Against the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas war and one-off Islamist attacks closer to home, German authorities are confronting a ‘complex threat situation.’ Some observers warn against exaggerating the danger.
A handful of isolated, but high-profile incidents have put politically motivated crime high on Germany’s security agenda. The renewed fears follow a German tourist getting stabbed to death in Paris last weekend allegedly by a man with a history of criminal behavior, and mental illness and what prosecutors there have said is sympathy for the so-called Islamic State (IS).
The news has refreshed memories from 2016 when a man — also with an alleged IS affinity — drove a truck into a Berlin Christmas market. The plot killed 13 people, and the attacker was later gunned down by police in Italy.
A range of foreign and domestic actors currently confront Germany “with a complex and fraught threat situation due to parallel crises,” Thomas Haldenwang, the director general of German domestic intelligence (BfV), recently said in a statement.
The non-state threats that most concern authorities, violent Islamists and white supremacists, are not new, but Haldenwang blames Hamas’ major attack on Israel as a catalyst for heightened security sensitivities. Israel’s military response, which Gaza health officials say has killed more than 15,000 people, has sparked widespread protest and political divisions across European societies.
Classifying the threat
Terrorism is a type of politically motivated crime, and an accurate assessment of the threat is hardly straightforward. Through Monday, Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) counted 4,200 crimes associated with events in the Middle East since Oct. 7, when Hamas killed around 1,200 people in Israel. This figure is based on daily reporting, which provides only a rough snapshot of the real-time situation in Germany, according to BKA information provided to DW.
A more thorough, and therefore time-delayed, analysis pushes the figure down to around 2,000 politically motivated crimes in this period. Due to methodological differences, a BKA spokesperson said the two figures are “not comparable.”
“The case figures for politically motivated crimes for 2023 are provisional and are subject to constant changes,” he added.
The BKA has ascribed an antisemitic motivation to fewer than half of the lower of the two figures, which can range from verbal threats to property damage. What defines “antisemitism” is contested, however, and a BfV spokesperson told DW it is difficult to sort out peaceful protesters exercising their fundamental rights and violent extremists who may pose an actual threat to public safety.
The BfV boss was less equivocal. In his statement, Haldenwang said “all forms of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic incitement” were subject to action by German security forces.
Casting such a wide net could be a factor in the high rates of politically motivated crime that authorities have recorded in the last several weeks. At the same time, a net made to catch primarily religious extremists and antisemites “imported” from the Arab world may miss other possible perpetrators. In Paris, for example, investigators are looking into whether alleged antisemitic graffiti is connected to Russian intelligence or Moldovan organized crime.
As of mid-2022, the BKA reported slightly more than 1,000 people of interest in connection with Islamist terrorism. It was keeping an eye on a couple hundred such people in the far-right scene, and a few dozen in the far-left. These are people whom authorities suspect have the potential to commit or support politically motivated crimes.
The current security fears, however, extend far beyond these threat categories, leading police unions and political parties to call for more security, stronger show of force, and stricter laws that foremost affect immigrant and minority groups. Policing experts warn these steps are not necessarily grounded in hard data.
“The measures being demanded right now are pure symbolism and populist politics to push through tougher laws and carry out racist politics,” Alexander Bosch, a security researcher at the Berlin School of Economics and Law, told DW.
“The objective need for these just isn’t there. The German state is hardly weak,” he added, noting that Germany is a highly safe country.
Separating the subjective perception of safety from the actual threat is a major challenge for law enforcement, especially in a heated political moment. Another is knowing the difference between “words and deeds,” Jonas Grutzpalk, a domestic security analyst for Polizei.Wissen, a law enforcement resource platform, told DW.
“Domestic intelligence is probably observing actual outrage within the scenes they surveil,” he said. “We can never know exactly when that outrage will show itself verbally and when it translates into violent acts,” he added.
Knowing the difference can determine if, or when, security officials take action. By then, however, it could be too late. That puts limits on what law enforcement can do, regardless of the power and resources lawmakers grant them.
“Deterring terrorists is one thing, but preventing them from becoming terrorists in the first place is another,” Grutzpalk said.
It’s his hope, he said, that community-based prevention measures, not only increased security, are on the agenda for this week’s conference of state and federal interior ministers.
Source : DW