Saudi support for religious radicalism in Germany: old questions, still unanswered

The Henry Jackson Society, a neo-conservative British think-tank, has issued a new report harshly condemning Saudi Arabia for funding religious extremism in the West.

The report, so far not accessible to the public, has been submitted to the British Prime Minister, Theresa May. The Henry Jackson Society speaks of a “clear and growing link” between jihadist terrorism and Saudi money and support.(( http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-40496778 ))

Saudi religious activism in Germany

The Society’s findings have been eagerly taken up abroad as well, including in Germany. Germany, too, has witnessed repeated public debates on the role of Gulf money in supporting Islamist extremism. In late 2016, a German intelligence report claimed that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait were supporting radical Islamists in the country.

Speaking to Deutsche Welle, Susanne Schröter, anthropologist and professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Frankfurt, said that she was not at all surprised by the findings ofthe Henry Jackson Society. She asserted that Saudi Wahhabism was largely similar to the ideology of the so-called “Islamic State” and that the post-1979 Saudi attempts at exporting a rigid and violent understanding of religion had been a great success.(( http://www.dw.com/en/saudi-arabia-exports-extremism-to-many-countries-including-germany-study-says/a-39618920 ))

Long-standing accusations

In and of itself, none of these allegations are new. In journalistic as well as in academic discourse, it is commonplace to assert that the oil boom (al-tafra) allowed the Saudi Wahhabi establishment to go on such a spending spree that it managed to obtain what had eluded religious reformers for more than a thousand years – namely global hegemony over the Islamic nation (umma).

To be sure, this perspective has some valuable insights to offer: it is indeed true that the Saudi clerical and political establishments have sought to rely on the exportation of religious doctrine as a way of buttressing their own agendas. Nor can it be denied that individuals socialised in Saudi or Saudi-funded institutions have been amongst the proponents and perpetrators of jihadi violence.

Saudi money, Saudi control?

 

Yet what those pointing to the “Saudi connection” often fail to make explicit are the ways in which Saudi largesse does its work. More specifically, one might wonder about the extent to which Saudi monetary transfers to various religious causes and institutions actually lead to Saudi control. And here the Saudi track record does not look particularly good.

At almost every historical juncture – starting from the 1990/91 Gulf War, through the internal Saudi unrest of the 1990s and the wave of terrorist attacks of the early to mid-2000s, to the engagement of the Saudi state in Syria – the Islamist and jihadist scene, supposedly marked by the adhesion to Saudi dogma, in fact abandoned the Kingdom and worked on the side of the Kingdom’s enemies.

Local adaptations

In some ways, this should not come as a surprise: to many outside observers (Islamists and even jihadists included), the Saudi regime appears simply too corrupt and sclerotic to be worthy of sustained loyalty. And even where such questions of political allegiance take the back seat, Salafi preachers – even those educated in a Saudi setting – have always been forced to adjust their teachings to local circumstances.

To give but one rather colourful example in this regard, in order to make to with the gender norms prevalent in the country, Germany’s most well-known Salafi Pierre Vogel – touched upon in the abovementioned interview with professor Schröter – has stated that in the German context it is licit for women to have a prominent role as public speakers at gender-mixed Salafi events.

According to Vogel, haja (‘necessity’) in this case nullifies the prohibition on gender-mixing imposed by the doctrine of sadd al-dhara’i’ (‘blocking of the means’). Needless to say, this striking doctrinal innovation would certainly be regarded with a high degree of suspicion by Saudi scholars.((See Wiedl, Nina (2014). “Geschichte des Salafismus in Deutschland”. In Hazim Fouad and Behnam T. Said (eds.), Salafismus: Auf der Suche nach dem wahren Islam. Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder. ))

The attractiveness of the ‘Salafi’ creed

In her interview, Schröter discusses the proximity of various figures of the German Islamic associational scene to Saudi money and religious orthodoxy. Yet the precise workings of the stipulated causality are left unclear: how is it that generous financial backing from the Gulf leads to the radicalisation of Muslims in the West? And on which terms?

The most glaring lacuna in this respect is the failure to provide an account of the sources of the attractiveness of a Salafised religiosity: why is it that this particular religious form should be seen as appealing by a small but considerable number of European Muslims? Indeed, the Islamic tradition would offer a host of other spiritual paths, some of whom may also be deemed “radical” (though not necessarily violent).

More complex questions

This is not to deny the overwhelmingly illiberal nature of Saudi-sponsored religiosity. Nor is it to exclude that Saudi support may play a role in spreading a particularly rigid, Wahhabi-tinged religious thought and practice.  What appears necessary to scrutinise, however, are the ways in which a Wahhabi-Salafi creed resonates with the particular conditions of Muslim life in Germany and Europe.

This means going beyond pointing to Saudi funding of mosques and preachers. It means starting to ask a host of questions that may be far more difficult to answer, and the answers to which might be far more unsettling.

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.”

 

Inside French Prisons, A Struggle to Combat Radicalization

With 2,500 inmates, the penitentiary institution of Fresnes, about 20 miles south of Paris, is one of the largest prisons in Europe. Like most French prisons, Fresnes is overcrowded. Built in the late 19th century, its tiny cells, each meant for one prisoner, most often house three.

Inmates scream curses and catcalls from their barred windows as I visit a small, empty sports yard ensconced between cell blocks. Plastic bags and punctured soccer balls are caught in the surrounding concertina wire.

The prisoners here yelled out in just this way back in November 2015, refusing to honor a minute of silence for the victims of the terrorist attacks on Paris cafes and the Bataclan concert hall.

Fresnes prison director Philippe Obligis says he began to see a radicalization problem here well before those attacks took place.

“There were some radical Muslims who were putting huge pressure on regular Muslims to adopt a certain kind of behavior,” he says. “Like taking a shower with their clothes on and not listening to music or watching TV.”

In 2014, Fresnes became the first French prison to separate radicalized inmates from the general prison population — they were put in an entirely separate wing, one person to each cell, and had different guards from the other prisoners.

After 2015, which began with the January attacks at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Kosher supermarket, and ended with the Bataclan attack in November, some other French prisons began separating inmates too. Several of the terrorists who killed nearly 150 people that year were common criminals who had become radicalized in prison.

In 2016, the French government put money into a rehabilitation program for radicals deemed not too far gone. The prisoners in these new anti-radicalization units received visits from psychologists and historians; they had the chance to attend some workshops or receive some training.

The radical units were controversial, especially after two guards at one prison were attacked in September of last year. In November, the French interior minister announced an end to the program.

Instead, the French government boosted security around the most dangerous prisoners — both radicals and not. And intelligence collecting in prisons was beefed up. A bureau of central intelligence for prisons was created earlier this year.

Around 350 French prisoners are serving jail terms for terrorist-related offenses. And a further 1,340 inmates convicted of regular crimes are identified as radicalized.

Businessman Pierre Botton went to jail for white collar crime in the 1990s and founded Together Against Recidivism, an organization devoted to improving the lives of prisoners. He says it’s nearly impossible to think about reforming in jail because prisoners are mainly just struggling to survive.

He believes radicals should be separated in different prisons entirely, because otherwise, they’ll inevitably interact with the rest of the prison population. He notes what happened when the only surviving terrorist from the Paris Bataclan attacks landed in a French jail last year.

“When Salah Abdeslam arrived, they clapped,” says Botton. “Do you understand what I’m saying? When he arrived in the jail, they clapped. They applauded.”

Botton says criminals like Abdeslam are icons in jails in the Paris region, where up to 70 percent of inmates identify as Muslim. Keeping records on the religion and ethnicity of French citizens is illegal, so there are no official statistics. But Botton says about 70 percent of prisoners in the Paris region observe the Muslim festival of Ramadan.

“So when you put guys like this who represent a certain ideology in the heart of a prison, surrounded by 4,000 inmates, there’s a huge risk they’ll contaminate the others,” he says.

Yannis Warrach, a Muslim cleric who works in his spare time at a top-security prison in Normandy, says prison is so brutal, inmates can only survive if they’re part of a gang. He has seen how the radicals recruit newcomers.

Imam Yannis Warrach helps prisoners resist radicalization at a top-security prison in Normandy. He says radicals recruit newcomers by “brainwash[ing]” them “little by little.”

“The ones who preach and proselytize will at first be nice to a detainee. They see his desperation,” he says. “They’ll befriend him, give him what he needs. Then they’ll say it’s destiny. They’ll say that God has a mission for him. And little by little, they brainwash him, telling him French society has rejected him, he can’t get a job because of his Arab last name, and he was always put in the worst classes at school.

“The problem is,” says Warrach, “it’s often true.”

Warrach says these young men must have hope for a different future to break out of the spiral of failure. He says French leaders have failed to change the socioeconomic factors that keep many French people of Muslim descent on the bottom rungs of the ladder.

Another big problem, he says, is the prevalence of hard-line, Salafist reading material in jails — often French translations of Saudi, Wahhabist tracts that advocate literal, strict interpretation of religious doctrine.

“I work to debunk this stuff,” says Warrach. “I give inmates under pressure a historical context of the faith and another narrative of Islam.”

He says that because of the pressure from radicals, who consider him an agent of the French government, he has to meet secretly with inmates who desperately want his help. Instead of meeting in rooms designated for religious worship, which are open, they meet in special prison visiting rooms for inmates’ lawyers, where no one can observe them.

Because of its strict separation of religion and state, Warrach says France is the only country in Europe where being a prison cleric is not considered a profession. He says he only receives a small stipend, but that he can’t build a life around it — there are no retirement plans or other benefits. Because of this, there can’t be an imam at the prison every day, which creates a huge void, he says. And it leaves plenty of room for uninformed, extremist interpretations of Islam in French prisons.

Trump’s statement on Ramadan is almost entirely about terrorism

The Washington Post reports that President Trump issued a statement on Ramadan — a holy month of fasting and prayer for Muslims around the world — that focused primarily on violence and terrorism. In his statement, Trump called recent terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom and in Egypt, “acts of depravity that are directly contrary to the spirit of Ramadan. Such acts only steel our resolve to defeat the terrorists and their perverted ideology.”

Read the entire article here

 

Manchester mosque organises ‘peace walk’ with children and families

The North Manchester Jamia Mosque organised a ‘peace walk’ to show Muslim revolution at terrorist attacks in the name of Islam and to respond to criticism that the Muslim community has not done enough to combat extremism.

The march was in response to the terrorist attack in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert. The targeting of children in this attack was particularly important to the organisers of the march, so many Muslim children marched in response. Hundreds of families participated. The march concluded with a vigil and flower-laying at the area outside of the Manchester Arena.

Francois Fillon, embracing his Catholicism, challenges France’s secular tradition

When French presidential contender François Fillon marked the Feast of the Assumption last summer, he attended Mass at Solesmes Abbey, a Benedictine monastery known for resisting the anticlerical purges of the French Revolution. The trip, coming just weeks after the slaying of a Catholic priest in a terror attack, didn’t go unnoticed.

“He doesn’t hide the fact that he’s Catholic,” said Christophe Billan, head of Sens Commun, a grass-roots movement comprising thousands of French Catholics.

In France, the strict separation between personal faith and public life, known as laïcité, is a pillar of national identity. However, a confluence of events—from the legalization of gay marriage to the more recent string of Islamist terror attacks—has many conservative voters looking to the country’s Christian heritage as a bulwark.

Mr. Fillon’s candidacy is seizing on that impulse. In publicly embracing his faith, the 62-year-old is tapping a wellspring of Catholic voters who have begun coalescing into a potentially decisive voting bloc.

His performance during the country’s first-ever conservative primaries provided the clearest sign yet of the revived Catholic vote. After lagging behind rivals for weeks, Mr. Fillon spent the homestretch of the race debating opponent Alain Juppé over which of them stood closer to the teachings of Pope Francis —a development Le Monde described as “unprecedented.”

More than two-thirds of the people who voted in the primaries described themselves as Catholic in exit polls, and they helped hand Mr. Fillon a commanding victory. Pollster OpinionWay said 83% of Catholics who regularly attend Mass voted for Mr. Fillon and 68% of nonpracticing Catholics also backed him. Between 55%-60% of the overall French electorate identifies as Catholic, according to Jerome Fourquet, director of polling firm IFOP.

“I’ve never been so consciously influenced by my being Catholic,” said Catherine Mordant, 46 years old, a stay-at-home mother of four children who voted for Mr. Fillon. “Now we have to act, because the problem is really crucial.”

The Catholic vote is shaping up to play an unusually prominent role in the general election in May, when polls predict Mr. Fillon will face-off against Marine Le Pen , leader of the far-right anti-immigrant and anti-euro National Front party.

Many conservative Catholics shifted to the National Front during recent regional elections, feeling more at home with its call for revived nationalism than with the pro-EU principles—free movement of people and goods—espoused by other parties.

A quarter of self-described practicing Catholics voted for the National Front in December 2015 regional elections, up from 16% in local races in March of that year, according to IFOP.

Mr. Fillon’s Catholicism reassures voters who want to show support for French traditions. “The National Front has made a lot of progress with this group,” said Mr. Fourquet. “They could come back to the center-right with Fillon.”

The rise of a Catholic vote in France is a measure of how deeply the continent has been shaken by a series of crises, from the arrival of migrant waves from the Middle East to the surge in political parties questioning the future of the European Union itself. Just over a decade ago, it was France that led a successful campaign to prevent any reference to Europe’s Christian heritage from being added to the European Union’s constitution.

Today the EU is grappling with nationalist movements that point to President Vladimir Putin of Russia as a model of leadership, preferring his authoritarianism to the uncertainty clouding the economic bloc. Mr. Fillon has cultivated ties with Mr. Putin, criticizing sanctions the EU imposed on Russia after its forced annexation of Crimea.

Mr. Fillon has been careful to couch his talk of faith in language respectful to secularism. His support for Church teachings are personal choices, he says, not policy prescriptions. He has said he is personally against abortion but believes pro-choice laws shouldn’t be changed, and that he wouldn’t repeal the gay-marriage law but would revise sections that legalized adoption by gay couples.

Still, the politician has gone further than many of his peers in demanding space for religious voices in the public square. “Whenever the nation faces fundamental questions—life, death, what makes us human beings—it’s important that the point of view of religions not be ignored,” Mr. Fillon wrote in a chapter dedicated to faith in his book “To Do.”

In September, he returned to the question of religion and Republican values with the publication of a follow-up, best-selling volume, “Vanquishing Islamic Totalitarianism.”

“Let’s stop kidding ourselves,” he wrote. “France doesn’t have a problem with religion [in general]. The problem is linked to Islam.”

French secularism grew out of the 18th-century Enlightenment and the 1789 Revolution. It was codified in a 1905 law on the separation of church and state that strictly limited the display of religious symbols in public places and forbade religious instruction in public elementary schools.

Designed to curb the influence of the Catholic Church, the law also helped lay the foundations for political conduct in the post-World War II era. French Catholics followed the cues of statesmen from Charles de Gaulle to François Mitterrand, who mainly kept their religious beliefs to themselves.

Any public references to faith were discreet. Mr. Mitterrand was praised for a 1981 campaign poster that set him against a bucolic background dominated by a church bell tower—a symbol of the central place of Christianity in the secular nation’s heritage. At the same time, the church’s cross had been airbrushed out.

The balance between public service and private faith has come under strain as the children and grandchildren of North African immigrants in the 1960s have come of age. These younger generations of one of Europe’s biggest Muslim minorities tend to practice stricter forms of Islam.

In response, successive French governments have become increasingly strict in their application of secularism. A debate over students wearing Islamic head scarves led to a 2004 ban on wearing religious symbols in general in public schools, including crosses and yarmulkes.

Catholics who once steered clear of politics out of respect for laïcité gradually found reason to speak up. One moment came in 2013 after newly elected president, Socialist François Hollande, signed legislation legalizing gay marriage. To the surprise of many, hundreds of thousands of Catholics took to the streets in what was known as a “manif pour tous,” a protest march for everyone.

“A cornerstone was being touched—defining the identity of the child, the couple—and we were barred from the debate,” said Mr. Billan of Sens Commun.

Seizing on the momentum of the protests, Mr. Billan and others founded the grass-roots movement, called “common sense,” with 9,000 members across the country. Though not officially Catholic, the group aimed to pressure lawmakers on a platform consistent with church teachings. Suddenly, French Catholics had a lobby.

The group found a kindred spirit in Mr. Fillon. He had grown up in Sarthe, a rural area nestled in France’s northwest, where he attended a Jesuit school. He recited morning prayers and mealtime benedictions.

“I grew up in a world where the Catholic faith structured whole sections of your social life,” Mr. Fillon wrote in “To Do.”

As prime minister between 2007 and 2012 to then-President Nicolas Sarkozy, Mr. Fillon’s social conservatism took a back seat to his role as a technocrat carrying out economic policy.

When he returned to the opposition as a lawmaker in 2012, however, Mr. Fillon clashed with Mr. Hollande’s Socialist government. He voted against the gay-marriage bill and criticized the government for not doing more to protect Christian minorities in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, organizing a rally in June 2015 to support them.

“We are all Eastern Christians!” Mr. Fillon told the crowd.

A year later, Mr. Fillon met with Mr. Billan of Sens Commun, seeking the group’s support to better compete with Messrs. Sarkozy and Juppé, who had the support of the machinery of the conservative party, the Républicains.

Sens Commun had built the kind of grass roots organization Mr. Fillon lacked. It had phone banks, a social-media operation and local chapters across the country that would eventually be called upon to canvass for voters and drive them to the polls.

Weeks later France was hit by a pair of terrorist attacks. The first, a truck attack on a Bastille Day fireworks display in Nice that killed 86 people, struck at a symbol of national unity.

Less than two weeks later, the brutal slaying of Rev. Jacques Hamel, 85, while he celebrated Mass in a small town church in the country’s north stirred a rare outpouring of support for France’s Catholic roots. Thousands of people, including Mr. Fillon, packed into Notre Dame of Paris to celebrate a Mass in tribute to the priest.

Thibault Fraisse, a 28 year-old doctor from the town of Aurillac in central France, said he worried the priest’s slaying and other attacks were an outgrowth of Muslim communities isolated from the rest of French society. He said wider acknowledgment of France’s Christian past, and a vote for Mr. Fillon, could act as a counterweight.

“We have to recognize that France is first and foremost a country with Catholic roots,” said Mr. Fraisse, who describes himself as a nonpracticing Catholic.

In August, Mr. Fillon held a rally near his hometown, where he warned of a France “ashamed” of its history and reminded the crowd he had recently celebrated the Feast of the Assumption at the nearby Abbey of Solesmes.

“You just heard the bells ringing,” Mr. Fillon said, gesturing toward the Benedictine monastery. “A thousand years of history! How can you not feel the force, the power, the depth of this past that forged us, that giv

 

Attacks on Muslim Americans Fuel Increase in Hate Crime, F.B.I. Says

WASHINGTON — The F.B.I. reported Monday that attacks against American Muslims surged last year, driving an overall increase in hate crime against all groups.

The data, which is the most comprehensive look at hate crime nationwide, expanded on previous findings by researchers and outside monitors, who have noted an alarming rise in some types of crimes tied to the vitriol of this year’s presidential campaign and the aftermath of terrorist attacks at home and abroad since 2015.

That trend appears to have spiked in just the last week, with civil rights groups and news organizations reporting dozens of verbal or physical assaults on minorities and others that appear to have been fueled by divisions over the election.

In its report on Monday, the F.B.I. cataloged a total of 5,818 hate crimes in 2015 — a rise of about 6 percent over the previous year — including assaults, bombings, threats, and property destruction against minorities, women, gays and others.

Attacks against Muslim Americans saw the biggest surge. There were 257 reports of assaults, attacks on mosques and other hate crimes against Muslims last year, a jump of about 67 percent over 2014. It was the highest total since 2001, when more than 480 attacks occurred in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Four mosques closed for ‘promoting radical ideology’ in France

Four mosques in France have been closed after many people who attended them reportedly joined extremist movements. The places of worship, French officials said Wednesday, promoted violence and ideologies that ran contrary to French values.

The closures were made via a national state of emergency that was initiated following terrorist attacks, including one in November of last year in Paris that killed 130 people plus the seven terrorist attackers.

“Under the guise of ritual ceremonies, these places [harbored] meetings aimed at promoting radical ideology, [which is] contrary to the values of the [French] Republic and may constitute a serious risk to security and public order,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said. He said that the mosques had spread “hatred and violence.”

The interior minister also reaffirmed the country’s commitment to “allow the peaceful coexistence of all [places of] worship in compliance with the laws of the Republic.”

The crackdown on the four mosques comes after a July announcement that the government was considering a temporary ban on foreign financing for mosques.

One-in-four French Muslims follow ‘hardline’ Islam

A study showing that more than a quarter of French Muslims follow hardline Islam is causing discomfort for the political class, which is united in ignoring its conclusions.

Among the survey’s findings are that 28 percent of Muslims questioned follow an “authoritarian” interpretation of texts advocating a break with French society; or that more than 40 percent of young Muslims (aged 15-25) consider Islamic Sharia law more important than the secular law of France.

“They (young French Muslims) feel rejected,” Hakim El Karoui, who co-authored the report for the Institut Montaigne think tank said. “French society is sending them the message: you are not French. In a way they are getting revenge by hanging on to the identity they have.”

The embrace of hardline Islam was strongest among young Muslims who lacked jobs or strong qualifications, added El Karoui. Overall, a plurality of French Muslims — 46 percent — considered the practice of their religion totally compatible with local rules and customs.

The study should be causing waves. It’s the first major snapshot of how French Muslims view their own beliefs to be published in France, and it comes after a wave of Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks.

And yet, public reaction to the study is partial, and strained.

Robert Ménard, a far-right mayor known for his provocative positions, tweeted a link to the report, followed by the question: “Is a confrontation [with Islam] inevitable?”

Left-wing magazine Télérama took a sarcastic stance, calling the findings “unsurprising” and criticizing the study’s methodology.

“For the time being it’s total silence from the administration,” Fanny Anor, one of the study’s co-authors, said. “What we are trying to do is create data that allows us to analyze these questions based on solid evidence, so we can avoid debating purely on impressions.”

“But that’s a very uncomfortable position for the government,” she added.

While Prime Minister Manuel Valls has repeatedly voiced alarm over the spread of “political Islam” in France, the Montaigne study shows where it’s coming from: young Muslims who lack jobs and professional skills, and feel as though the French state has turned its back on them.

To rekindle faith in the French system, the study’s authors argue, France should bring the alienated population into the workforce by overriding hiring discrimination through the use of ethnic and religious statistics.

“They [politicians] feel trapped,” added Anor. “After the terrorist attacks, it’s an awkward camp to be in, arguing for measures to fight discrimination.”

 

Manhunt, arrest, and suicide of an IS-attacker keep Germany in suspense

Germany has been rocked by the protracted manhunt, arrest, and subsequent suicide of an IS-linked suicide bomber. The affair has not only thrown a bad light on local security forces, it has also highlighted the vulnerability of the large Syrian community caught beween the front lines of increased terrorist activity.

A convoluted arrest

22-year-old Jaber al-Bakr, a Syrian national recognised as a refugee in Germany since 2015, was arrested on October 10 after a two-day-long manhunt in the state of Saxony. In early October, American intelligence services had listened in on communications between al-Bakr and the Islamic State in Syria and informed their German counterparts of al-Bakr’s intent to carry out a major suicide operation against a German target.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article158754890/US-Geheimdienst-hoerte-Telefonate-von-al-Bakr-ab.html ))

The initial attempt to arrest al-Bakr failed, however, as the police let the suspect walk away from his apartment in the town of Chemnitz without stopping him. Al-Bakr subsequently sought refuge in the nearby city of Leipzig where he was taken in by three fellow Syrian refugees. When they became aware of his identity, the men subdued al-Bakr, tied him up with extension cables and handed him over to the local authorities.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/deutschland-entging-nur-knapp-einem-grossem-terroranschlag-14474885.html ))

Police found 1.5 kg of highly potent explosives in al-Bakr’s apartment. The substance of the type TATP was of the same make as the explosives used in recent attacks in Paris and Brussels.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/deutschland-entging-nur-knapp-einem-grossem-terroranschlag-14474885.html )) According to investigators, al-Bakr had planned to detonate himself at one of the Berlin airports, which he had scouted in late September.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/terrorverdaechtiger-amerikanischer-geheimdienst-lieferte-entscheidende-hinweise-zu-albakr-14482338.html ))

Failure to prevent the suspect’s suicide

Initial relief over the arrest quickly dissipated, however, as al-Bakr hanged himself in his prison cell two days later. After the lacklustre attempts to arrest al-Bakr, his suicide again cast an extremely negative light on local authorities, who were still under pressure for their unprofessional handling of right-wing demonstrations at Germany’s National Day earlier this month.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/tag-der-deutschen-einheit-in-dresden-draengende-fragen-an-die-saechsische-polizei-1.3189617 ))

After the arrest, it took police more than a day to begin questioning al-Bakr, for want of an interpreter. Although by the time of his death the young man had stopped accepting food and drink, torn the lamp off the ceiling of his cell, and attempted to manipulate the cell’s electric sockets, he was still not deemed to be at risk of committing suicide.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article158726169/Vor-dem-Tod-manipulierte-al-Bakr-in-der-Zelle-Steckdosen.html )) In this assessment, the prison authorities explicitly contravened the evaluation of the committing judge, who had attested al-Bakr suicidal tendencies.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/nach-dem-selbstmord-von-albakr-gefaengnis-in-leipzig-kannte-suizidgefahr/14682294.html ))

Radicalisation in Germany and contacts to the IS

Al-Bakr’s suicide complicates the ongoing investigation since no further details on his background or on potential accomplices and further members of the IS network can be obtained from him. Some insights might be provided by Khalil A., a 33-year-old Syrian in police custody: he let al-Bakr operate from his Chemnitz apartment.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/deutschland-entging-nur-knapp-einem-grossem-terroranschlag-14474885.html ))

Der Spiegel also spoke to al-Bakr’s brother, who is still in Syria. Alaa al-Bakr asserted that his brother had been radicalised after his arrival in Germany, by two imams at a Berlin mosque which he began to frequent for Friday prayers in spite of the 4-hour-long train journey from Chemnitz.((http://www.spiegel.de/video/jaber-albakr-bruder-des-terrorverdaechtigen-gibt-interview-video-1712594.html )) This view is apparently shared by German investigators. ((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/nach-suizid-von-jaber-albakr-sachsen-hat-es-nicht-verstanden-14482684.html )) So far, the identity of the imams remains unknown.

Al-Bakr’s connections to the Islamic State are becoming increasingly clear, however. Aside from the evidence drawn from the surveillance of his communications, al-Bakr appears to have spent several months in 2016 in Turkey and may have crossed over into Syria. Visits to Idlib as well as to Raqqa have been reported by some of his acquaintances.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/jaber-albakr-terrorverdaechtiger-war-monatelang-in-der-tuerkei-a-1116170.html,  , http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/nach-suizid-von-jaber-albakr-sachsen-hat-es-nicht-verstanden-14482684.html )) In spite of his travels, German intelligence services seem to have been unaware of al-Bakr’s plans until the tip-off from the American side.

Political discussion on vetting and surveillance

For the Syrian community in Germany, the past week has been a rollercoaster ride. The initial manhunt for al-Bakr once more put the refugees from the Syrian Civil War on the spot. CDU/CSU politicians demanded that all refugees be checked and vetted more thoroughly. Policing and intelligence operations for the protection against threats to public safety needed to play a more important role in all asylum procedures, or so they argued.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/is-will-deutsche-infrastruktur-angreifen-streit-um-fluechtlings-ueberpruefung-14475616.html ))

Whilst politicians from the SPD and the Greens denounced these proposals, some Syrians living in Germany supported such measures. They argued for instance that police surveillance of the social media activities of all refugees could help filter out black sheep and thus avert suspicion from the rest.(( https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/syrer-albakr-soziale-medien-101.html ))

Repercussions on the Syrian community

Syrians also celebrated their three countrymen who de facto arrested al-Bakr.(( https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/syrer-albakr-soziale-medien-101.html )). Politicians of various parties demanded that they be given asylum immediately and that they receive the Federal Cross of Merit, the highest honour bestowed by the German state.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/dschaber-al-bakr-bundesverdienstkreuz-fuer-drei-syrer-gefordert-aid-1.6320884 ))

The immediate consequences faced by the three men for their actions were, however, less benign. Before his death, al-Bakr sought to implicate them in his activities by claiming that they were his co-conspirators.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/dschaber-al-bakr-bundesverdienstkreuz-fuer-drei-syrer-gefordert-aid-1.6320884 )). While these allegations were not given credence by the police, the men have nevertheless left Leipzig and Saxony because of safety concerns.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/jaber-albakr-lka-sachsen-will-fluechtlinge-aus-leipzig-schuetzen-a-1116756.html )) Revenge might not just come from the Islamic State(( http://www.focus.de/politik/videos/begegnung-mit-terrorverdaechtigen-wollte-uns-toeten-syrer-die-zu-albakr-festnahme-fuehrten-aus-angst-untergetaucht_id_6073630.html )); al-Bakr’s brother also announced his wish to avenge the death of his brother.(( http://www.spiegel.de/video/jaber-albakr-bruder-des-terrorverdaechtigen-gibt-interview-video-1712594.html ))

This episode demonstrates the ways in which the Syrian community can easily become caught in the cross-fire between the Islamic State’s terrorist attacks emanating from a few black sheep among their ranks on the one hand and domestic political backlash on the other hand. The vulnerability of the three men that helped arrest al-Bakr highlights the need as well as the difficulties for social solidarity in the face of the terrorist threat. Having narrowly escaped its first large-scale Islamist attack, the true test for this solidarity still awaits Germany.