As France begins to confront their crisis in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, not least the painful reality that there is no security or intelligence-based “fix” to what is in fact a huge political problem, the rest of Europe has been asking awkward questions about how big a problem they face too.
Germany is a major player here, with marches by the anti-Islamist activists of PEGIDA, intemperately denounced by Chancellor Angela Merkel despite their peaceful character, having seen their numbers rise after the Paris horror. I’ve previously written about how serious a problem with Islamist violence and extremism Germany confronts, and the gravity of the situation is now being realized by the public.
The extent of Germany’s challenge is made clear in a Top Secret report by the Federal Police (BKA)* whose details are revealed in a report in today’s BILD, the country’s top tabloid, which gives high priority to security issues. The leaked BKA assessment, which is based on the latest intelligence, concludes that a thousand Islamists in Germany are involved with terrorism, of whom 260 are assessed as a serious threat.
The numbers of Salafists have risen sharply in Germany in recent years, from 4,500 in 2012 to 7,000 today, of whom ten percent are assessed by the BKA as being capable of violence (i.e. jihadism). There are thirty Islamist groups active in Germany, and today they are found not just in big cities like Berlin, Düsseldorf or Frankfurt, but also in regional cities like Solingen, Aachen, Bonn, and Siegen in the western part of the country.
Islamic State violence in the Middle East is a major catalyst for the rising Salafi jihadist scene in Germany, with the BKA concluding that nearly 600 German nationals have gone to Syria or Iraq to wage jihad, among them sixty-five women, of whom about ten percent have been killed, including at least ten individuals dying in suicide bomb attacks.
More than a few of these jihadists are converts, as shown in the case of Nils B. (left), a twenty-four year-old from Dinslaken in North Rhine Westphalia, who was arrested by German police on terrorism charges just last weekend, having recently undergone training at a terrorist camp in Syria.
Berlin authorities believe that some 200 jihadists, like Nils B., have returned from Syria or Iraq already, and they represent a huge challenge for police and intelligence services. After the Paris attacks, the BKA has put in place special measures to prevent terrorism, but the numbers facing German cops and spooks are daunting. Maintaining 24/7 real-time surveillance on any target, with both HUMINT and SIGINT, requires two dozen watchers, and German authorities have nowhere near enough personnel to properly watch the hundreds of potential terrorists in the country who need watching.
The problem is not just about inadequate numbers, but deficient laws too. German officials complain that they lack the legal means to prevent terrorism. They regularly watch potential terrorists, for instance, get on trains carrying suspicious-looking backpacks, “but unless we’re absolutely sure he has a bomb in the bag,” there’s nothing to be done under the law, rued one security official.
Small wonder, then, that many German spooks and cops, including some friends of mine, privately think it’s only a matter of time before they, too, experience a Paris-like terrorist attack that will kill considerable numbers of innocents. They are not optimistic that tough talk and marches by worried politicians can change the daunting odds they face in preventing terrorism, particularly when laws work to help extremists more than the police.
*Bundeskriminalamt, which is equivalent in part to the American FBI, while the purely intelligence, versus law enforcement, part of that mission belongs to the BfV (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz); relations between BKA and BfV are not infrequently touchy, as I’ve previously detailed.