Saturday 1 October 2016

Germany is fertile ground for violent extremists

Ben Farmer

Published 23/07/2016 | 02:30

Police officers keep guard as shoppers are escorted from inside a Munich shopping centre. Sven Hoppe/dpa via AP
Police officers keep guard as shoppers are escorted from inside a Munich shopping centre. Sven Hoppe/dpa via AP

Just hours before the shooting rampage in Munich that killed at least eight people, an opinion poll had revealed the depth of public fear in Germany that the country would be next to endure a terror attack.

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More than three-quarters of Germans said they expected a terrorist atrocity soon, significantly more than just a fortnight ago.

The horror of the Nice lorry attack in neighbouring France, coupled with the train attack earlier in the week by an axe-wielding asylum seeker, had led to growing foreboding.

In a country that hosts both Islamist and far-right terror groups, violent attacks have always been possible.

Tensions between native and immigrant Germans have been on the rise since Germany accepted nearly one million refugees during last year's migrant crisis, in which Bavaria was on the front line.

Police were last night still seeking to determine the motivation of the gunmen who went on a killing spree in a city shopping centre.

Although it has been France and Belgium that have been hit by recent atrocities, Germany shares many of the same vulnerabilities.

Shashank Joshi, a senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said: "There are any number of reasons Germany might be hit. It's a big state with huge open borders just like France and Belgium."

Just like France and Belgium, Germany has seen significant numbers of its residents join the flow of international jihadists to Iraq and Syria. The most recent figures estimate more than 700 men and women from the country may have left to join extremist groups such as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), and many are likely to have later returned home.

Last month, the German justice ministry admitted the federal prosecutor was conducting 120 investigations into more than 180 suspects and defendants "in connection with the Syrian civil war for their membership or support of a terrorist organisation".

Germany, a member of Nato, has also played a significant role in military campaigns during the war on terror over the past 15 years, provoking the anger of jihadists.

The country still has troops in Afghanistan, having deployed thousands there in the past decade. In northern Iraq, German soldiers are training Kurdish Peshmerga militiamen to use anti-tank weapons.

Angela Merkel, the chancellor, has allowed hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing Syria and Iraq to enter the country in the past 18 months. Jihadists may have used the influx as cover to enter.

Mr Joshi said that Mrs Merkel's opponents would be closely scrutinising the attack to see if there was any link to her policy.

He said: "If there's a refugee connection, it will be big political news for Europe, but it's quite possible it will have nothing to do with them."

Germany's links to Islamist terrorism go back decades, long before the current troubles.

A small group of radical Middle Eastern Islamists formed in the 1990s known as the Hamburg cell produced three of the 9/11 hijackers.

More recent incidents have included an alleged plot by four suspected Isil members last month to launch suicide bombings in the city of Dusseldorf. Intelligence agents last year reportedly foiled a plot to detonate three bombs inside a Hanover football stadium during an international friendly.

But social tensions arising from the large influx of refugees have also fuelled a sharp rise in popularity for extreme and sometimes violent far-Right groups.

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of Anders Breivik's murderous shooting spree in Norway.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas had said earlier in the day that there was "no reason to panic but it's clear that Germany remains a possible target".

Last night his words appeared to have come horribly true.

Irish Independent

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