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 ))

New statistics show enduringly high level of xenophobic hate crimes in Germany

According to figures released by the German Federal Criminal Police Office, 877 crimes against asylum shelters and housing units of refugees were recorded from January until late November 2016. This compares to 1031 cases in 2015 and 199 in 2014.

Offences comprised a large number of property damage cases, propaganda delicts—which include the defacing of walls with xenophobic or racial slurs—as well as 151 acts of violence. Among these, there were 64 cases of arson and five bomb attacks.(( http://www.news38.de/welt/article208868749/Dieses-Jahr-schon-877-Angriffe-gegen-Fluechtlingsheime.html ))

A spokesperson for the criminal police remained cautious as to whether the slightly lower number of attacks in 2016 meant that the peak of xenophobic violence had passed. She also noted that numbers for both 2015 and 2016 were not final and could still increase.(( http://www.schwaebische.de/panorama/aus-aller-welt_artikel,-Laut-BKA-877-Angriffe-gegen-Fluechtlingsunterkuenfte-bis-Ende-November-_arid,10574729.html ))

A potential pool of undetected cases

It is worth noting that the number of politically motivated anti-immigrant crimes overall – i.e. attacks directed not just against housing units specifically – is still substantially higher.((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/fremdenfeindlichkeit-rechtsextremisten-werden-immer-haeufiger-gewalttaetig/14595458.html ))

Moreover, human rights organisations have long criticised the inability or unwillingness of Germany’s 16 federal states to comprehensively list far-right crime, repeatedly noting that official figures are far too low.((http://www.br.de/nachrichten/rechtsaussen/rechtsextremismus-extremismus-opfer-rechter-gewalt-100.html ))

In 2015, for instance, the Amadeu Antonio Foundation published findings that the number of right-wing homicides since reunification in 1990 was more than twice as high as officially recorded.((https://www.mut-gegen-rechte-gewalt.de/news/chronik-der-gewalt/todesopfer-rechtsextremer-und-rassistischer-gewalt-seit-1990 )) In the same vein, Amnesty International recently castigated the German state of systematically failing to identify and address racist violence.((https://www.amnesty.de/files/Amnesty-Bericht-Rassistische-Gewalt-in-Deutschland-Juni2016.pdf ))

An increasingly radicalised core

Even if the overall numbers of xenophobic and racist crimes might be stagnating in 2016, there are indications that the hard core of the anti-immigrant movement is increasingly prone to using more drastic means.

Officially recorded acts of attempted homicides are up, for instance, with authorities aware of 11 cases during the first three quarters of 2016. ((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/rechtsextremismus-zahl-der-versuchten-toetungsdelikte-durch-neonazis-steigt-stark/14703844.html )) In another high-profile case, the far-right militant group ‘Freital’ is currently on trial on charges of terrorism and attempted murder.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/gruppe-freital-anklage-101.html ))

On the one hand, this court case is a success, in the sense that a high-profile disaster comparable to the case of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) was avoided: the NSU’s string of murders had not uncovered for years due to a multiplicity of highly suspect investigatory mishaps. On the other hand, the Freital group reportedly received constant tip-offs and help from a member of the local police((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-11/gruppe-freital-sachsen-polizei-leck-ermittlungsverfahren )) – a fact that once more raises questions about the capacity of German security forces to deal with the right-wing threat.

In Germany, graffiti and arson damage mosques and refugee camps

Unknown perpetrators have smudged the unfinished body shell of a mosque in the city of Dormagen with swastika Nazi symbols. (Photo: DPA)
Unknown perpetrators have smudged the unfinished body shell of a mosque in the city of Dormagen with swastika Nazi symbols. (Photo: DPA)

Unknown perpetrators have smudged the unfinished body shell of a mosque in the city of Dormagen with swastika Nazi symbols. The police refused to draw correlations between the assault and the current PEGIDA protests. Police and security authorities have initiated investigation, expecting that the assaults are politically motivated.

At the same time, a fire assault has taken place against a refugee camp in the small German city of Vorra. The event has been condemned by all major parties. Some went as far as to connect it, at least ideally with the PEGIDA protests. The General Secretary of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Yasmin Fahimi described PEGIDA as the “spiritual arsonist” of attacks against foreigners. The commissioner for integration, the minister of State Aydan Özoğuz (SPD) condemned the assaults. Referring to the discovery of the right-wing terrorist group National-Social Underground (NSU), these assaults demonstrate the deep hatred against human beings and the potential threat caused by right-wing extremists, he declared.

Daughter of Turkish victim testifies in Nazi terrorism trial

November 5, 2013

 

Gamze Kubasik, daughter of Mehmet Kubasik who was one of the victims of the murder series of the Nationalist Socialist Underground (NSU) testifies against the accused Beate Zschäpe at the court of Munich. Beate Zschäpe has shown no reaction or signs of regret towards any family members of the victims.

April 6th 2006, Mehmet Kubasik was murdered in his little shop in the city of Dortmund. Tragically, the police authorities suspected the victim to be connected to illegal channels of the Turkish mafia.

 

Spiegel: http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/justiz/nsu-prozess-verhandelt-mord-an-mehmet-kubasik-a-931954.html

NSU trial against Beate Zchaepe

October 2rd

 

The parents of one of the victims of the right-wing terrorist group National Socialist Underground (NSU) attended the trial against the accused NSU member Beate Zschaepe. Halit Yozgat was 21 years old when becoming the ninth victim of the NSU terrorist group. On April 6th 2006, he was murdered in an Internet shop in the city of Kassel.

Reactions to the final report about the right-wing terrorist “National Socialist Underground”

August 22

 

The council of Muslims in Germany has described the results of the recently published report about the „National Social Underground“ NSU, as a sign for increased racism and Xenophobia in Germany. According to the Muslim association, anti-Muslim stereotypes in media explain the trend towards Xenophobic violence. The council of Muslims asks for an anti-racism commissioner who inspects the education of police and security authorities in Germany, reporting the results to the public. The police and security authorities have been heavily criticized in the NSU report for underestimating right-wing terrorism. Warning calls were simply ignored. In the first phase of the murder series, the authorities focused only at the social and cultural environment of the victims, suspecting criminal foreigners.

 

In the 2000´s, the right-wing terrorist cell NSU murdered one police officer and 9 immigrants in Germany. Most of the immigrants were of Turkish origins.

 

Report (German)

Right-wing terrorism by the National Socialist Underground – A dossier by the Coordination Council of Muslims

Nov 2012

 

In 2012, the Coordination Council of Muslims has summarized the chronology of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) murders and the reactions to these crimes in a dossier, which is available in German, English and Turkish. The role of the government and its security services in the present is critically analysed. The council claims to re-establish the trust of its citizens and in particular its Muslim citizens in the intelligence services, which was lost as a result of the NSU acts of terrorism. Without this trust it is not possible to feel safe and at home in Germany. Growing Islamophobia and racism in the public are further critical references of the council.

 

NSU_Dossier_Englisch

20 years after the assault of Solingen

May 29

 

Muslims representatives such as the central council of Muslims remembered the deadly assault of May 29th 1993 in the German city of Solingen. Twenty years ago, the German government restricted the asylum law, as a consequence of increasing numbers of asylum seekers. The restriction was part of a preventive policy in the aftermath of the German reunification. Violent protests against foreigners and asylum seekers had occurred in Eastern and Western parts of Germany. In Solingen, a right-wing extremist perpetrator had executed a fire assault, which killed a Turkish family with five members.

 

With regard to the twentieth annual of the assault in Solingen, Muslim organizations are deeply concerned about the recent wave of assaults against mosques. According the central council of Muslims, Muslim immigrants are increasingly facing daily racism when applying for jobs or searching for accommodation. Racist comments have become socially accepted. The central council of Muslims argues that NSU right-wing terrorism has been advantaged by the hostile atmosphere against Muslim immigrants.

 

Assaults against mosques

May 22

 

An assault on Sunday morning against a mosque of the DITIB association “Turkish Islamic Union for the Institution of Religion” in Bullay a town in the State of Rhineland-Palatinate has shocked the Muslim community. The perpetrators had greased the slogan: “the NSU will live forever and you will be the next” on the walls of the mosque. Bekir Alboga, General Secretary of DITIB condemned the attacks as further evidence for violence against foreigners.

 

The coordination council of Muslims published further assaults targeting mosques in the month of May. Mosques in the cities of Mainz, Lengerich and Düren were attacked and their walls had been greased with anti-Muslim slogans. The police is still investigating the cases. The coordination council expects a correlation between the assaults and the NSU trial. Aiman Mazyek, speaker of the coordination council condemned the assaults and warned State authorities and media not to underestimate the threat of anti-Muslim hatred in Germany.

NSU right-wing terrorism – reaction to the trial

May 14

Coordinated by the coordination council of Muslims, Muslim associations have sent their representatives to attend the trial of the right-wing terrorist cell of the National Socialist Underground (NSU). The coordination council of Muslims represents the Islamic culture centers, the  Turkish Islamic Union for the Institute of Religion, the Islam council and the central council for Muslims.  Aiman Mazyek, the representative of the Central council of Muslims and speaker of the coordination council of Muslims spoke about a historical trial, which would demonstrate how desperate the security conditions of Muslims is. Mazyek added that racism against foreigners Muslims has been existing for a long time. Media coverage lacking objectivity has contributed to an increased hatred against Muslims and immigrants. The State should prove to what extent the authorities have failed to stop the terrorist trio of the NSU.

 

Turkish media such as Haber Türk, titled “Nazi woman posing like Hitler. Most Turkish newspaper related the trial with the social and political environment in Germany, asking how Germany would face the Nazi challenge. Other newspapers such as the Sabah have asked to what extent right-wing groups undermine the German State cooperating with Nazi groups.  Prior to the trial, Turkish media was aggrieved as it was not given a seat in the court. Hence the rule of the Constitutional Court forced the appellate court in Munich to open up the lottery for media seats, providing a fair share for every media representatives.