Monday 16 September 2019

Germans will hold Merkel to account

German Chancellor Angela Merkel Photo: AP Photo/Michael Sohn
German Chancellor Angela Merkel Photo: AP Photo/Michael Sohn

Shashank Joshi

In the three days since Germany experienced the latest in Europe's wave of atrocities, the country's security services have not covered themselves in glory.

A Pakistani asylum seeker was arrested on Monday and released a day later - but not before his name was leaked to the press, with Chancellor Angela Merkel herself lamenting the possibility that a refugee might have turned on his host nation.

A day later, the search shifted to a Tunisian man, Anis Amri, who arrived in Germany last year and is allegedly linked to a preacher arrested last month for ties to Isil.

The suspect's asylum application was rejected in June, but it took an astounding six months for Tunisia to issue new papers - which arrived yesterday - so that he could be deported.

The German public has reason to be profoundly concerned by this, but the context is important. More than 800 Germans have travelled to fight with al Qa'ida and Isil, and one-third are thought to have returned home. German prosecutors are pursuing in excess of 100 investigations.

Yet Germany's domestic intelligence service, the BfV, is two-fifths the size of MI5, despite dealing with a population more than a quarter larger. Plans for expansion were underway, now with added urgency.

The tension between privacy and security is more fraught with history in Germany than elsewhere. The result is unusually strong curbs on the country's intelligence agencies.

Berlin's manhunt is not the first failure of Germany's security apparatus this year. In July, a Syrian refugee slated for deportation managed to conduct a suicide bombing, despite a psychological assessment that warned he might do just that. In October, a Syrian refugee arrested in Leipzig was allowed to hang himself two days after his arrest, depriving authorities of intelligence. Only one month ago, an employee of the BfV, whose job was to monitor German Islamists, was arrested after suspicions of radicalisation.

Authorities cannot know everything, and it is dangerous to ask them to do so. Yet a majority of Germans also believe that refugees will increase the likelihood of terrorism. They will hold Mrs Merkel to account for keeping them safe, irrespective of their views on the influx of refugees. And if the German Chancellor is perceived - even unfairly - to be at the head of a bumbling security operation, that will chip at her authority.

Irish Independent

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