New terrorism arrests in Germany heighten questions about scale of IS threat

A string of arrests

On September 13, three Syrians were arrested on terror charges in Germany’s northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. According to the Federal Prosecutor, the three men, aged 17 to 26, had arrived in the country in November 2015. While posing as refugees, they had already been tasked by the Islamic State to commit a terrorist attack. The youngest of the three had been given training in weapons and explosives in Syria; and the trio received “higher four-figure sums in American currency” as well as mobile phones while in Germany. However, at the time of their arrest in their respective shelters for asylum seekers, their plans had not yet come close to fruition. (( ))

Raising a potential link to a larger IS network, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière stated that the men had been brought to Europe by the same people smugglers’ ring as the perpetrators of the November 2015 Paris attacks. Moreover, their counterfeit passports appeared to have been produced by the same IS-run workshop in Raqqa that had already produced the ´passports found on the perpetrators of the bombings and shootings in the French capital. (( ))

Eight days later, on September 21, a 16-year-old Syrian was arrested in a makeshift housing unit in Cologne, where he had been plotting a bomb attack. He had received extensive guidance from abroad via online messaging services; and the young man’s IS-linked chat partner had given advice about how to build an explosive device and where to plant it. The 16-year old had been in Germany as a refugee with his parents and his sister since January 2015. (( ))

The spectre of a larger network involving refugees

Against this backdrop, Thomas de Maizière asserted anew that the ‘Islamic State’ was not dependent on the refugee treks to bring its members and sympathisers to Europe. Rather than being an operational necessity, the infltration of these treks in fact constitues a means to discredit refugees and exacerbate simmering social tensions in Europe, or so de Maizière argued. (( ))

Whilst this is surely part of the IS’s calculation, a trove of documents from European security services analysed by CNN shows that interior ministries and their intelligence agencies are more concerned about the number of jihadis concealed among the refugees than de Maizière wants to admit. These documents reveal the extent to which the ‘Islamic State’ has systematically relied on the flow of migrants to channel its fighters into Europe, as well as the suspected size of the resulting European IS-controlled network. (( ))

At the same time, the precise relationship of other attackers to the IS terror organisation remain more opaque. Of the two recent perpetrators of terror attacks in Germany, the Ansbach suicide bomber appears to have received more detailed instructions from an IS-linked source for a longer period of time. While after his death the IS claimed that it had sent him, the man nevertheless seems not connected to any of the other IS networks in Europe. The young Afghan who attacked the passengers of a regional train near Würzburg seems to have established contact with IS-channels only late in the day, without having been sent to Germany by the organisation. Subsequently he nevertheless received extensive guidance from IS operatives. (( )) The IS thus proves itself once more  to be rather flexible in its dealings with potential recruits.

Dutch Ministers introduce measures to combat radicalization

Dutch parliamentary ministers have agreed on a package of measures to combat the growth of Muslim radicalization and stop youngsters from traveling abroad to take part in war. Ministers Lodewijk Asscher and Ivo Opstelten said in a briefing to Members of Parliament introducing the program, “the Jihadist movement is the opposite of everything our country stands for.”

Around 120 Dutch nationals are thought to be fighting with organizations such as IS and at least 30 have since returned home. Measures to be introduced include: a planned increase in options for withdrawing Dutch nationality from dual nationals; measures to deal with people returning to the Netherlands from conflict zones; a special team focusing on social media; and attention to youth vulnerable to radicalization through involvement of social workers, teachers and experts.

The Justice Minister confirms that the passport of 33 people have been cancelled so far. Most recently, officials have cancelled the passports of two couples from the city of Huizen and taken their children into care because of fears they planned to travel to Syria to join IS. The six children have been taken to a ‘place of safety’ but are not together, and their passports have also been cancelled.

In the Hague, a man and woman have been arrested for allegedly attempting to recruit people to fight in Syria and Iraq, and are suspected of “spreading hatred” via social media and news websites. In total, police in the Hague have now arrested nine people for recruiting fighters and five remain in jail.

Increasing Surveillance of ‘Radicalisation’ and Travel to Syria for Muslims in the Netherlands

April 3, 2014


According to national newspaper AD, in the Netherlands some 5,000 individuals will be trained to recognize signs of ‘radicalisation’ among young Muslims. They will include teachers and police officers. AD bases its claims on confidential documents from the counter-terrorism body NCTV and security service AIVD.

Additionally, surveillance of youth who have travelled to Syria is increasing. The surveillance will reportedly be carried out by trained police officers who will be charged with openly monitoring the youth. So far, 13 youth have had their passports withdrawn, several dozen have lost social security benefits, and on four occasions individuals have had their financial resources frozen.

Dutch News

Update: Netherlands Refuses Passports to Youth Planning Syria Travel

February 21, 2014


Update: Ten youth have now been refused a Dutch passport on the grounds that security services suspect the individuals may be planning to go to Syria. The spokesman for NCTV, the Dutch counter-terrorism unit, told broadcaster NOS that the passport applications were blocked because of fears the youth would return ‘radicalized and traumatised’. This follows an NCTV announcement two weeks ago that the passports of eight youth planning to travel to Syria had been declared null and void. Spokesman Edmond Messchaert announced that those who disagree with the passport denial could apply to the courts.

Dutch News:

Previous Euro-Islam summary:

Individuals Travelling from Netherlands to Syria Have Passports Confiscated

January 28, 2014


Eight individuals planning to travel to Syria from the Netherlands have had their passports confiscated, Dick Schoof, head of counter-terrorism in the Netherlands, announced to a national radio station. According to Schoof, the confiscation occurred to prevent Dutch nationals from travelling to fight in Syria. This is the first time such measures have been employed, and Schoof noted that while the move is “effective”, he must now wait to hear court judgments regarding whether such confiscation is legally possible.


Dutch News: