Germany left reeling by week of terror
LONDON - Germany was left reeling after a series of late July terrorist attacks tied to refugees and immigrants. An axe attack, a mass shooting, a machete attack and a suicide bombing increased public pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to rethink Germany’s open-door policy to the largest refugee crisis since the second world war.
On July 18th, an Afghan teen, armed with an axe and a knife, carried out an attack on a Germany train in Wurzburg, wounding five. He was shot dead by police. Four days later, a German teenager of Iranian descent killed nine people in Munich before killing himself. While that attack is not thought to be linked to terrorism, it palpably raised the level of fear in Germany.
On July 24th, a Syrian refugee killed a woman with a machete and wounded five others in Reutlingen. He was subsequently arrested. Later that day, another Syrian refugee set off explosives outside a bar in Ansbach, wounding 15 people in what was the first ISIS bomb attack on German territory.
All four attacks were in southern Germany, with three in the state of Bavaria, which is a gateway for tens of thousands of migrants and refugees entering the country.
The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the Wurzburg and Ansbach attacks.
While any one incident could have been easily overlooked, five attacks in one week — with at least two directly related to ISIS and three carried out by recent migrants to the country — raised questions about Germany’s refugee policy and national security.
Merkel’s government appealed for calm, amid fears of a backlash against refugees and migrants in the country. German media reported a spike in attacks on migrants and refugees, including dozens of refugee shelters hit by arson attacks. Germany accepted 1.1 million migrants and refugees in 2015, although that number has declined significantly in 2016.
German officials sought to defend Merkel’s refugee policy and warn against explicitly linking migrants with terrorism in the aftermath of the recent attacks. Stephan Mayer, Interior Affairs spokesman for the Christian Social Union Party, the Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, defended the German government’s refugee policy but acknowledged that improvements could be made.
“We were not able to register and control all the migrants that crossed the German border. We have to regain sovereignty and we have to regain the rule of rights. There’s a lot of space for improvements,” Mayer said.
Merkel’s deputy spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer warned against viewing all refugees as potential terrorists or security threats. “The acts of the last days and weeks do not show a uniform picture. Most terrorists who carried out attacks in Europe over the last months were not refugees,” she said, in reference to attacks in Paris, Brussels and other European cities.
“The terrorist threat [among refugees] is not larger or smaller than in the population at large,” she said.
All five attacks, whether linked to ISIS or not, depict a new trend in terrorism: Young attackers, often with a history of mental illness, acting alone. A report by Europol, Europe’s law enforcement agency, warned of “the operational difficulties in detecting and disrupting lone-actor attacks”.
Questions were also raised about the link between mental illness and radicalisation after it emerged that the Ansbach attacker had a history of attempting to take his own life. “Unstable people are vulnerable to radicalisation,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in response to that attack.
“Despite the fact that a number of lone actors attach religion and ideology to their acts, the role of potential mental health issues should not be overlooked… Even though ideology may be used by terrorist perpetrators to cast a shadow over the deeper individual/psychological motives of their acts, one should not disregard the motivating power of the jihadist discourse to certain audiences,” the Europol report added.