After Paris: German Police “Powerless” Against Extremists

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.

4,w=559,c=0.bildMore 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.


12 comments on “After Paris: German Police “Powerless” Against Extremists”
  1. want2no says:

    “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,”

    Doesn’t the equivalents of “probable cause” or “”reasonable suspicion” exist in German law?

    1. 20committee says:

      Germans are very careful in such matters/

  2. Also don’t forget the right-wing extremists, they are a risk too. If only for igniting more violence. Furthermore the completely open borders within the EU add too the complexity the intelligence organisations face. I was very much surprised the paris terrorists didn’t travel quickly to another EU country. This would have complicated matters to catch them.

    1. 20committee says:

      RW terrorists in Germany are a threat, but under much tighter BKA/BfV control than either LW or Islamist terrorism is.

  3. 4MK says:

    The greatest terrorism threat to Germany and most dangerous is definitely Merkel and her appeasers and Kremlin poodles,Get rid of her and you have solved half of the EUs problems

  4. Alex Wahle says:

    Interesting article and a good read.
    As a matter of fact “probable cause” does exists in german law. However there is also a mix of complacency across the board (remember that before the rightwing murders by the NSU the last experience with terror was the left wing RAF in the 80’s & 90’s) and the fear of authorities to appear as overly restrictive.
    Certainly a subject worth following.

  5. mrmeangenes says:

    Reblogged this on mrmeangenes and commented:
    I suspect this might be the case here, too !
    We have legions of “infatuates” who worry about ” Islamophobia”, and other “phobias” – despite our worries being based on real world experience.
    Where in hell did these folks get the idea the extremists are eager to join us in singing ” Kumbiya” around the campfire, and are merely trying to pick out an appropriate singing key ??
    (Sigh !)

  6. Christopher says:

    Thank you for your look into the German situation – always appreciated.

    However, there are a few points that needs comments from the local side:

    From my end, leaking information to BIld is an odd choice. As the main tabloid in Germany it is not really considered a reliable source of information, more used for maximum publicity and lobbying for more funds for the BKA than to really alert the public. In addition, putting it behind the paywall (BildPlus) means that most people will never read the full story. The current way to go for high level leakage is still (mostly) Der Spiegel, Stern, Sueddeutsche or one of the local public TV stations (NDR et al).

    On the topic itself,

    a) PEGIDA is a strange animal and has a number of ridiculous demands, nevertheless they represent (to some extend) a part of the society, that worries about certain topics including immigration, Islam et al. Some of these topics are clearly ignored by Merkel and the local government (a number of TINA-topics here) and denouncing them is a clear mistake in my eyes. We have regularly all kind of public demonstrations, but rarely more than a few hundred participants. Reaching more than 10,000 in Dresden is a clear sign that something is underway (and ignoring it will not help).

    b) German police and BKA are definitely not equipped enough for more than a few numbers of 24/7 surveillance. We had a well-documented case in Hessen, where a salafist convict (for a different felony) with electronic foot tag was able to leave the country.

    Fact is that it would take a number of years to recruit and teach enough police men (and spooks) to just cover the current pool of possible islamists and without any major incident (aka terrorist attack) there wont be the funds available to do this. Germany has a strict budget-control and the police force is no exception.

    c) deficient laws – not really visible in my eye. I cant comment on the backpack/train example (I am not a lawyer), but overall I see more demand for “just” more personnel, being it in law enforcement, on the street, but also in DAs and related functions.

    At the moment in the public discussion the main push is the (re-) introduction of the data retention act, after it was ruled unconstitutional by the German Supreme Court (BVerfG). I am not a huge fan of it (especially, when there are not enough people to sort it out and make sense of it), and that France has such system for over a year now doesnt really help to local discussion).

    So overall – a different view, but unfortunately the same result: there will be no major change in Germany without an attack. Happy to be proven wrong.


    1. 20committee says:

      Thanks for the info — nothing there my friends in BKA or BfV would disagree with, off the record. 🙂

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