Jennifer Rapp was told on Tuesday a terrorist accused of orchestrating a 2008 suicide attack in Afghanistan that killed her son, U.S. Army Sgt. Bobby Rapp, was released from a prison in Germany last week.
Rapp said she was stunned. She always believed “the Taliban recruited some poor kid” to drive a car wired with explosives into the gates of an Afghan government building in the Sabari District of Afghanistan, killing Bobby Tapp, 22, and U.S. Army Spc. Steven R. Koch, 23, on March 3, 2008.
But an FBI counterterrorism special agent explained to her over the phone that there was an Islamic fundamentalist mastermind behind the attack, a Turkish national named Adem Yilmaz.
“Bobby’s death certificate said ‘homicide’ and I never understood that,” Jennifer Rapp said Thursday. “But then, I did. It’s just something that you never think about when your child has died.”
Yilmaz was arrested in Germany in 2007, but was released from prison last week, the FBI agent told her. The U.S. government failed to extradite him and Germany deported him to Turkey, his birth country.
Jennifer Rapp, 63, of Sonora, said she felt numb to any “strong emotions,” but then was filled with sorrow.
“I asked myself, how does humanity go so wrong? How does a person get filled with hate instead of love?” She said.
Nicholas Biase, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, said a sealed indictment was filed for terrorism charges against Yilmaz in 2015. The document was unsealed last week following his release from prison.
In July 2009, Yilmaz told German law enforcement he was a member of the Islamic Jihad Union, a foreign terrorist organization, the indictment said.
Yilmaz allegedly added, “[a]s long as the war is going on, I will fight against the Americans.”
The indictment details how Yilmaz decided to pursue jihad, which he described as “armed combat.” He is accused of participating in attacks on United States military personnel at the Afghani-Pakistani border in 2006 and providing instructions to a man named Cueneyt Ciftci in 2007 to receive military training in Pakistan.
Ciftci carried out the suicide attack on March 3, 2008.
“I was very surprised at the level of terrorism that was involved with the death of my son. And the level of involvement by the government, they just don't let this go. It is not acceptable to government to have our soldiers murdered,” Jennifer Rapp said.
She said when she received the news about Yilmaz, it didn’t open old wounds. Years earlier she found peace with her son’s death to honor his memory, she said.
“He died for my freedom, so I choose happiness,” she said.
Bobby Rapp was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division of the Army and four weeks away from the end of his 15-month deployment when he was killed.
In an interview with The Union Democrat in 2007, he described himself as a patriot.
"You want to go. You train for it," he said. "It's kind of hard to sit back and see a war going on and let someone go in my place."
Bobby Rapp grew up in Sonora and attended Sonora High School. He was an avid athlete in cross country and skiing, his mother said.
“My son was so honored by this community. They deserve to know that there is still follow up in his death,” she said.
Jennifer Rapp said she would still seek justice for Bobby, even if prosecution against Yilmaz was uncertain.
“I would like to see this man behind bars for the rest of his life. I would like to see him shut down where he can never hurt another person again,” she said.
According to an August 2016 New York Times article, Yilmaz and a group of German nationals were members of “the Sauerland cell” in 2007. The group received paramilitary training in Pakistan by the IJU before returning to Germany and conspiring to carry out a terrorist attack, apparently on the Ramstein Air Base, a United Nations military base in southwest Germany.
When the conspirators were arrested in September 2007, they were in possession of 26 military detonators and 12 containers of hydrogen peroxide, the article said.
“He was in prison when the attack was carried out on my son,” Jennifer Rapp said. “They knew that this terrorist’s goal was to kill US soldiers. When he was imprisoned in 2007 they thought they quashed that.”
Jennifer Rapp said the special agent told her Yilmaz held dual citizenship in Germany and Turkey. He also told her Yilmaz left prison as a “free man” but was taken into custody by Interpol in Turkey, she said.
Requests for comment were not returned by Interpol or from the FBI office in New York.
An Associated Press story by Eric Tucker reported on Feb. 6 that Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker sought to have Yilmaz extradited to the U.S. while he was still in German custody.
“We are gravely disappointed by Germany’s decision to deport a dangerous terrorist — Adem Yilmaz — to Turkey, rather than to extradite him to the United States to face justice for his complicity in the murder of two American servicemen,” Whitaker was quoted as saying.
Jennifer Rapp said she believed that the U.S. government and the FBI agent she spoke to are genuine in their efforts.
“I was really very touched with the sincerity, with his level of caring, about our soldiers that were killed,” she said. “He had a true, true desire to get them in prison and keep them in prison.”
Jennifer Rapp added that the widow of Steven Koch, from Milltown, New Jersey, was contacted by the American Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell.
Jennifer Rapp was contacted by Sonora City Councilwoman Connie Williams (whose sister works in the German embassy, Jennifer said) to provide Grennell with her contact information.
As of Thursday afternoon, Jennifer Rapp said she was still awaiting a call.
Until she receives further news, she said she would find solace in her strong Christian faith.
“I’m praying for this man because he is so very disturbed and he is on the wrong track. That's what I can do, I can pray for that man.”