Aftershocks of Berlin Christmas market attack lead to counter-terrorism debates in Germany

It is now almost a year ago that Anis Amri, a Tunisian man who had arrived in Germany in 2015 and claimed to be a refugee, steered a lorry into a Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 and injuring 56.

New report on intelligence failings

Almost immediately after the event, growing evidence pointed to severe failings on the part of the authorities. Not only had they not noticed the danger emanating from Amri; different sections of the justice system had also failed to arrest the young man following any of his multiple brushes with the law.

Amri, whose legal right to remain in the country had expired long ago, had had repeated run-ins with the police not only on the grounds of suspected Islamist radicalism but also for violations of residence requirements and for a range of drug infractions.

Now, a new report, commissioned by the government of Berlin, has attempted to chronicle the events leading up to the December 2016 attack. Its author, former federal prosecutor Bruno Jost, paints a dismal picture of German counter-terrorism efforts.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/fall-anis-amri-sonderermittler-wirft-behoerden-versagen-vor-a-1172571.html ))

Lack of cooperation and of personnel in the counter-terrorism sector

Jost describes how large gaps opened up in Germany’s counter-terrorism architecture that allowed Amri to slip through the cracks for more than a year. The vertical information flow between different levels of the security apparatus remained deficient, so that high-level counter-terrorism bodies – who discussed Amri and his potential plans – never held all the relevant information that had been collected.

Horizontally, cooperation between the different institutions – various police departments, domestic intelligence agencies, and prosecutorial bodies – was equally haphazard. Moreover, security agencies did not share information across Germany’s internal federal boundaries, meaning that the states of Berlin, North-Rhine Westphalia, and Baden-Württemberg left each other in the dark regarding their respective insights into Amri’s persona and intentions.

Finally, Jost highlighted severe staff shortages particularly in Berlin: although the capital’s authorities had for a time designated Amri as the most dangerous individual with jihadist linkages in the city, they were unable to keep track of him. Notably, he could only be monitored on weekdays: on weekends, there was a lack of staff.

Solving the staffing problems

As a response to the Amri case, politicians from across the political spectrum have called for greater centralisation of counter-terrorism efforts at the national level. Similarly, there is cross-partisan agreement on the need to replenish Germany’s police, whose forces had been depleted over the course of several years of budget cuts.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/nach-bericht-zu-anis-amri-das-ist-wirklich-eine-bittere.694.de.html?dram:article_id=398118, http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-10/terrorismus-union-forderung-reform-ueberwachung-anis-amri ))

More personnel, however, will most likely not solve all problems but may also generate new issues of its own. In fact, the reliability of German counter-terrorism staff has come repeatedly into question in recent months.

Questions about the reliability of intelligence personnel

First, the country’s domestic intelligence agency – the Verfassungsschutz – was rocked by revelations about an alleged Islamist mole. In this somewhat bizarre case, a former porn actor and bank clerk, who had recently joined the agency, had passed on classified information online to a supposed member of the Salafi scene – who, in fact, turned out to be another member of the Verfassungsschutz working undercover.

While it was initially suspected that the man had acted out of jihadist motivations, he ultimately turned out to be not driven by political or religious terrorism but by “boredom”: in different internet fora, the man had enjoyed playing different ‘roles’, passing himself off in turns as a hard-core militarist, a far-right neo-Nazi, and a fervent jihadist.(( http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/vermischtes/urteil-maulwurf-verfassungsschutz-100.html ))

A state informer as an Islamist agent provocateur

In the case of Anis Amri, intelligence personnel has played an occasionally dubious role, too. Prior to his attack on the Christmas market, Amri moved in the orbit of hard-line preacher ‘Abu Walaa’, arrested in November 2016 for being the central node of ISIS’s network in Germany. Recent investigations have shed light on the potentially pivotal role of an inside man employed by the Verfassungsschutz within these circles.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/anschlag-in-berlin-die-mysterioese-rolle-eines-v-manns-im-fall-amri-1.3689391 ))

The undercover informer, working under the codename “Murat”, had driven Amri to Berlin on at least one occasion in 2016. Moreover, there is evidence that Murat pushed Amri to commit an attack in Germany: a Muslim man who had witnessed interactions between Murat and Amri turned to the police after the Christmas market attack, alleging that Murat had been a crucial influencer inciting Amri to violence against German targets.

Murat had reported to his superiors at the agency that Amri was considered a candidate for travelling to Syria in order to join local jihadist groups – rather than being prepared to mount an operation in Germany. Now the possibility emerges that Murat himself may have overplayed his role as an agent provocateur, thereby helping to pave the way for the Berlin attack.

Blurring lines between state intelligence bodies and terror groups

The case of “Murat” thus highlights the possibility that the inside agents of the Verfassungsschutz – called V-Männer in German intelligence jargon – may become important factors in the terrorist groups they are supposed to observe.

The resulting blurring of the lines between intelligence agency and terror group is not confined to the Islamist spectrum: Investigations into the National Socialist Underground (NSU) cell, who killed 10 (mostly immigrant) victims between 2000 and 2006 and was responsible for two bomb attacks as well as 14 bank robberies, have uncovered systematic linkages between the neo-Nazi terror group and the German intelligence community.(( http://taz.de/Die-NSU-Serie-Teil-2/!5350062/ ))

Shadow of the NSU case

Seven intelligence agencies paid more than 40 men and women inside the NSU’s network. Among them were high-level neo-Nazi functionaries; and many informers had a long criminal history ranging from incitement of racial hatred to attempted murder.

A high-level agent the Verfassungsschutz is suspected of having been at the scene of at least one of the NSU’s murders; and the agency’s informers have been accused of having sheltered NSU members and of having delivered weapons and explosives. After the NSU was discovered, the agency shredded a large number of documents pertaining to the NSU affair, protecting its informers and preventing the full investigation of the group to this day.

The Verfassungsschutz’s heavy reliance on inside men also caused the failure of an attempt to ban the neo-Nazi NPD Party in 2003: the fact that high-level NPD leaders were in fact paid informers of the domestic intelligence agency led the Constitutional Court to decide that the party could not be banned because it was too close to the state and hence not independent in its decisions.(( http://www.focus.de/politik/deutschland/v-mann-affaere-fatale-frenz-connection_aid_204938.html ))

Demands for more electronic surveillance

It is perhaps against this backdrop that agencies have recently renewed their demands for enhanced legal and technological tools that can help dispense with reliance on controversial V-Männer. The President of the Verfassungsschutz, Hans-Georg Maaßen, reiterated  his call that his agency be given access to online messaging services such as WhatsApp and Telegram. He also demanded enhanced competencies for surveillance of internet browsing.(( http://www.handelsblatt.com/politik/deutschland/verfassungsschutzchef-maassen-fordert-mehr-technische-werkzeuge/20416986.html ))

One might be tempted to observe that none of these new tools would have been necessary to apprehend Anis Amri: existing legal possibilities would have been sufficient, had the various players in the police and intelligence communities only managed to work together and use them.

When asked about the failure to stop Amri, however, Maaßen continues to reject all responsibility. Instead, he places the blame at the feet of Angela Merkel’s (brief) open-door policy of summer 2015. Maaßen asserts that Amri crossed the border irregularly, that he had no legal claim to asylum, and that he should have been deported back to Italy under the rules of the Dublin system even before his agency should have become involved.(( http://www.fr.de/politik/geheimdienst-verfassungsschutz-fordert-mehr-befugnisse-a-1363344,0#artpager-1363344-0 ))

Hate crimes against UK mosques double between 2016 and 2017

Hate crimes against British mosques doubled in the period between March and June of last year and the same time period this year. This may be related to several high-profile, ISIS-claimed terrorist attacks.

Hate crimes at or near mosques have ranged to vandalism of vehicles to bomb threats to violent assaults on worshippers. The greatest increase in hate crimes was seen in Greater Manchester and the second highest increase was in London.

A spokesperson for the home office responded, “all forms of hate crime are completely unacceptable and the UK has some of the strongest laws in the world to tackle it.”

Fiyaz Mughal, founder of Tell Mama, an anti-hate crime organisation that focuses on supporting the Muslim community, said: “Political events have supercharged the sense of confidence in sections of our population which probably held those [extremist] views and didn’t voice them before, but felt confident in voicing them over the last few years. We have seen a rise in anti-Muslim extremism and far-right activity online, with a very slow, dinosaur approach from social media companies to take off hate, and an utter denial for three or four years that this was their responsibility.”

Mughal also noted that Muslim terrorism is correlated with hate crimes against Muslims. He argues it is critical to reduce these terrorist attacks.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the crimes should be “met with the full force of the law.” Rudd also announced a new online hate crime reporting tool which hopefully will encourage more victims to report hate crimes.

The data comes form the British police and was obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the British Press Association.

France adopts new anti-terrorism law

France’s lower house of parliament has approved a new anti-terrorism law intended to bring an end to a nearly two-year-long state of emergency.

The law will incorporate several measures first authorized under the emergency arrangement. They include easier searches of homes and confining individuals to their home towns, without judicial approval.

The state of emergency has been extended six times, but there was a consensus that to continue with the state of emergency indefinitely would be undemocratic.

The bill was approved by by 415 votes to 127, with 19 abstentions, and is expected to become law before the latest state of emergency extension expires on 1 November.

Interior Minister Gérard Collomb told parliament on Tuesday that the threat level was still “very serious”, saying: “We’re still in a state of war.”

The new law will allow members of the government – rather than judges – to approve the confinement of individuals to their home towns, requiring them to report to police once a day.

The authorities will be allowed to mount security perimeters around places deemed at risk – such as railway stations and airports – within which people and vehicles can be searched.

Mosques or other places of worship can be shut down if preachers there are found to be promoting radical ideology.

France fears Iran’s Revolutionary Guard terror listing would fuel crisis

France said on Monday it was worried that designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a terrorist group could exacerbate tensions in the region, and appeared to urge Tehran to show restraint.

“In the context of regional instability, France is vigilant on any actions that could exacerbate the current crises,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes Romatet-Espagne told a daily briefing, when asked if Paris backed putting the IRGC on a terrorism list.

“With this in mind, regional states have a specific role to play and must show restraint and a sense of responsibility,” she said.

Trump is to unveil his strategy on how he wants to contain Tehran in the region next week and is expected to decertify a landmark 2015 international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, in a step that potentially could cause the accord to unravel.

Two Frenchmen charged with plotting terror attack from their prison cells

Prosecutors have filed terror charges against two suspected jihadists believed to have been planning to carry out an attack after their upcoming release from prison, sources close to the case said Monday.
The men discussed the would-be plot, which included possibly taking hostages or machine-gunning victims, while they were serving time in Fresnes prison south of Paris.
“These two radical Islamists wanted to set up a group of fighters with the aim of… various actions outside prison,” said one of the probe sources.
One of the suspects is a 28-year-old Cameroonian described by authorities as an Islamic State group sympathizer, while the other is a 22-year-old Frenchman.
Both were behind bars for non-terror offenses and were suspected of being radicalized while serving their sentences. They were charged Friday with being part of a terrorist conspiracy. The Cameroonian man was also believed to have been in contact with a person in Iraq or Syria, where Islamic State is under pressure from a US-led coalition.

Report on racism in the British criminal justice system finds surge in Muslim prison population

Labour MP David Lammy authored a report which found a surge in the Muslim prison population and found lack of data on why this population has surged. The report was commissioned by David Cameron in 2016. There has been a 50% rise in the share of prisoners who are Muslim in only ten years. Muslims are only 5% of the overall British population but 15% of the prison population.

Lammy notes that the trend is difficult to trace back to its origins because data is not collected on the religious identities of defendants while still in trial. So, it is unclear if the disparity arises in arrests or in sentencing.

Equality and Human Rights Commission chairman David Isaac stressed that the lack of explanation should signal that “we need more transparent data published.”

Dr Zubaida Haque, a researcher for the think tank The Runnymede Trust, said terror convictions cannot account for the size of the rise. Dr Haque also raised concern about Islamophobia within the prison system and in the criminal justice system more broadly.

British leaders are concerned about anti-Muslim sentiment following the Parsons Green Attack

Some British leaders and public figures have responded to the recent terrorist attack in the London Underground in relation to British Muslim communities.

The former head of the UK’s domestic security service, Eliza Manningham, criticized the Islamophobic related to the recent attack on the London Underground at Parsons Green.

Manningham said that Donald Trump had used the incident to promote the Muslim ban, which has negative consequences for security. Trump linked the two concepts in a tweet. Manningham said, “If you ban that particular ethnicity and religion wholesale — which he hasn’t quite done, but he’s more or less done — why would you as an American Muslim, or a Muslim somewhere else in the world, offer to an American government with that [President] at the head, intelligence that might be life-saving?”

She brought attention to the (paraphrased) 2011 words of a Muslim security agent who said that he was inspired to work for MI5 because he could save lives, counteracting the wickedness sometimes done in the name of Allah.

Sean O’Grady, the managing editor of the British newspaper the Independent, writes that blaming refugees for terrorism is counter-productive, leading to further radicalisation. He notes that many newspapers focused on the foster-care status of the attackers, which reinforces the idea that “terrorists are in the midst of these refugees.”

Terrorists are linked in this discourse to Islam. While there is some connection to Islam, O’Grady says that Islam is generally peaceful and the focus on a single violent action is unreasonable. He points out that terrorism occurs through many means and is not dependent on the presence of refugees.

The Muslim Council of Britain’s Secretary General, Harun Khan, condemned the attack and asked for anyone with information to assist the police. Khan also alluded to the dangers of Islamophobia following the attack, saying, “We do not yet know the identity or motivation of the attackers, but whatever it is, we must not allow them to achieve their ultimate aim – to drive a wedge between fellow citizens in our society.”

2 men arrested near Paris planned terror attack, wanted to join ISIS

Two men who were arrested following the discovery of explosive materials and components at an apartment in a Paris suburb of Villejuif wanted to make a bomb to commit a terrorist attack, Paris’ prosecutor has said.

 

“They had agreed to commit an attack on the [French] territory to take revenge on the coalition but they had not worked out any specific plan to date,” Francois Mollins said at a news conference Sunday.

The prosecutor added that one of the suspects admitted the two considered attacking soldiers who were deployed to locations deemed vulnerable for the terrorist attacks. The plot was uncovered as part of Operation Sentinel that was launched following the November 2015 Paris attacks and is part of the ongoing state of emergency.

Both suspects admitted that they wanted to join Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL) and leave for Syria or Iraq as early as in 2015 but they could not because of a “lack contacts and financial means.” The pair added they were planning to carry out an attack in the name of the terrorist group.

One of the suspects identified as Frederique L, 37, was “in direct contact” with Rachid Kassim, a French jihadist, who joined IS and left France to fight in Syria and Iraq.

Kassim, who was killed in a US airstrike in February, is suspected of being the instigator of several terrorist attacks on French soil, including the double murder of police officers in Magnaville in June 2016 and the attack on the Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray church in northern France.

On Wednesday, 105 grams of TATP were accidentally discovered in an apartment located in Villejuif along with a liter of sulfuric acid, a liter of hydrochloric acid as well as 8 liters of acetone and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide.

Mollins said “the substances discovered at the scene could be used to produce between three and four kilos of TATP.” Investigators also found components needed to make a detonator, including wires, electric batteries, match heads and bulbs from Christmas wreaths.

A USB device containing videos showing a series of explosives tests on the terrace of the Villejuif apartment raided by the police was also found at the scene. Islamic State propaganda videos on a computer belonging to one of the suspects and leaflets with inscriptions in Arabic were also found in the apartment.

Muslim workers at Paris airport sue after fired for refusing to shave beards

An industrial tribunal will hear the case of four Muslim former security guards at Orly airport who say they were discriminated against when sacked for refusing to shave off their beards in the wake of the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris.

Soon after those jihadist attacks that left 130 dead, management from the Securitas security firm summoned several male staff members working for it at Orly, all of them Muslim and all of them bearded.

They were told that with passengers on edge, it would be appreciated if they could all trim or shave off their beards to adhere to the firm’s strict grooming policy.

Most of the men, who worked at the security points where passengers and their hand luggage are screened, complied, but four did not, and launched discrimination complaints.

Their case is to be heard at an industrial tribunal in Bobigny.

The men were suspended a week after refusing to shave and some months later received a letter telling them they were sacked. Securitas denies any discrimination, and argues that the ex-employees simply refused to adhere to company rules stating that facial hair needed to be kept short and well-groomed.

The tribunal hearing is likely to be dominated by arguments over what length of a beard is “acceptable” and whether a beard can be considered a religious symbol.

The European Court of Justice ruled in March that companies should be allowed to to ban their staff from wearing visible religious symbols.

Security was tightened at Orly airport in the wake of the November 13th attacks in Paris, with authorities screening all workers at the two Paris airports – Charles de Gaulle and Orly.They decided to revoke “secure zone access” to almost 70 workers, with the head of Aeroports de Paris citing the main reason as “cases of radicalization”.

 

German Muslim leaders react to Barcelona attacks

Following the recent attacks in Barcelona and the Catalan town of Cambrils that left 15 dead, Muslim figures in Germany have expressed their condemnation of the events and their solidarity with the victims.

Germany’s main Islamic associations condemn the attacks

DİTİB, the country’s largest Islamic association, issued a press release rejecting all forms of terrorism. Fellow organisations VIKZ and IGMG made similar moves. ZMD chairman Aiman Mazyek also denounced the attacks and called for unity in the face of the common terrorist threat.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/08/19/religionsvertreter-bestuerzt-nach-anschlaegen/ )) Other Islamic movements, such as the German Ahmadiyya community, followed suit.(( http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Die-Welt-trauert-mit-Barcelona-article19989536.html ))

These routine condemnations did little, however, to conceal the enduring divisions among Islamic organisations and leaders that continue to preclude a fresh and concerted approach against violent Islamism.

A superficial show of unity

A tweet under the #Barcelona hashtag by Ercan Karakoyun, chairman of the Foundation Dialogue and Education, central institution of the Gülenist movement in Germany, puts this division into dramatic relief.

Taking aim at the current repression of his movement in Turkey, Karakoyun pugnaciously asserted that “as long as many a state can designate an educational movement a terrorist organisation no common fight against terror is possible!”(( https://twitter.com/ercankarakoyun/status/898239034169974784 ))

Against this backdrop, calls to withstand the attackers’ attempt to play off Muslims against non-Muslims ring somewhat hollow: the Muslim figures making these statements have so far failed even to mend the rifts among their own associations. How they could meaningfully contribute to healing the divisions within European societies is therefore anyone’s guess.

Grassroots activism vs. stagnation at the top

To be sure, there are many Muslim grassroots movements in Germany that seek to stand in the way of violent ideologies: they range from Jewish-Muslim educational projects and neighbourhood initiatives to important de-radicalisation schemes aiming to offer an exit perspective from the Salafi scene. Overall, German Muslims’ civil society activism is high.

Yet at the level of the country’s Islamic associations, the picture is one of stasis. Unfortunately for German Muslims, those most likely to be heard as their representatives in the aftermath of any attack have little by way of a constructive response to offer.