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Champions – From football to the Jihad

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The death of a German soccer player and the links between sports and Islamic extremism.

When 26-year-old Burak Karan was killed in a bombing raid on the village of Azaz in northern Syria, carried out by President Assad’s air force, the news of his death was broken by an unknown Islamic group that posts a video on YouTube every seven minutes. In the video, Karan is seen wearing a turban, holding a Kalashnikov and pronouncing his battle name, Abu Abdullah al-Turki.

Text below the video claimed Karan “attacked the kuffar (“nonbelievers”) like a lion and found joy in fighting them.” The images are accompanied by the reading of a poem Karan dedicates to his mother, asking her not to weep over his death. There’s no reference to his previous life, which was unearthed by the German tabloid Bild a month after the clip appeared. Karan, who died on 11 October 2013, was a budding football star in the new multi-ethnic Germany.

Born in the German town of Wuppertal to Turkish immigrant parents, he trained at the Bayer Leverkusen and Hertha Berlin club academies and had represented the national under- 17 side as a midfielder seven times. He retired suddenly in 2008, aged 20, and nothing had been heard of him since.

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