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 ))

Beziers mayor to be tried for Muslim ‘problem’ comments

Robert Menard, who is an ally of France’s anti-immigrant National Front party, will face a charge in a Paris court of incitement to hatred or discrimination.

“In a class in the city center in my town, 91 percent of the children are Muslims. Obviously, this is a problem. There are limits to tolerance”, he said in September 5 comments on news channel LCI.

 

Also in September, on France’s first day back to school, he tweeted his regret at witnessing “the great replacement”, using a term by xenophobic writer Renaud Camus to describe the country’s white, Christian population being overtaken by foreign-born Muslims.

Menard, who is the mayor of southern France town Beziers, denied his comments were discriminatory.

“I just described the situation in my town,” he told AFP. “It is not a value judgement, it’s a fact. It’s what I can see.”

According to France-based anti-racism group Licra, the trial is set for March 8.

Menard prompted outrage in October by putting up anti-migrant posters and calling for a local referendum ahead of the arrival of asylum-seekers in his town.

Under the headline “That’s It, They’re Coming”, is an image of a crowd of migrants, all of them men, outside the cathedral in Beziers.

Menard was for 23 years the head of the media rights group Reporters Without Borders, which has distanced itself from him since he left in 2008.

French comedian to go on trial for supporting terrorism

French comedian Dieudonné Mbala to stand trial for allegedly condoning terrorism via Facebook. (Photo: The Telegraph UK)
French comedian Dieudonné Mbala to stand trial for allegedly condoning terrorism via Facebook. (Photo: The Telegraph UK)

French comedian Dieudonné Mbala has been charged with condoning terrorism following a Facebook comment in which he expressed support for Ahmedy Coulibaly, the gunman who took hostages at a kosher supermarket and killed five people.

While in court Dieudonné stated: “of course I condemn the attacks without any restrain and without any ambiguity.”

He angered French officials after posting a statement online which read: “Je suis Charlie Coulibaly,” after thousands marched in Paris under the slogan “Je suis Charlie” in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. Dieudonné was arrested January 14.

Following Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve’s request that authorities investigate the comedian’s remarks, Dieudonné responded that he was being “treated as a public enemy when all he wanted to do was make a joke.”

Many see his arrest as a violation of free speech and an example of the government’s double standard.

Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland said “The case has raised new questions about French values of freedom, equality and fraternity.” Dieudonné could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison. In addition to the recent allegations he already faces already other charges after being convicted for inciting anti-Semitism.

“He is currently involved in several trials here, on charges ranging from slander, to incitement of racial hatred, to condoning terrorism. In all cases, he denies the charges,” an Al Jazeera correspondent said.

Extremists Indicted for Occupying Mosque

July 7, 2014

The case dates back to October 20, 2012 and concerns the occupation of the Grand Mosque of Poitiers by Generation Identity, a far right youth movement that occupied the mosque during its construction. According to the group’s website, its goal is to “banish scum, those who want to police our lives and our thoughts, mass immigration, schools that hide the history of our people, etc.”

The two presidents Damien Rieu and Arnaud Delrieux were arraigned on July 4. Rieux, the group’s spokesperson, was held in police custody for theft and incitement of racial hate, among other charges. Delrieux was not present during the incident but was indicted for complicity.

Additionally, the group itself was indicted as a corporation. More than seventy of its members were present on October 20, 2012 but only six have been implicated in the case. In a joint statement the two leaders denounced the “judiciary harassment of socialist power.”

France Satirical Mag Charlie Hebdo Sued by Muslims for ‘Blasphemy’

February 19, 2014

 

French Muslims have sued satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for blasphemy in Strasbourg for publishing a cover page with the headline: “The Koran is shit – it doesn’t stop bullets.”

The League of Judicial Defence of Muslims (LDJM) led by former lawyers Karim Achoui, has brought the case before the criminal court in Alsace-Moselle’s capital.

The region, which was annexed by Germany in 1871 and 1940-45, still retained part of the old German code that includes the “blasphemy” crime – which no longer exist in the rest of France.

The LDJM has also sued Charlie Hebdo in Paris for “provocation and incitement to hatred on the basis of religious affiliation and insult”.

A further complication is that Alsace’s blasphemy laws has no redress for Islam, covering only Catholicism, three forms of Protestants and Judaism.

According to Article 166 of the Alsace-Moselle penal code:

He who causes a scandal by publicly blaspheming against God by disparaging or publicly insulting Christian cults or a religious community established in the territory of the Confederation and recognised as a corporation, or institutions or ceremonies of these cults or which, in a church or other place devoted to religious meetings, has committed offensive and outrageous acts, shall be punished with imprisonment of three years.

Charb, director of Charlie Hebdo, said: “We know in advance that the trial will not go through because Islam is not in the code.”

The last application of the blasphemy law in the region dates back to 1918.

However, Eric Sander, secretary general of the Institute of Alsace-Moselle, told Le Monde that according to by-laws “any religion, statutory or otherwise can invoke Article 166 of the local penal code which is independent of system of worship”.

Crime of blasphemy was abolished after the French revolution by article 10 and 11 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789. It was reinstated under the Restoration and again deleted by the law of 29 July 1881.

French courts, however, will consider cases that provoke injury, personal and direct attack against a group of people because of their religious affiliation or incitement to racial or religious hatred in cases involving defamation of individuals.

Italian man arrested for Anti-Islam graffiti while on vacation in France

August 14, 2013

An Italian was arrested during the night in Avignon, southern France, because he smeared the walls near the entrance to the historic Palace of the Popes with anti-Islam writings. The Le Parisien reported today, citing the deputy prosecutor of Avignon, Thierry Villardo. The man, in his thirties, has been identified thanks to surveillance cameras and he was stopped as he prepared to deface other walls with slogans against Muhammad. At least seven other similar writings were found in the city.

It seems that the young Italian has had an altercation with some men of North African origin before committing the act. “He had a fight with them” said the deputy attorney Villardo “and went to buy some spray paint, he is not necessarily a chronic racist and xenophobe; he was really angry.” The man is currently in police custody. The town hall of Avignon, the Papal Palace and the Bank of France have all filed a complaint against him, according to Le Parisien. Even the Observatory of Islamophobia in the French Council of the Muslim Faith has announced its intention to file a complaint for incitement to racial hatred.

Appearing in the afternoon before the court of Avignon, the tourist smeared the walls of the Palace of the Popes with anti-Islam writings. The ANSA reported the deputy prosecutor of Avignon, Thierry Villardo, stated that the young man, who was arrested on the night between Monday and Tuesday in Avignon, “regrets his action.” Francesco Cattaneo, 31, from the province of Como, arrived in Avignon on Monday morning; he was to continue to Spain, after a brief stay in Avignon.

Cattaneo, confirmed the deputy prosecutor suspicions that he acted “in anger” after having a dispute with a group of people from North Africa. From a psychological report it was found that the 31 year old had a “difficult past,” in the words of the deputy prosecutor, and that “he was not in full possession of his faculties.” Cattaneo could spend up to seven years in prison.

Double desecration
Writing insults to Muhammad on the walls of the Palace of the Popes of Avignon, the Italian tourist, who is in custody in the southern city of France, has committed a “double desecration” against the Prophet and against a symbol of Christianity said Mohamed Moussaoui, honorary president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith. The desecration “of the first name of the prophet, the greatest symbol of Islam, and also the desecration of one of the major places of Christianity,” said Moussaoui on radio France. He also condemned the act as “odious,” calling on Muslims to remain “vigilant but calm, know that extremism can thrive only in an atmosphere of tension.” Several acts added to the anti-Islam rhetoric in recent days. Just three days ago, a soldier was arrested while planning an attack on the mosque in Venissieux, a suburb of Lyon.

Piccardo Denounces those who are wrong about Imam

August 12, 2013

“The words uttered years ago by Shaikh Riyad Al Bustanji have been shamefully distorted and manipulated” said Davide Piccardo, the coordinator of the Islamic associations of Milan, discussing the recent stance of the Jewish community against the participation of the Municipality of Milan in Ramadan, due to Imam Al Bustanj’s presence. Imam Al Bustanj “has never” says Piccardo “praised hatred, much less to the martyrdom of children. We have begun a legal proceeding against those responsible for spreading these words citing that these comments support defamation and incitement to racial and religious hatred.”

The participation of the imam in Ramadan festivities in Milan has incited a lot of controversy, including the spokesman of the main synagogue in Milan asking that politicians demand the resignation of the Piccardo, who responded with the letter.

There is No Threat from Imam Al Bustanj

August 12, 2013

“Ridiculous, these are complaints that do not stand up” explained the spokesman of the Jewish Community in Milan, Daniele Nahum, in response to the threat of lawsuit from Davide Piccardo. Piccardo, the coordinator of the Islamic association of Milan, in a statement, said today that the association would proceed with a defamation and incitement to racial and religious hatred lawsuit. The lawsuit is in response to comments about Imam Al Bustanj, citing him as an extremist who supports the martyrdom of children.

The controversy began with the end of Ramadan a few days ago. The Jewish community explicitly blamed the Municipal government because they participated in a prayer for the end of Ramadan led by Imam Al Bustanj. The note from the Jewish community coordinator explains the community will not be undervalued.

In the end this debate focuses on those phrases that represent the historical opposition between the two faiths on the issues of the state of Israel and the occupation of the Palestinian land. “We do not intend to take lessons from those who support a state that constantly violates international legality and basic human rights; continuing to conduct a brutal military occupation, which is both racist and criminal” Picard wrote.

Mosque in Poitiers France Stormed by Far Right Protesters

News Agencies – October 20, 2012

 

Dozens of far right extremists stormed atop an unfinished mosque in western France to show their hostility toward it and denounce immigration that has brought millions of Muslims into the country, a regional official said. About 70 protesters traveled from around France for the demonstration in the city of Poitiers, which has symbolic meaning as the place where a French medieval ruler once drove away Arab invaders, regional prefect Yves Dassonville said by phone. After police arrived, the protesters dispersed without resistance – and three were detained to face accusations of “incitement of racial hatred” and damage to property, he said.

French TV broadcast images of dozens of rowdy, waving and chanting protesters on the mosque roof next to its minaret. Muslim leaders said the protesters had disrupted a prayer inside, and expressed incomprehension over the stunt.

Sentenced for a blog article about Muslims

4 April 2012

A former leading member of the Swedish Democrats – SD (an extreme right party with 20 seats in the Swedish Parliament) from Örebro was sentenced for “incitement to hate”. The sentence is based on a blog article which he wrote two years ago about Somali and Muslim immigrants. He wrote, among other things, that “the men sit at home and chew drugs while conspiring against the unbelievers”, as reported by Nerikes Allehandas online edition (Örebro local daily newspaper).

The man, who has since been expelled from the party (SD), argued in his defense that few people have even read his blog article. Nevertheless, the district court’s opinion is that he was guilty by posting such article online.