Terrorism could break ethnic-religious peace, Germans fear

Germany saw over almost ten attacks a day against individual refugees and shelters in 2016, according to interior ministry figures, which left 560 people injured, 43 of them children.

Written by Praveen Swami | Berlin | Published: June 5, 2017 12:28:47 am
London, London attack, terror attack People leave the area with their hands up after an incident near London Bridge in London, Britain June 4, 2017. REUTERS

EVEN THE city’s fringe music stores no longer stock Denis Mamdou Custpert’s 2009 album, Alle augen auf mich, ‘All eyes on me’, a gangsta-rap sensation in its time. His next production, in November 2014, might be the reason: Custpert appeared holding up the severed head of a prisoner from the al-Shaitat tribe, who had resisted the Islamic State’s march on Raqqa. Deso Dogg, rapper, had become Abu Talha al-Almani, jihadist. This weekend’s terrorist strike in London has underlined deep fears in Germany’s political security establishment that terrorism could tear apart the country’s social fabric — already strained by the arrival of 890,000 refugees in 2015, and another 280,000 last year.

“Fighting terrorism is no longer only a policing task”, a senior official at Germany’s Interior Ministry told The Indian Express. “It has important implications for social cohesion and stability”.  The far-right AfD, or Alternative For Germany, is polling just 10% ahead of federal elections scheduled for September, down from over 15% in January — but a major attack, or a string of strikes like those seen in France or the United Kingdom could change that, authorities fear. Ever since December 16, when Tunisian jihadist Anis Amri drove a hijacked truck into a Christmas market in Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz — killing 11, and injuring 55 — the threat from the Islamic State has become etched in Germany’s political consciousness.

Last year alone saw a knife attack on a police officer in Hannover by a 15-year-old girl, a knife and axe attack inside a train close to Würzburg by a refugee, a bomb attack in Ansbach by another refugee, a foiled bomb attack by a third refugee, and the bombing of a gurdwara in Essen.

Germany saw over almost ten attacks a day against individual refugees and shelters in 2016, according to interior ministry figures, which left 560 people injured, 43 of them children. The country has historically avoided the kind of ethnic-religious violence seen in France, Belgium and the United Kingdom, but terrorism could set off a cycle of hate-crime with far-reaching consequences. Germany’s Bundeskriminalamt, or Federal Criminal Police Agency, estimates 910 of the country’s citizens have travelled to Syria or Iraq for jihad, of whom some 145 are thought to have been killed in combat. Another 260 have returned.

Entire “German hamlets” now exist in northern Syria where jihadists from the country have settled, located near the cities of al-Bab, Minbij and Jarabulus. “It’s just impossible to keep the numbers of individuals we’re talking about under constant surveillance”, one officer said. Four in five of Germany’s jihadists are from what officials describe as “immigrant backgrounds”, but a toxic mix of family dysfunction and juvenile crime also run through their lives: over 60%, Bundeskriminalamt records show, had police records for theft, violent felonies or drugs before they were drawn to terrorism.

Cuspert, typically, had a troubled youth, spending time in a juvenile detention home. He ended up in a street gang, the “36 Boys”. In the main made up of first-generation Turkish and Arab immigrants, the 36 Boys engaged in violent confrontations with neo-Nazi gangs on Berlin’s streets. “I always fought for 36”, Cuspert told a Berlin reporter, “I bled for 36. I was stabbed for 36”. Though Oueslatia in Tunisia, where Berlin attacker Amiri grew up, is known to be an Islamist stronghold, he had a reputation as a juvenile delinquent, not a jihadi. “My son Anis drank and stole”, his father later said, “but he was radicalised in Europe”.

Italian authorities said Amri was drawn to jihadism while serving four years in prison after arriving in the country as an illegal immigrant, on one occasion threatening to decapitate a Christian intimate. Amri sought refuge in Germany in 2015, promptly attracting police attention for thefts and assaults. He on one occasion told a police informer he wished to purchase a Kalashnikov for a terrorist attack. Police, however, assessed that Amri was unlikely to actually carry out an attack. Local Islamist networks play a key role in radicalising young, vulnerable immigrant youth, German authorities say. In November, authorities arrested Abu Wal’aa, the leader of Deutsch-Islamischer Kulturverein mosque in Dortmund, where funds were being made available to travel to Syria. His network is alleged to have played a key role in grooming Amri, who slept in the Dortmund mosque.

Figures like Cuspert have also inspired many to join the jihad-among them, Arid Uka, who shot dead two United States soldiers at Frankfurt airport.  Cuspert’s considerable charisma is also now known to have led a Federal Bureau of Investigations translator, Daniela Greene, to have gone rogue and travelled to Syria  to marry him. “Long-term investments to integrate refugees into the community will be vital”, said Monika Hebbinghaus, the spokesperson for Berlin’s Office for Refugee Affairs. “Ethnic-religious enclaves allow prejudices and hatred to flourish”.

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