of Denis Cuspert, from Twitter.
German IS fighter and former rapper Denis Cuspert, also known as Abu Talha al Almani and Deso Dogg, standing next to the IS banner. Source: Twitter

On January 18th, the unofficial pro-IS media platform al-Wafaʾ posted a graphic picture of a dead body, claiming it was German IS fighter Denis Mamadou Gerhard Cuspert, also known by the IS as Abu Talha al-Almani. Cuspert was also known under the name Deso Dogg, the alias he used as a German rapper. The son of a Ghanaian father and a German mother, Cuspert became the most prominent German fighter in the IS in recent years. 

Growing up in Berlin-Kreuzberg, he was a troubled youth. In the 1990s, he spent some years in jail. In the beginning of the 2000s, he tried to gain success with Hip Hop music. But in 2010 he ended his rather unsuccessful music career, converted to Salafism, and became a devout Muslim. He begun to sing anasheed (sing. nasheed) instead of rap songs with explicit lyrics. In the following years he became a famous figure in the German Salafi scene, especially popular among youngsters. In 2013, he traveled to Syria and joined the fighting on the side of Jihadi groups. In 2014, he officially swore allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Bagdahdi and then became the IS poster boy for Germans, published pro-IS anasheed and appeared in several propaganda videos. German intelligence believed he had access to the inner circle of the IS and played a leading role in producing propaganda for German and European audiences. Much like the IS's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Western media announced Cuspert’s death several times, but in each case he always "came back from the dead." In 2017, Cuspert was the center of international media attention as a result of the news of his marriage to the former FBI translator Daniela Greene. This time, news of Cuspert’s death appears more reliable than in the past; he was reportedly killed by an airstrike during a battle in Syria’s eastern Deir al-Zour province.

According to the al-Wafaʾ statement, Cuspert was still taking part in battles even though he was seriously injured after the siege on Raqqa and was officially exempted from fighting. It also emphasized Cuspert's important role in the IS's propaganda apparatus. In addition to this statement, obituaries in German have been published in Islamist Telegram channels. They claim he died as a martyr ("shahid") and praised his bravery as he fought until the end, dying in battle as "a soldier of the Islamic State." Also, as usual in IS statements, his death was presented as "a glad tiding" because he has gone to heaven. Interestingly, the obituaries contradict statements that suggest his death might be a propaganda trick. Nonetheless, not everybody is convinced by the news of his death. German reporter Christoph Sydow from Spiegel Online, for example, pointed out that the tattoo under his right eye and on the left hand are not visible on the published picture.  Significantly, none of the IS's official media channels confirmed his death.

Only time will tell whether we have seen the last of Denis Cuspert. But assuming that he is indeed dead, it would mean that the IS has lost its most famous German face. His death would be a symbol of the Islamic State's defeat, because part of Cuspert's myth was that he seemed almost immortal, surviving the global campaign against the Islamic State and many lesser battles in Syria. Furthermore, his death may discourage potential IS recruits from performing "hijrah" by traveling to Syria in order to join a losing army. On the other hand, Cuspert's death also raises the question of whether it will prompt terror attacks inside Germany and Europe, as German IS supporters may seek to avenge his death by attacking targets in Europe.