It has now been five years since the story of Burak Karan came to light. A former Germany youth international who represented his country at under-16 and under-17 level, Karan would go on to lose his life fighting for Islamic extremists in a distant land.
Born in Wuppertal in North-Rhine Westphalia on September 11, 1987, Karan stood out on the football pitch from a young age. Playing as a defender in Bayer Leverkusen’s academy, his performances led to call-ups for the Germany youth sides where he coincided with Sami Khedira, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Dennis Aogo.
He was later scouted and signed by Hertha Berlin and Hamburg, before eventually joining Aachen.
Injury derailed a promising career
But although he had all the technical elements necessary to succeed as a professional footballer a cruciate ligament injury sustained when he was 19 brought Karan’s promising career to a premature end. It was at that time that Karan developed an interest in extremism and the jihad taking place in the Middle East and Central Asia and he started to lean towards radical Islamist ideologies. At the age of 20, he decided to quit football entirely.
Karan’s involvement began when he started to send food and medical supplies to Syria but it then escalated dramatically, as his brother Mustapha Karan explained in an interview with German daily Bild: “Burak told me that money and his football career were not important to him. He became a different person and started to watch videos on the internet about war zones. He felt the way that people were dying was unjust and so one day he just packed up and left.”
Fighting in Syria
Still just 20 years of age, Karan cancelled his contract with Aachen and travelled with his wife and two children to North Africa. There he joined up with jihadi groups preparing fighters to join extremists in conflict zones including Syria, where he trained in handling weapons and terror tactics.
Eventually, Karan became a person of interest to the German authorities, who had been alerted to his extremist sympathies and links to Al-Qaeda. But it proved to be too late for Karan.
In 2013, Karan was fighting against the loyalist army of Bashir al-Assad on the Turkey-Syria border in the city of Azaz, north-west of Aleppo, where he was killed during a bombardment of ISIS positions by the Syrian air force.