Germany debates counter-terrorism legislation after the Berlin attack

In the aftermath of the December 19 truck rampage committed by jihadist Anis Amri at a Berlin Christmas market, the German public debate has shifted to the policy and security lessons to be drawn from the attack. Given the Tunisian nationality of the attacker, discussions have focused on immigration law and on administrative counter-terrorism measures.

New security prerogatives proposed

Politicians from the conservative CSU party have been at the forefront of demands for increased competencies for the security services. In a policy paper, the CSU leadership most notably called for an expansion of administrative detention.

For the CSU, being identified by the intelligence services as an individual likely to threaten public safety because of suspected terrorist intentions (i.e. being identified as a Gefährder or ‘endangerer’ in German politico-legal parlance) is to be sufficient for an individual to be placed in administrative detention. Moreover, in the case of foreigners awaiting deportation, the period of custody prior to expulsion is to be prolonged from four days to four weeks.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/sicherheitsgesetze-bericht-ueber-umfassenden.1947.de.html?drn:news_id=692879 ))

Finally, the CSU proposes to curb the usage of the more lenient juvenile penal law for terrorist offenders under the age of 21, to allow counter-terrorism intelligence operations against suspects as young as the age of 14, and to monitor the movements of convicted extremists even after their release from prison through electronic ankle bracelets.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/sicherheitsgesetze-bericht-ueber-umfassenden.1947.de.html?drn:news_id=692879 ))

Effectiveness of policy initiatives

The moment for the CSU’s initiative is opportune: not only has the attack on the Christmas market shaken the German public; the effectiveness of expansive surveillance also appeared to be on ample display when a group of young men from Syria and Libya were caught on camera while trying to set on fire a homeless man sleeping in a Berlin metro station.

The men turned themselves in when crystal-clear CCTV images showing their faces were released to the public. Citing this example as an ostentatious success story, the CSU has demanded a drastic expansion of video surveillance of public spaces in the aftermath of the Christmas market attack.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-12/berlin-polizei-fahndet-ubahn-obdachloser-angezuendet ))

A spokesman of the German lawyer’s association, Swen Walentowski observed, however, that “video surveillance does not lead to greater security. There are completely false and exaggerated expectations of video surveillance. […] [A] terrorist would never be deterred by a video camera mounted on some lamp post.”(( http://www.heute.de/csu-papier-fuer-schaerfere-sicherheitsgesetze-partei-setzt-auf-gunst-der-stunde-46201116.html ))

Investigative blunders in the run-up to the attack

Walentowski’s comments highlight the fact that the effectiveness of a number of the currently flouted counter-terrorism proposals is questionable. Indeed, in retrospect Anis Amri’s journey through Europe was hardly a smooth one, and the Tunisian did little to conceal his jihadist ambitions. European security services failed to use existing legal provisions that would have allowed them to curb the terrorist threat posed by Amri.

Having left Tunisia after the country’s revolution, Amri lived in Italy for years and had repeated brushes with the law in the country, spending time in Italian jails. Yet although mandatory on paper, the exchange of information between German and Italian security services appears to have been highly deficient, meaning that Amri could start a new life after his arrival in Germany in summer 2015.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/anis-amri-und-der-anschlag-in-berlin-versaeumnisse-im-anti-terror-kampf-a-1127376.html ))

Subsequently, Amri established contacts to the hardline preacher Abu Walaa, dubbed the informal leader of the Islamic State organisation (ISIL) in Germany. The Abu Walaa network attempted to help Amri to travel to Syria. Amri also repeatedly discussed plans for a potential attack with leading figures in the preacher’s group.(( http://www.dw.com/de/anis-amri-abu-walaa-und-die-salafisten/a-36879648 ))

Slipping under the radar

Authorities had collected extensive material on Amri’s activities. Amri’s file at the domestic intelligence agency was updated only a few days before the December 19 attack, and included his aliases, his contact persons and addresses, details of his arrest in Italy, and his activities as a courier in the Abu Walaa network. It noted, too, Amri’s willingness to work as a suicide operator and his interest in building a bomb.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/anschlag-berlin-amri-101.html ))

Abu Walaa himself, as well as some of his most important associates, were arrested in early November 2016. Yet intelligence services ceased their efforts to monitor Amri in summer 2016. Shortly before, an attempt to deport Amri back to Tunisia had failed: although his demand for asylum had been rejected, Tunisia refused to issue travel documents and to readmit Amri.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/anis-amri-und-der-anschlag-in-berlin-versaeumnisse-im-anti-terror-kampf-a-1127376.html ))

To be sure, with numbers of suspected ISIL sympathisers being relatively large, German and European intelligence services will not be able to effectively monitor every single potential attacker. Rule of law and high standards of accountability can also be encumber investigations against terror suspects. The Amri case nevertheless appears to show a series of mishaps on the part of authorities. Tough questions must be asked as to why Amri was allowed to slip under the radar.

Failures to make use of existing legal provisions

When dealing with Amri, intelligence and security services had a range of tools at their disposal which they only used haphazardly. These include cooperation and information exchange with other agencies in the European abroad, as well as a number of domestic measures.

Perhaps most notably, Amri’s freedom of movement could have been restricted, thereby hampering his ability to integrate into the German jihadist network in Hanover and to commit an attack in Berlin – both places far from his home in North-Rhine Westphalia. The German Residence Act enables local authorities to require suspect or dangerous asylum-seekers who have had their demands for refugee status rejected to remain within a certain area and to report to the local police.

If the individual violates these requirements, he or she is placed in detention. Significantly, Amri did run into police controls when he was travelling through the country several hundreds of kilometres away from his home. At this point, he could have been arrested and detained had such a residence requirement been in force.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/anis-amri-und-der-anschlag-in-berlin-versaeumnisse-im-anti-terror-kampf-a-1127376.html ))

Legislative fever

Yet none of these measures were taken – in spite of authorities’ awareness of Amri’s jihadist activities. Instead, the young man travelled frequently and freely across Germany, keeping in touch with his contacts from the radical scene and scouting potential places for attacks. The failure to stop Amri is thus less due to inadequate legal provisions than to a faulty assessment of the threat Amri posed.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/anschlag-berlin-amri-101.html ))

Consequently, the Green Party security spokesman, Konstantin von Notz, accused the governing parties of voicing expansive demands for new laws in order to detract from their failings in implementing existing legal provisions.(( http://www.heute.de/csu-papier-fuer-schaerfere-sicherheitsgesetze-partei-setzt-auf-gunst-der-stunde-46201116.html ))

Following the events of December 19, Germany is currently undergoing the familiar legislative fever that appears to be the inevitable consequence of a terrorist attack. While it may be necessary to amend or alter selected legal provisions, the rushed introduction of sweeping new counter-terrorism laws does not respond to the genuine shortcomings in the German and European counter-terrorism framework that the Christmas market attack has revealed.

Politicians React to Eric Zemmour’s Remarks

In the wake of Eric Zemmour’s controversial remarks concerning French Muslims published in an interview with Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera, several public figures have actively denounced his suggestions.

In a recent press release, French Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve affirmed his support for French Muslims and called for all of France to “take action and show its solidarity.” Cazeneuve stated that “The secular Republic guarantees freedom of belief and religious freedom. The French nation is characterized by living together in harmony, and French Muslims, like Christians, Jews, believers and nonbelievers, are all its children.”

Cazeneuve also stated: “In making the fight against racism and anti-Semitism a national cause, the president of the Republic François Hollande believes that no Frenchman should be attacked or threatened because of their origins or religious beliefs.”

In a similar press release, Pascal Popelin, a politician in Seine-Saint-Denis, stated that “French Muslims have once again been hatefully attacked.” Peopelin argued that the government must address the “unacceptable amount of anti-Semitic acts, which are part of the sad account of all the deadly hateful, racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic acts. ‘I forcefully denounce these remarks and express my solidarity with French Muslims.’”
He added, “Determined to preserve the Republican pact, I will do all I can in the necessary effort to make sure that places of worship are protected and that not anti-religious hate act will go unpunished.”

The Parti Radical de Gauche (Radical Left Party) of Seine-Saint-Denis additionally condemned Zemmour’s remarks and said “stop Islamophobia!” The party’s president Ahmed Laouedj states that the group “firmly denounces the Islamophobic remarks of Mr. Eric Zemmour. He demonstrated several times that he is not in accord with republican values of freedom of belief and religious freedom. Yet again, the Muslim community is the target of Eric Zemmour’s racist and xenophobic remarks. We express our support for the Muslim community and we support the recent complaints that have been filed against Mr. Zemmour.”

Lastly, the Union of Muslim Associations of Seine-Saint-Denis “deplores the complicity of [Zemmour’s] employers who refuse to control the diffusion of his hateful remarks and who benefit handsomely from maintaining a fascistic reputation. L’UAM-93 specifically asks the CSA to fulfill its role in regulating media diffusion and those who are associated with this issue, in addition to all the legal filings [against Zemmour] for inciting racial discrimination. L’UAM-93 has continuously warned that these types of remarks are not in line with freedom of expression and that they have given this individual authorization for a form of media misconduct whose only objective is to incite hatred and violence regarding communities that have been targeted for several years. L’UAM-93 congratulates the dignified behavior of the Muslim Community for not falling into the trap set by the individual who has built his reputation on the humiliation of others.”

Dutch Politicians React to Innocence of Muslims Controversies

20 September 2012

 

Media coverage of ongoing international controversies surrounding the movie Innocence of Muslims tracks the responses of Dutch politicians, particularly to statements from the European parliament speaker Martin Schulz. Dutch Euro-parliamentarian Hans van Baalen announced that Schulz should be standing up for freedom of expression, while Geert Wilders, via Twitter, called Schulz a “coward” who has “sentenced freedom to death”. Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Abu Taleb condemned the movie and advised Muslims to ignore the film.

More See “Too Much” Religious Talk by Politicians

A new survey finds signs of public uneasiness with the mixing of religion and politics. The number of people who say there has been too much religious talk by political leaders stands at an all-time high since the Pew Research Center began asking the question more than a decade ago. And most Americans continue to say that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of politics.

Nearly four-in-ten Americans (38%) now say there has been too much expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders, while 30% say there has been too little. In 2010, more said there was too little than too much religious expression from politicians (37% vs. 29%). The percentage saying there is too much expression of religious faith by politicians has increased across party lines, but this view remains far more widespread among Democrats than Republicans.

Moroccan Dutch Politicians Discuss Their Role in Islam Debate

9 November 2011

Moroccan Dutch politicians recently gathered in Utrecht to hold a debate regarding their work as political representatives and the position of Muslims in the Netherlands, NOS reports. The debate was an initiative by Labour councilor Latif Hasnaoui. Topics included those which will impact Muslims in the Netherlands, such as the proposed bans on ritual slaughter, circumcision, and the headscarf. The debate also involved conversation about the balance the politicians strike between speaking for Muslim supporters and adhering to their party’s political line.

 

French Politicians Amara and Duflot respond to the quick halal controversy

In the wake of the Quick fast-food chain’s decision to offer halal meat products, French politicians Fadela Amara and Cécile Duflot weigh in that the complaints against the possibility are excessive. Amara explained that because as a private business Quick does not offer public services they should be able to sell whatever they please. The consumer can choose. The real problem, she added, is that “elites in this country don’t accept its diversity . . . secularism is respecting the practices of one another.” Duflot warned of Islamophobia: “No one is chocked that there’s a kosher Franprix [grocery store].”

Le Figaro points to a report on halal meats (see reports section of Euro-Islam website) which claims that 32 percent of meat prepared in French abattoirs is halal or kosher, and is sometimes sold as non-halal.

Dutch politician retracts statements critical of Islam

The leader of the small Christian SGP party in the Netherlands, E. Klein, has taken back critical statements on Islam made during a meeting on freedom of education.

Klein declared that he would rather see no mosques, and that “Islam has produced nothing good so far”. Under pressure from local conservative (VVD) and center-left (D66) parties Klein has retracted the statement, announcing during a meeting of the provincial council that he “wholeheartedly takes back” his words.

Tarek Fatah calls NDP leader Jack Layton’s comments about Islam into question

Tarek Fatah claims that New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton’s Eid greetings are reflective of “politicians tripping over one other to prove their credentials as lovers of Islam and all things Muslim.” Fatah adds, “As if to ensure his credibility and authenticity as the true pro-Islam politician in Canada, Layton invokes the names of some Muslim Canadians and his solidarity with them. No, he does not mention the CEO of Rogers or the Secretary-Treasurer of the CLC nor does he mention any of the Muslim Senators or MPs; trade unionists or physicians; janitors or economists. He assumes we Muslims do nothing other than pray and preach. That all of us are all linked up in varying degrees to religiosity and Islamic organizations ranging from the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to the local chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Muslim Labor Party Members Oppose Mayor’s Gay Policy

Two members of the Netherlands’ PvDA in Slotervaart are opposing the plans of mayor Ahmed Marcouch to make homosexuality a discussable topic in Islamic circles. According to Marcouch, the position of gays is an issue which strongly moves the ‘ethnic supporters’ of politicians in Slotervaart.

Miloud Bouzrou and Hassan Kattouss oppose the policy on the grounds that it stigmatizes the Muslim community. Says Kattouss, “We’re against the memo because Mr. Marcouch uses Muslims and Moroccans as an argument to stress the necessity of his gay policy. It’s simply not true that Moroccans and Muslims are intolerant towards gays. You should not accuse that Muslim community of something that it’s not.” Marcouch, the local PvdA leader, expects the fraction leader to have a harsh, reproving talk with the two.

Moroccan-Italian MP Souad Sbai receiving death threats from Muslim radicals

Moroccan-Italian MP Souad Sbai has spent years defending battered women in the Moroccan immigrant community, and faces an increasing number of threats as she progresses through parliament. So far, three men originally from North Africa, face trial accused of making death threats against Sbai; yet, she continues to receive threatening phone calls and e-mails. “They threaten me, they scream. They make fatwas. I’ve never talked about Islam. I’ve spoken about Muslims who treat women badly. And this is a crime?” said Sbai, who was elected to parliament last year as part of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative coalition.

Sbai has lived in Italy for 30 years and is the head of the Association of Moroccan Women in Italy.