domingo, 25 de dezembro de 2016
‘Here in our country’
‘Here in our country’
German security always said it wasn’t a question of if but when terrorism would strike. Now it has.
By JANOSCH DELCKER 12/20/16, 10:17 AM CET Updated 12/21/16, 4:07 PM CET
BERLIN — For years, German security officials have feared it was only a matter of time before the country joined the list of European states shaken by a broad-scale terrorist attack. On Monday, those fears appeared to have been realized.
A truck plowed into a crowd gathered at a traditional Christmas market in central Berlin, killing at least 12 people and injuring dozens more. Berlin police said on Twitter that investigators believed the truck was intentionally driven into the crowd in what was “probably a terrorist attack.”
A suspect was arrested Monday evening and interrogated before being released on Tuesday. Police said in a statement that “investigations thus far have not produced urgent suspicion against the suspect.”
Authorities have repeatedly warned of the risk of a terror attack in Germany.
Earlier this month, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in her weekly government video broadcast that recent successes in the fight against Islamic State had “in turn, increased the risk [of a terrorist attack] here in our country, as aggression is on the rise.”
Merkel’s statement followed a warning issued by the EU’s law enforcement agency Europol at the beginning of December that some intelligence services estimated “several dozen people directed by IS may be currently present in Europe with a capability to commit terrorist attacks.” Europol added that “in addition to France and Belgium, all other EU member states that are part of the U.S.-led coalition against IS may be targeted by terrorists.”
Germany’s Federal Crime Office (BKA) is monitoring 530 so-called Gefährder, radicalized individuals who officials suspect may commit serious crimes such as a terror attack or murder, Holger Münch, the BKA’s chief commissioner, said during an annual conference in November.
Although authorities have not confirmed whether the perpetrator of Monday’s attack was an Islamic terrorist or an asylum seeker, the case will likely fuel debate over the potential security risk related to the arrival of more than a million migrants since the fall of 2015.
Between 4.4 and 4.7 million Muslims live in Germany, making up roughly 5.5 percent of the country’s 82.2 million residents, according to an estimate this month by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, a subdivision of the Interior Ministry. Almost a third have recently moved to Germany, with around 1.2 million Muslims having entered the country between May 2011 and the end of 2015.
Two months ago, Germans authorities apprehended a Syrian refugee who allegedly cased a Berlin airport for a bombing attack and committed suicide in his jail cell after being captured. A series of four non-related violent attacks made headlines over the summer, three of which were carried out by asylum seekers and two of which had links to Islamist terrorism.
The AfD is now likely to turn the Christmas attack into one of its central topics in the campaign against Merkel.
Increasingly, Merkel’s open-door response to the refugee crisis in 2015 has frustrated Germans, leading to a surge in popularity for the far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, which climbed to 12 percent support in polls today from 4 percent in September 2015.
At the same time, Germans grew more fearful of a terror attack — in a July survey, 73 percent said they were afraid, and 61 percent believed the recent influx of refugees into Europe had increased the risk of an attack.
Campaigning largely on these fears, the AfD surpassed Merkel’s conservatives for the first time in a regional election in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern last September.
With Germany’s national election coming up next year, the AfD is now likely to turn the Christmas attack into one of its central topics in the campaign against Merkel, who announced she would contest the chancellorship again.
Just moments after news broke of the attack on Monday evening, Marcus Pretzell, the AfD’s candidate in next year’s regional election in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, tweeted: “When will this damned hypocrisy end? These are Merkel’s fatalities.”
The AfD is not Merkel’s sole concern. Once the initial shock wears off, critics from within her own ranks could use the Berlin attack to push her to get tougher on security.
Merkel’s Christian Democrats Union (CDU) is traditionally seen as the party of law and order. Politicians within the CDU, as well as in its Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union, have accused Merkel of eroding their credentials with many of her decisions during the refugee crisis. Just last week, Thomas Strobl, the CDU’s regional interior minister in Baden-Württemberg, publicly demanded stricter screening for asylum seekers.
When it comes to counter-terrorism efforts, the legal status of Germany’s security services — with police and intelligence acting independently from each other under the Trennungsgebot (law of separation) — poses unique challenges, and the decentralized structure slow authorities down, experts have warned.
“Although Germany’s security strategies and concepts have been improved, they’re still slowed down by bureaucracy, weaknesses in the information management, legal obstacles and by the way the apparatus is structured,” Jürgen Storbeck, a former director of Europol, which coordinates the response to organized crime and terrorism, told POLITICO a year ago.
Security and rescue workers tend to the area
Security and rescue workers tend to the area | Michele Tantussi/Getty Images
Over the course of the year, particularly following the summer’s spate of attacks, the German government announced various initiatives to improve cooperation between its forces, while at the same time, Merkel and her government visibly toughened their stance on migrants.
In August, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière announced plans to speed up the deportation of foreign criminals, to create a “four-figure number” of new security jobs, and to give police in the county more equipment and greater powers of surveillance.
Whether these moves are enough to assuage the critics within her ruling coalition and soothe Germans’ fears remains to be seen.
“Our security authorities need to be able to do proper background screenings, and they need data for that,” the CSU’s Manfred Weber, who heads the conservative EPP group in the European Parliament, told public broadcaster ZDF Tuesday morning.
Weber called for tougher security and a better exchange of information between law enforcement authorities in Europe. “They need to be able to analyze who is coming to us, and what’s central for that is linking the data between the national authorities in Europe.”
This article has been updated.