Guido Steinberg conducts research into terrorism and the Near and Middle East at the Science and Politics Foundation (SWP).
Mr. Steinberg, within two weeks, Islamists committed extremely brutal attacks in France. Why is France more affected by Islamic terror than any other country in the EU?
France has by far the largest and strongest jihadist scene, operating since the mid-1990s. In recent years, North Africans – especially Moroccans and Tunisians – have become the most dynamic group in Islamic terrorism. They are particularly well represented among French Muslims in addition to Algerians. At IS, Tunisians, Moroccans and North African French provided particularly large contingents of foreign fighters.
The attackers are young men, they acted only in the attacks, they attacked with knives. The head of the teacher Samuel Paty was cut off, in Nice the perpetrator slit a woman’s throat. What kind of culprit is that? Where does this extreme cruelty come from?
One of the reasons is the IS model. The organization has attracted attention for years with particularly brutal videos in which people were brutally slaughtered.
Many terrorists have a criminal background
This kind of violence seems to have set standards among jihadists on which perpetrators are oriented. In addition, many Islamic terrorists in Europe today have a criminal background and are more susceptible to unrestricted violence than before.
To what extent were the two perpetrators involved in Islamic circles? Is the term “solitary culprit” correct?
In the professional world, terrorists who plan, organize and commit an attack on their own are referred to as individual perpetrators. In Paris and Nice, it seems that these are acts. Integration in an Islamist environment does not change that.
Samuel Paty’s killer wanted to punish the teacher for talking about the Mohammed cartoons in class on the subject of freedom of speech. It is possible that the hit man in Nice wanted revenge on President Emmanuel Macron who defended the publication of Mohammed cartoons. Why has the subject remained so explosive for years?
The jihadists appreciate the issue because they can portray their acts of violence as a protest against the alleged insult of the Prophet Mohammed.
Jihadists believe that insulting the prophet should be punished with death
Since many more moderate Islamists and even conservative Muslims also vehemently reject the cartoons, they are hoping for approval in the Islamic mainstream. In addition, jihadists, citing older religious authorities, believe that insulting the prophet with death should be punishable.
What role does the Turkish head of state, Recep Tayyip Erdogan play? To what extent is he partly responsible for the attack in Nice with its brutal criticism of Macron and the West for the cartoons?
President Erdogan’s reactions are an example of the mobilization envisaged by the jihadists. He didn’t even bother to criticize the murder of Samuel Paty, but sees the problem in French politics. He may believe what he says, but he is also using the situation to position Turkey as the protective force of Islamists in the Arab world and in Europe. This has been Turkish politics for years.
Erdogan can encourage hitmen
In addition, there are growing tensions between Ankara and Paris over politics in Syria, Armenia and the Eastern Mediterranean. With his statements, Erdogan may also encourage murderers, but the perpetrators in Paris and Nice would not need this support.
How dangerous is Erdogan’s agitation for Germany? Last week, Erdogan condemned the police raid on a Berlin mosque as “racist” and “Islamophobic” on suspicion of fraudulent use of the government’s Corona emergency response.
Erdogan’s policy is problematic because it is aimed at alienation between the German state and the Turkish community. It is particularly dangerous that it does not differentiate between hostility towards Islam and hostility towards Islam and that tensions arise between Turks and Kurds, but also between Muslims and Christians.
Germany should limit Turkey’s political activities in this country
Germany can limit the effects of this policy by limiting the political, religious-political and secret service activities of the Turkish state in this country. A hard line has been too late for years.
The terrorist militia “Islamic State” has always admitted attacks in the past, even if they had nothing to do with them. The perpetrators were called “soldiers” of the IS. But now the terrorist militia is silent, even the murder of a tourist by a recognized IS supporter in Dresden is not discussed. Has IS changed its propaganda strategy?
With its territory, IS has also lost most of the propagandists. You are either dead, imprisoned or on the run. That is why, since 2019, the organization has limited itself to the armed struggle underground in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan – today its core business. The old contacts with supporters in Europe seem to no longer or only rarely exist. The lack of confessions is therefore a sign of weakness, the threat from IS has decreased significantly in Europe.
How strong is IS right now – in Syria and Iraq as well as in Europe?
In Iraq and Syria a total of about 4,000 to 6,000 men fight, in Afghanistan several hundred to several thousand, and smaller groups in Libya, Egypt, Yemen and the Caucasus. In these countries, IS remains a threat and is benefiting from the ongoing instability there. Yet he is no longer able to carry out international attacks.
IS has thousands of followers in Europe
But that can change when the pressure on the organization decreases. In Europe, the organization has thousands of supporters, only a few of whom are currently willing to risk their lives or their freedom.
What connection do you see between the attacks in France and the attack on a gay couple in Dresden on October 4?
So far I don’t see any connection, even though the temporary coincidence is noticeable. Whether one exists may be more evident if information about the killer’s communication in Dresden is available before the crime.
In Dresden, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Saxony did not monitor the murderer Abdullah Al HH, who had just been released from prison and classified as a threat. Would it have been better if the police had been involved in the surveillance of the Syrian?
If the judiciary and security authorities consider a person particularly dangerous, as in the case of Al HH, surveillance should be possible. Whether the police could have done better remains to be speculated.
Germany is keeping its intelligence services weak
However, it is noticeable that Germany is generally keeping its intelligence services weak and expanding the police force. When it comes to dangerous terrorists, in some states one should not rely on the protection of the constitution.
Saxon Interior Minister Roland Wöller complains that Abdullah Al HH was not lost because of the deportation stop to Syria. Should the Interior Ministers Conference at its December meeting allow for the deportation of at least threatened persons and serious criminals to the country of the civil war?
In the case of Islamists, this is not a good idea, because Syria is not a partner in the fight against terrorism. In recent decades, it has repeatedly used Islamist terrorists as tools of its politics in Iraq and Lebanon.
Longer deportation detention for foreign terrorists
Deported threats could re-emerge in neighboring countries and also in Europe and kill people. Rather, Germany should consider long-term detention for foreign terrorists.
The corona crisis is also increasing enormously in Germany. What risk do you see for the work of the security authorities, especially in the field of counter-terrorism?
The number of terrorists has increased significantly in recent years. Islamists remain strong, right-wing extremists are clearly on the rise, and we should not lose sight of the domestic and foreign left. Then there is the danger from Iran and Hezbollah. At the same time, the security authorities are repeatedly prone to errors of all kinds.
The German fight against terrorism is generally not going well. The main problems are their fragmentation in nearly 40 authorities, cumbersome, staff-intensive and expensive bureaucracies and a lack of skills, especially in the area of technical intelligence. Germany must do a lot to get a grip on the terrorist threat of the coming years.