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 ))

Reflection on news outlets calling an attack “terrorism” after Finsbury Park

Guardian journalist, Paul Chadwick, responds to concerns about what should be considered terrorism. He said he started calling the incident a terrorist attack early but it was not premature.

He says events can be called terrorist attacks if they involve “serious harm to random innocents, a location and/or victims with symbolic resonance, apparent intent to generate widespread fear, and a political purpose.” A political purpose means aims at pressuring government or intimidating populations, often stemming from nationalism, racism, or religious fanaticism.

He argues that journalists do not need to wait for courts and official pronouncements to call something “terrorism.” Based on witness reports, journalists on the scene at Finsbury Park decided to call the incident a terrorist attack.

In the case of the Guardian, at 2:01am, about two hours after the attack, the live blog contextualised the event by referencing recent terrorist attacks. The crime correspondent arrived on scene at 3:07am. The correspondent reported at 3:54am that counter-terrorism police were there and at 4:45 am reported that the Muslim Council of Britain described the incident as a terrorist attack. At 5:15am, Prime Minister Threresa May classified the event as “a potential terrorist attack.”

 

Mosque closures in Munich highlight lack of Muslim prayer spaces in Germany

The Bavarian capital of Munich is one of Germany’s boom towns: rapid population growth in the past few years has driven up rents and strained public services.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/einwohnerprognosen-warum-das-bevoelkerungswachstum-in-muenchen-probleme-macht-1.2984306 )) Now, another consequence of the city’s expansion has become clear: a lack of mosques and Islamic prayer spaces.

Growing Muslim population – and mosque closures

By 2014, 100,000 of Munich’s 1.5 million inhabitants were Muslim.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/moschee-projekt-in-muenchen-schmid-will-idriz-unterstuetzen-1.2061937 )) This figure has only been on the rise since then, due to the arrival of large numbers of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the city.

In spite of the increased demand for Islamic religious spaces and services, mosques within Munich’s city limits have, in fact, been closing down in recent years. At the end of March, 2017, the Kuba mosque, the last of what used to be nine mosques in the area surrounding the central train station – home to many Muslim shopkeepers and employees – shut its doors.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/moscheen-muslime-haben-in-muenchen-kaum-platz-zum-beten-1.3445341 ))

The stories of mosque closures tend to mirror each other: local Muslim associations have their rental lease agreements cancelled since their premises are overcrowded and hence violate fire safety regulations. In the case of the Kuba mosque, at Friday prayers up to 450 believers had crammed into a room designed to hold a maximum of 90.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/moscheen-muslime-haben-in-muenchen-kaum-platz-zum-beten-1.3445341 ))

Plans for a larger mosque

In the case of Munich, plans to build a larger mosque have been mooted for years without ever coming to fruition. The Munich Forum for Islam (MFI), an association bringing together Muslim representatives as well as local politicians from various political parties, had proposed the construction of a representative mosque north of the city centre.(( http://www.islam-muenchen.de/ ))

The project was set to include not only an Islamic house of prayer, but also training facilities for Imams, a library, a cultural space, and a café grouped around a public plaza. However, the project failed to gather the necessary funds to acquire the plot of land on which it was to be built.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/moschee-fuer-muenchen-muenchen-bekommt-kein-islamzentrum-zumindest-erst-einmal-1.3055209 ))

Reasons for the failure

The reasons for this failure were manifold. The notoriously divided and financially weak Muslim associational scene did not always speak with one voice and did not manage to function as a convincing lobby for the project.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/gescheitertes-projekt-mit-dem-aus-fuer-die-muenchner-moschee-scheitert-mehr-als-eine-idee-1.3055211 ))

What is more, the MFI always put great stress on the need to emancipate itself from any ties to the countries of origin of Muslim immigrants. Such ties have emerged as a core obstacle to the political and societal recognition of existing Muslim institutions in Germany. At the same time, however, the MFI’s attempts to gather donations focused mostly on attracting Arab funds from the Gulf. For many outside observers, this approach was not conducive to building confidence and trust.

Some commentators have pointed out, however, that another reason for the project’s miscarriage was a lack of political will on the part of the local administration: when it came to the crunch – notably the acquisition of the plot for the construction site – the political support on the part of the city’s decision-makers was lacklustre at best.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/gescheitertes-projekt-mit-dem-aus-fuer-die-muenchner-moschee-scheitert-mehr-als-eine-idee-1.3055211 ))

Enduring political dilemma for mosque communities

The fate of the MFI mosque highlights the enduring dilemma faced by comparable efforts elsewhere in Germany: a lack of financial and political capital confines Muslim prayer to the outskirts of town – Munich’s largest mosque is located on the city’s northern edge next to a sewage treatment plant – or to small and often insalubrious prayer spaces in apartments, ancient warehouses, or disused factories – so-called ‘backyard mosques’ (Hinterhofmoscheen).

Whilst politically ostracised as tools of authoritarian Middle Eastern governments, only those mosque communities backed by wealthy donors or state agencies from Turkey and the Gulf are, as of now, capable of building appropriate houses of worship. Any community wishing to emancipate itself from these backers – such as Munich’s MFI – is thus caught in a real bind.

Backlash against public prayer

To draw attention to this state of affairs, a number of Munich’s Muslims got together on social media and sought to organise a public Friday prayer at Marienplatz square, the city’s historical heart in front of the town hall.

Yet the right-wing backlash online against the planned public prayer was so fierce that the organisers decided to cancel the event. They feared both that they would not be able to guarantee the safety of potential attendees, and that such a highly public demonstration would make their attempt to raise awareness of the lack of prayer space seem too confrontational and thus counter-productive.(( http://www.br.de/nachrichten/moscheen-muenchen-demo-100.html ))

This week, the local Jesuit community of Saint Michael offered a pray er room to all those who had wished to attend the event at Marienplatz. Whilst this amounts to a precious gesture of interreligious dialogue, the picture of Munich’s Muslims having to pray under an almost life-sized crucifix struck many belivers and observers as at the very least odd.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/raumnot-moscheenot-in-muenchen-muslime-beten-in-der-michaelskirche-1.3513855 ))

‘Halal days’ for French Muslims

The fourth annual “halal days” were held May 18-21 and took place in schools, associations, and other Muslim organizations. The event aimed to “raise awareness about the importance of eating halal and eating well.”

Participating organizations agreed to open their doors to the public to better understand “the foundations of halal food, its culture, and its characteristics, as well as the processes used by all to guarantee that products are halal compliant.” Last year, 1,250 people signed up for the events.

“It was mostly attacks by the National Front on the halal market in 2014 that made us think of this event, to create a zone conducive to debate,” explained Lynda Ayadi, the director of the marketing company Heaven Strategy which organizes the “halal days.”

“We felt a strong demand from the Muslim community to provide perspective and information on the halal market,” she added. “More recently, this feeling was reinforced following the polemic sparked by the animal protection association L214’s video of French slaughterhouses, which they blamed for animal suffering.”

Ayadi insisted that the event’s goal was not to “spread propaganda,” and invited those who oppose halal “to come and participate in the debates.”

‘burkini pool day’ stirs debate in France

Plans by a water park in the southern French city of Marseille to hold a pool day for Muslim women who wear full-body swimsuits, known as burkinis, has sparked debate and anger in the country.

The event, set to be held on September 17, is being organised by a women’s association, Smile13, based in the port city, where about 220,000 Muslims reside.

Politicians and residents on opposite ends of the political spectrum have come out on Twitter and elsewhere to respond to the event, with some dubbing the pool day an attempt by the Muslim community to segregate themselves, while others called such criticism Islamophobic.

Florian Philippot, an adviser to the far-right leader of the National Front party, Marine Le Pen, said the pool day smacked of “dyed-in-the-wool communalism”.

“This sort of event should be banned,” Philippot said, warning of a “risk of public disorder”.

Senator Michel Amiel, mayor of the northern suburb of the city, Les Pennes Mirabeau, where Speedwater park is located, also said he is seeking a ban.

Valerie Boyer, of the right-wing Republicans party, said: “These practices represent an attack against our values. They have no place in our country.”

In response to criticism of the event, French socialist senator Samia Ghali, who is of Algerian descent, commented on Twitter that the matter was “an unnecessary controversy that feeds into the confusion over the real challenges of our battle. 

“Intolerance should not change camps,” she added.

Another politician, Patrick Mennucci, said: “Swimming while covered-is it against the law? No. Privatizing a place is authorised. This is anti-Muslim controversy.”

On the Facebook page for the event, the organizers ask women who plan to attend to not wear bikinis, and to cover the area between their chests and knees at the minimum.

There will be a male lifeguard on duty, the organisers said. Other males above the age of 10 will not be allowed to attend.

 

Muslim community joins Regina pride parade for 1st time

Regina held its annual Queen City Pride parade on Saturday, as the main event for pride week.
This year was special for some Muslim people in Regina, as it’s the first time a group from the religious community marched in the parade.
Sabreena Haque, a Muslim woman who took part, said many who joined the parade felt it was time to show more visible solidarity, especially in the wake of the tragic shooting in Orlando at a gay bar earlier this month.
“We are a misunderstood community ourselves, and I think you know when things like Orlando happen and things that happen in other places, I think other people always see us as being this harsh group of people. That we have only one way of thinking,” Haque said.
Haque said people were happy to see group marching, and said they’re thankful for the opportunity to take part.

A Muslim Community in Virginia Feels the Heat of Extremists’ Sins

It was a Friday Prayer like any other at the Islamic Center of Fredericksburg until the warning came from the imam. Less than a week after the Orlando, Fla., nightclub massacre by an American-born Muslim, and after Donald J. Trump’s renewed call to bar Muslims from entering the United States, Imam Hilal Shah told his congregation to stay vigilant for violence against their families and community.
“We’re fearful of a backlash,” Imam Shah called out through the speakers as he mentioned other attacks by Muslim extremists in Paris and in San Bernardino, Calif. “Anytime an event takes place such as what happened in France, such as what happened in San Bernardino, such as in Orlando, we as a Muslim community feel scared.”

Controversial benefit event for Muslims in Birma cancelled due to alleged hate preacher

The Dutch Muslim foundation Rohamaa which organizes humanitary projects in Muslim countries such is Birma and Syria has cancelled a controversial benefit event in the Dutch municipality of Rijswijk. The event was discredited become alleged “hate imams” would speak at the event. According to the municipality of Rijswijk “the foundation has said that the charitable goals of the meeting – because of current happenings and negative media coverage – has been drawn into the background.” The municipality has called the organization’s canceling the event “a very brave decision.”

The Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders has retracted the visas of the three imams that were to preach at the event. Rohamaa has reacted “baffled” by this decision. “The retraction was executed on the bases of information more detailed information by the NVTC [National Coordination of Counter-Terrorist Measures and Security, ed.] and is fitting in the context of the action program jihadims,” the minister said in a reaction.

The total of seven speakers that were invited to the program had background from Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Nigeria, and Belgium. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not want to extrapolate on the identity of the speakers for whom the visas were retracted.

Dutch benefit event “radical” Muslims in Utrecht cancelled

A benefit event organized by the Dutch Muslim organization World Wide Relief in Party Centre Luxury in the Dutch city of Utrecht was cancelled by the centre. Spokesperson of Party Centre Luxury Gino Shaho stated that it was not known that “radical Muslims” would attend the benefit event.

The organization World Wide Relief organized a similar event last year were they collected money for Palestine, Birma, and South-Morocco. But at that event no speakers were invited. Among others, this years event would feature two controversial Muslim preachers, the saudi shaykh Assim al-Hakeem and the Dutch convert Abdul-Jabbar van der Ven.

The management of the party centre was not in tune with the perceived political implications of the event. According to Shado World Wide Relief has reacted in an understanding way.

Questions have been asked about the event by members of the Dutch parliament. Earlier this week Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders retracted the visa for three imams that were to attend a similar event in the Dutch municipality of Rijswijk. The parliamentary members wanted to know if visas were also extended to the guests at the event in Utrecht.

“Visit My Mosque” – Muslims in Britain hold mosque open days to demystify Islam

MCB-open-mosque-dayAround 20 UK mosques opened their doors to the public on Sunday in a move to ease tensions between Muslims. The Muslim Council of Britain said that the mosques would give a warm welcome to visitors and answer any queries regarding Islam that the people in the community might like answered.

However, the event was surrounded with conspiracy after Cathy Newman claimed in her tweet that she was ushered out Streatham mosque in North London, which caused outrage in the social media questioning the event held by the Muslim Council of Britain. Cathy Newman later apologised after CCTV images contradict the Channel 4 presenter’s claims that she was “ushered out of the mosque” during Open Day held by UK mosques. The CCTV images obtained by the Huffington post showed that Miss Newman arriving at the mosque and being directed by a male congregant, but leaving alone through the courtyard. The mosque had previously denied Miss Newman’s claims, saying that her comments provoked death threats and voice mails which were reported to the police.

Cathy Newman apologised for the “misunderstanding”. She said “as the primary purpose of Visit My Mosque day was to increase understanding of Islam, I was horrified to hear the mosque I visited in error has had death threats. I’m sorry for any misunderstanding there has been. I would be happy to pay a private visit to South London Islamic Centre once again.” she said in a statement. Although she made the claims on that day, she later added that she was received warmly by the people in Hyderi mosque.