In the last year and a half, Europe has been rocked by several terrorist attacks organized or inspired by the Islamic State. The attacks have focused on France and Belgium and left Germany untouched. Until now.
Germany has seen four violent attacks in the past week, three of which were perpetrated by refugees from the Middle East. This marks a new chapter in the violence occurring across Europe, as Germany becomes the latest target of the ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks plaguing the West.
It began last Monday when a 17-year-old refugee from Afghanistan, Riaz Khan Ahmadzai, attacked passengers with an axe and a knife on a train heading toward Würzburg. There were no casualties, other than the attacker himself, whom police shot. Four people were critically injured. Police found a hand-drawn Islamic State flag in the attacker’s room, and ISIS has claimed responsibility for the incident. This attack has caused German officials to assert that more attacks on trains may happen “at any time.”
On Friday, Ali David Sonboly killed nine people and wounded dozens more when he opened fire at a McDonald’s in a mall in Munich before taking his own life. Sonboly, a dual citizen of Germany and Iran, had done extensive research on mass shootings. As of Monday, officials insist there are no ties to Islamic terrorism or ISIS. This may prove true, but the German police have lost some of their credibility after their attempts to cover up the New Year’s Eve mass sexual assaults perpetrated by Middle Eastern and North African men.
Notably, Sonboly’s Afghan friend seems to have known of the attack in advance and failed to alert officials. He’s now being held as a suspect in the case. Not all crimes Muslims commit are necessarily acts of terrorism, but given the pattern of late in Europe and the United States, it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand, as media and police have been so anxious to do.
Finally, on Sunday a Syrian refugee, Mohammed Daleel, set off a suicide bomb outside of a concert venue in Ansbach after being denied admission. He was the only person killed, but 15 others were injured. He left a video pledging his allegiance to ISIS. Daleel had received asylum in Bulgaria and came to Germany in 2015, but was denied asylum in 2015.
On the same day, another Syrian refugee attacked and killed a pregnant woman with a machete and wounded several others. There are currently no indications it was an act of terror, with police calling it a “crime of passion,” but little else is known.
These attacks all differ in strategy and tactics. The Ansbach bomber may have had some training or help, while the Würzburg train attacker could’ve done what he did with no support. But they indicate Germany is becoming the new focus of ISIS-inspired attacks, and that Germany’s refugee policy is in part to blame.
When Nobody Wants to Say ‘I Told You So’
Germany accepted more than 1 million refugees in 2015, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave an open invitation to Syrians to seek asylum there. Many were concerned at the time that this would seriously threaten European security, and that hostile actors would come in with the massive wave of migrants. Those who expressed these concerns were accused of bigotry and racism. But now their reservations seem prescient and justified.
German officials claim they’ve thwarted many terrorist plots in recent months, including a plot to attack a busy pedestrian area of Düsseldorf in June. But will they be able to overcome the difficulties of stopping attacks by individuals who are inspired by ISIS rather than directly linked with them? With the sheer number of migrants from countries where violent Islamic ideology is preached and practiced, it seems an impossible task.
German officials’ reactions to crises like these also raise concerns that the country may not be equipped to deal with the rising threat. It took Merkel 24 hours to respond to the Munich shootings, causing many to chastise her for avoiding responsibility for the attacks. People are using the hashtag #Merkelsommer, or “Merkel summer,” indicating the extent to which the public blames her.
Meanwhile, Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann said violence “wasn’t typical for refugees in our country,” perhaps implying the German government is in denial about the threats to its national security.
Take Citizens’ Concerns Seriously
Merkel was wrong to dismiss the concerns of her people and of European Union member states. She didn’t take the public’s anxieties seriously. Not only did this heighten security risks, but it erodes people’s confidence in the German government and in the E.U., the latter of which dictates immigration quotas for member states. This was part of the motivation for last month’s vote among Britons to exit the E.U.
As this confidence wanes, far-right populist parties are gaining traction. Earlier this year, Merkel’s ruling party lost badly in local elections to the Alternative for Germany party, which takes a firm anti-immigrant stance and has been very critical of Merkel. France’s far-right National Front candidate, Marine Le Pen, has recently soared in polls, with twice as many voters saying they’d vote for her as for sitting Socialist President François Hollande.
Another worry is that far-right groups will begin wreaking havoc themselves as a reaction to Islamic terrorism refugees have committed. France’s chief of intelligence recently warned of this danger, saying that a “civil war” could arise if the country continues to see terrorist attacks, or if mass sexual assaults occur there.
So, what can Germany do? They already began tightening their asylum policies earlier this year and its parliament passed a new law stating that benefits and residency permits may be restricted for those who refuse to take German language and integration classes. The number of refugees has fallen this year, indicating this may be stemming the tide.
But what about the migrants who are already there, and who mean to do harm? This is the question all of Europe faces in this new age of global jihad. Germany’s interior minister Herrmann told the public to expect more attacks, echoing the French prime minister, who said France must “learn to live with the threat” of Islamic terrorism.
But it’s doubtful this will satisfy the people of Europe. As tensions rise and the attacks continue, the road seems to lead inevitably toward every country for itself, nationalism, and the breakdown of the European Union.