Würzburg train attack by young Afghan refugee puts Germany on edge

Germany has been rocked by what media outlets have called the country’s “first attack by [a] radicalised asylum seeker”.((https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/19/germany-train-attack-could-prompt-rethink-of-counter-terrorism-policy)) On the evening of July 18, 2016, a 17-year-old Afghan, who had arrived in Germany in the summer of 2015 as an unaccompanied minor, attacked passengers on a regional train in northern Bavaria with a knife and an axe.
The young man seriously injured four tourists from Hong Kong before the train ground to a halt on the outskirts of the city of Würzburg. After fleeing the scene, the attacker injured a fifth person with his axe, before being tracked down by special forces of the German police. The young man was shot dead when he appeared to charge the policemen with the axe.
Subsequently, Amaq, a news agency close to the so-called Islamic State, released a video showing the attacker pledging allegiance to the organisation with the words “I am a soldier of the Islamic state and about to begin a holy operation in Germany.” In his room, a hand-drawn copy of the IS flag was found, next to what appeared to be a farewell letter to his father, in which he announced his intention to kill infidels in order to make his way to heaven.

Precise motivation of the attacker still in question

The attack’s political significance lies above all in the fact that the perpetrator was a recently arrived refugee. Most worrying to many observers has been the fact that the young man seemed to be poised to become an example of a comparatively successful path: he had been supported by state youth services and had recently moved into the home of foster parents. Moreover, he had begun working in a local bakery in the village of Gaukönigshofen. Distraught local residents described the young man as “always friendly and nice” as they struggled to make sense of his deed and his death. ((http://www.morgenpost.de/vermischtes/article207916573/Der-Axt-Attentaeter-von-Wuerzburg-Immer-freundlich-und-nett.html))
Investigators have tried hard to make out a reason for the perpetrator’s apparent “turbo radicalisation” and the precise motive underlying the attack. A potential triggering moment appears to have been the death of a close friend in Afghanistan a few days prior. His behaviour reportedly changed after this episode; and the state prosecutor hypothesised that the 17-year-old might have wanted to avenge his friend by attacking the ‘infidels’ responsible for Muslim suffering. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-07/wuerzburg-axt-attacke-zug-pressekonferenz-staatsanwaltschaft))
The political fallout from the attack includes the Bavarian interior minister’s demand for tighter border controls,((http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-07/joachim-herrmann-csu-fluechtlinge)) as well as a wave of hate mail and death threats against organisations and volunteers working in the Gaukönigshofen area.((http://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article157229563/Ochsenfurter-Fluechtlingshelfer-erhalten-Morddrohungen.html))

The evolving nature of the security threat

In certain respects, the train attack mirrors recent attacks carried out in elsewhere the West. The assailant of Würzburg does not seem to have been overly devout, going to the mosque mainly on holidays and not on a regular basis.((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-07/wuerzburg-axt-attacke-zug-pressekonferenz-staatsanwaltschaft))
Moreover, as some observers have pointed out, the events in Orlando, Nice, and now the – comparatively low-casualty – attack in Würzburg blur the lines between terrorism and spree killing.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/psychologie-was-einen-terroranschlag-von-einem-amoklauf-unterscheidet-1.3085290)) This is especially true if the death of the assailant’s friend should reveal itself to have constituted a truly transformative moment, thereby giving the motive for the attack a decisively personal-psychological bent.
Finally, the events in northern Bavaria continue a trend in which individuals with only scant or no connection to terrorist networks commit attacks. In the words of leading German analyst Daniel Gerlach, “every criminal, every failure, every individual in the whole world with a penchant for mass murder can basically bestow a higher aim on their deed or somehow endow their deed with metaphysical significance by pledging allegiance to the Islamic State.”((http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/kanaluebersicht/446#/beitrag/video/2792332/Wie-sicher-sind-wir-vor-dem-IS-Terror))

News coverage and the “IS media trap”

These issues have been at the centre of criticism directed at the media coverage of the Würzburg train incident. German-Egyptian political scientist Asiem El Difraoui has pointed out that many media outlets have been swept away by a wave of hysterical reporting and are concomitantly unable to proffer any calm and meaningful analysis.
How much media reporting is indeed dominated by fears of the Islamic State, and how news coverage indeed works to amplify and aggrandise these fears was on ample display a few days later, when a shooting spree in a Munich shopping mall claimed 10 victims, including the shooter himself. TV, print, and online sources immediately began to report live on the unfolding events and continued to do so for hours without cease.
The almost universally held (and sometimes explicitly stated) assumption underlying this coverage was that this was an IS-linked terrorist attack – until it emerged that the shooter had collected newspaper clippings and books on school shootings and a history of mental health issues, including depression potentially linked to being bullied at school. As this article is being written, police and investigators are officially treating the Munich incident as completely unrelated to Islamic extremism.(( https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/23/munich-shooting-teenage-gunman-researched-killing-sprees-no-isis-links))
This exhibits why, according to El Difraoui, “we have walked right into the IS media trap”, with European news sources spreading panic and thus de facto “making propaganda for the IS”: “The media has created the fertile soil so that psychopaths believe in the IS’s mendacious doctrine of salvation. These lies would not be as big if the terrorists were not given so much space.” ((http://dtj-online.de/islam-versus-dschihadismus-wir-machen-propaganda-fuer-den-is-77574))

Wake up call for Muslim community leaders

Beyond that, El Difraoui also admonished Muslim communities and associations in Europe to be more proactive in matters of theological interpretation and also in their social engagement with often disaffected Muslim youth.
Drawing parallels to the commitment of Christian churches to offer a critical perspective on a purely hedonistic lifestyle in a consumerist society, El Difraoui encouraged European Muslim leaders to develop a “spiritual” challenge to jihadists: “The terrorists from Europe want to become something in this society, no matter what, and they let themselves be led astray by the IS. These boys don’t become Muslims but jihadists – because they don’t even know what Muslim spirituality is.”((http://dtj-online.de/islam-versus-dschihadismus-wir-machen-propaganda-fuer-den-is-77574))
In this respect, the condemnation of the train attack issued for instance by the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) and its chairman Aiman Mazyek, as well as their call to stand united against any attempts to divide German society is important.((http://islam.de/27783)) Yet at the moment and amidst the current inauspicious political climate, the splintered and factious Muslim associational scene in Germany still struggles to provide the kind of leadership and public impact that would go far enough in this regard.

Prayer, Culture, meetings all within the glass house of Islam

We begin with a five-story building (possibly six), with the mosque or prayer hall on the ground floor, a tea room on the second, a large Islamic bookstore with books in more than ten languages ​on the third, a museum of Islamic culture and cultural center on the fourth and offices and international centers on the fifth. The space will be six thousand square meters, all in glass, steel and stone, as proposed by the architectural designers (who remain anonymous).


And no minaret, to avoid changing the profile of the waterfront in Darsena, the only building still to be finalized is the House of Islamic Culture. Or rather, the House of Peace, as it might be called.


Designs were directed by Alfredo Maiolese, a Genovese Muslim and president of the League of European Muslims who helped to create the possible home of the Islamic culture. These are the same designs that will be presented next week in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for the Islamic Development Bank. This is the bank that maintains an international Muslim presence abroad, likely funded by the governments of Kuwait and Qatar, and could make available the 12-15 million euro needed to buy the building and renovate it.


And Genoa? Available. “If indeed there is a need then doors are open to all” says Stefano Bernini, Deputy Mayor and Councilor for Urban Planning “If Maiolese and the European Muslim League will be able to find the resources, the municipality would support the project including town planning procedures and helping to convince the ‘neighbors’ who have doubts that this is a major accomplishment, which would be a great for the entire city.”


Bernini explains that the center would be a point of reference for the thousands of Muslims, but it could also be appealing as a cultural point of attraction for cruise passengers. And the claim that this may jeopardize security? “If there is a place that is controlled, it is the port area” replies Bernini “not to mention it is where the state police headquarter is.”


“In every home there are those that pray but this does not mean that every home is a mosque,” says Maiolese , which he discusses is the point of the “Moussala” on the ground floor, a place of prayer, it is more than a “majid,” meaning mosque. The space could accommodate between 5 and 600 people, and it would be the only space exclusively for Muslims. The rest of the building, however, will be welcome to everyone.


“The tea room will express welcome by offering Arab tea and cakes” explains Maiolese “but in the 240 square meter space we will also sell cakes and tea from the entire Arab world, which will help people better understand different food cultures” Upstairs will hold 750 square meters of Islamic books. Books will be in Italian, English, Arabic, and also French, Albanian, Urdu, Persian, Bengali, this will be a store for the visitors of the Museum of Islamic Culture,


Another 2,400 square meters will host works of art, manuscripts, and also cultural events. “We have already established contacts with universities in Medina, and also Qatar and others, in order to have works exhibited” says Maiolese. Finally, going even higher, there will be 1,230 square meters of diplomatic and commercial offices.”

European Muslim Population to Reach 8% by 2030, Report Finds

The number of Muslims in Europe has grown from 29.6 million in 1990 to 44.1 million in 2010. Europe’s Muslim population is projected to exceed 58 million by 2030. Muslims today account for about 6% of Europe’s total population, up from 4.1% in 1990. By 2030, Muslims are expected to make up 8% of Europe’s population. Although Europe’s Muslim population is growing, Europe’s share of the global Muslim population will remain quite small. Less than 3% of the world’s Muslims are expected to be living in Europe in 2030, about the same portion as in 2010 (2.7%).

VIDEO: Al Jazeera coverage of report launch on Islamophobia in Britain

27 November 2010
A report published by a UK university has found that since the 9/11 attacks on the US in 2001, arson, criminal damage, violence and intimidation against Muslims in Britain has increased dramatically.
In particular, the authors found that since Muslim communities in small towns are more polarised than in cities, they are more vulnerable to attack and this accounts for higher Islamophobia-related incidents.
The study, Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK Case Studies, was published by the University of Exeter and is part of a ten- year academic research project undertaken by its European Muslim Research Centre.
Shamim Chowdhury reports from Bishop’s Stortford, England.

Suburbs ‘greater threat to Muslims’

25 November 2010
Muslims and their mosques face a higher level of threats and intimidation in UK suburbs and market towns than in big cities, according to a report.
Case studies reveal examples such as a Muslim woman who was punched and called a “terrorist” in front of her petrified daughter. The report said such attacks often go unreported, and in this case the woman was too scared to inform the police.
She also played down the incident to reduce her child’s distress and avoided explaining why she was singled out for wearing a burka and being a Muslim woman.
The new study, Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK Case Studies, reveals this kind of unprovoked incident is a largely hidden.
The report is part of a 10-year academic research project led by the University of Exeter’s European Muslim Research Centre (EMRC). It captures a snapshot of these experiences which are often unrecognised by the media, politicians and wider British society.

Muslims in Europe and islamophobia; a workshop of research in progress and symposium

Muslims in Europe and Islamophobia
A Workshop of Research in Progress and Symposium

Presented by MEL-net and ICS in cooperation with
British Council, “Our Shared Europe”

Friday, 28th of May 2010 at ICS-UL

MEL-conference & European Muslim Network Meeting
29-30 November 2007, Lisbon, ICS-UL & Forum Lisboa

Day I: Muslims in Portugal
Day II: Expanding Horizons

Muslims Today A Radical Reform: Tariq Ramadan with John Esposito

Prominent Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan joined John L. Esposito in a conversation exploring the challenges of confronting the status quo and promoting radical reform in Islam and the Muslim world. Tariq Ramadan is Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at the Oxford University and President of the European think tank European Muslim Network in Brussels. His most recent publications include What I Believe, Islam, The West and the Challenges of Modernity, and Radical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberation. John Esposito is University Professor, Professor of Religion & International Affairs and Founding Director of the Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. Editor-in-chief of The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World, The Oxford History of Islam and Oxford Islamic Studies Online, his most recent books are: The Future of Islam; Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think (with Dalia Mogahed); and Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam.

Ramadan allowed to enter the US

Following the verdict of a federal appeals court, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, issued an order to facilitate the US entrance visa for renowned European Muslim scholar, Tariq Ramadan. Mr. Ramadan’s visit to the US is the first since 2004 when the Bush Administration refused to allow him to enter the country based on allegations that he had contributed money to terrorist organizations. Following his entrance to the US, Mr. Ramadan was interviewed by three immigration officers regarding his plans during his stay in the US and the people he was going to meet.

Rediscovery of the first truly European Muslim Muhammad Asad

Murad Hofmann, a German Muslim scholar and former ambassador, fosters the rediscovery of Muhammad Asad, one of the first European Muslim thinkers. Muhammad Asad, born 1900 in Austria as Jewish Leopold Weiss, converted to Islam during his trips to the Arabian Peninsula as a journalist. He soon distanced himself from traditional Islam and sought to reconcile it with human rights and democracy.

Asad provided a new translation of the Qur’an into English, a very modern one (too modern for some), with some notions deliberately left ambiguous, fluctuating and West-compatible. He also demanded of Muslims to question the interpretations of established scholars and rejected the punishment of stoning and beating women. Murad Hofmann has now republished Asad’s Qur’an interpretation in German. He claims that Asad’s reformist Islam is essential for European Islam today and hopes that more people will be open to this view that during Asad’s lifetime.

Identity and Terror in Western European Muslim Diaspora

The increasing trend of extremism among the Muslim diaspora youth and its role in terrorism lure great interest in the Western World. Researches and area surveys clearly demonstrate that terrorism and radicalization find more advocates among the Muslim youths compared to their parents’ time. We should accept that it is really difficult to understand this trend for the West because, contrary to their parents, the new generation Muslims are relatively growing up in a wealthier and more stabilized environment. They are richer and more educated than their parents were. Most of them are citizens of the countries where they live in and have more rights compared with their parents. The question at this point is that if they do not have any serious economic and political problem with the country they live in so why the problems in other countries like Palestine or Iraq, where they have never lived before, cause great damages in their personality and lead them into extremism and terrorism. Why was not the Palestine issue so important for the parents to become extremist or terrorist in the past and why has the same problem played a great role in making extremist their sons and daughters? At this point we encounter with the “identity’ issue. Without understanding of Muslim diaspora identity of the young people and their parents, it would be difficult to understand the roots of the extremism among the Muslims living in the West. The identity of an individual or/and a society could be described as their roots. What a root for a tree is is the same for an individual and a society. If individuals have problems with their cultural, religious, ethnic or family roots it is very difficult for them to enhance their identities on a healthy and balanced base. If a root (past, family of a religion, culture etc.) has been abandoned and if that individual or society is being transformed to a new culture, religion, understanding, economic system etc. or all of them at the same time then a new identity must be constructed on new roots. In another word, soul of human must be nourished from a powerful source. If we left a source, we have to find a new and more powerful one. That’s why converts are normally more radical than the others. Converts must legitimate their new choice of life, and he/she makes great efforts to find the good sides of new religion or culture he/she has entered. It is almost impossible to give a meaning to human life in the emptiness. And it is easier for meaningless lives to be thrown to very extreme points. The meaningless of the life and lack of strong identities have big role in the recent radicalization of diaspora Muslim youth. Although immigrant parents came from severe poverty, political crises or even war and conflicts, they had strong ties with their motherland countries. The first immigrants were not educated people yet they were aware of that they were immigrants and the host country was still a foreign country for them. They were grateful to the host country and they made all possible efforts not to harm the neighboring people and the state in the new country. They may even love and embrace the host country more then their motherland country but they were aware of that they were Algerian in France, Turk in Germany or a Moroccan in Netherlands. Most of them could not speak the host country’s language. For instance in Germany, a significant number of Turkish immigrants spoke only Turkish and had no serious contact with the Germans living around. However, contrary to expectations, these people were happy without speaking German language or living under Turkish culture at the heart of Germany. Sedat Laciner reports.