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Precautionary arrests show Islamist terror threat

Christmas markets, trains: the authorities refer to these as "soft targets". In other words, places that are easy to get to. The latest arrests show how tense the situation is as a result of the escalation in the Middle East.

A police officer stands at the Christmas pyramid at Kröpcke in Hanover. A 20-year-old man has
A police officer stands at the Christmas pyramid at Kröpcke in Hanover. A 20-year-old man has been arrested in Lower Saxony for allegedly planning a terrorist attack during the Christmas season.

Extremism - Precautionary arrests show Islamist terror threat

Three arrests within a week. Three young or juvenile suspects. The suspected targets: Christmas markets. The first tip-off about possible terror scenarios came from abroad. What's going on?

Terror experts in the security authorities assume that there is a connection with the escalation of the Middle East conflict, which is perceived differently by Muslims and Arabs than by the German majority society. This does not necessarily refer to the brutal terrorist attack orchestrated by Hamas, in which more than 1,200 people were killed and around 240 hostages taken in Israel on October 7. Rather, the Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip, which began a few days later, is perceived as disproportionate, which terrorist groups looking for sympathizers and assassins are trying to exploit for their own purposes.

Terrorist propaganda, which has already used the Koran burnings in Sweden as an opportunity to incite against everything "Western", is now actively using the "narrative of the supposedly necessary "protection of the Al-Aqsa Mosque" in Jerusalem and the fight against Israel and Judaism", according to a statement from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution this week. Terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda or the offshoots of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist militia sometimes have to make considerable ideological contortions, as they have often vilified Hamas, which emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood, in the past as being too lax and beyond their own Salafist doctrine.

It was clear immediately after the brutal attack by Islamist Hamas on October 7 that developments in the Middle East would have a direct impact on the security situation in Germany. Intensive talks were already underway between those responsible that weekend. Protection concepts for Jewish institutions and other possible targets were reconsidered, and known Islamist threats were once again given greater attention. A so-called special evaluation was set in motion.

Hamas and Samidoun network banned

In this context, Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser (SPD) also refers to the banning orders against Hamas and the Palestinian network Samidoun, which she issued on November 2. Terrorism experts do not expect people associated with these two groups to carry out attacks in Germany. However, the measures made possible by such a ban to prevent so-called propaganda activities by Hamas and Samidoun, both online and offline, would already have an effect, according to the ministry.

As a rule, however, it takes more for individual perpetrators or small groups who become radicalized within a short period of time to turn solidarity with the predominantly Muslim Palestinians into an aggressive, militant attitude, which then leads to preparations for a terrorist attack. This is often accompanied by uprooting, self-perceived failure, separation or similar personal experiences of frustration.

"Soft target": lots of people, no access control

According to the security authorities, the fact that the two young people who were picked up by the police in North Rhine-Westphalia and Brandenburg on Monday, as well as the Iraqi taken into custody in Lower Saxony, presumably wanted to go to Christmas markets has nothing to do with the Christian background of these events. Rather, it was probably about heading for a "soft target", i.e. a place where many people come together without being checked in.

Furthermore, it may not be possible to rule out that the three suspects wanted to imitate the terrorist attack of December 19, 2016. Back then, a rejected asylum seeker from Tunisia had driven a stolen truck into the Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz at Berlin's Memorial Church. As a result of the attack, 13 people died.

The fact that this gruesome act is still present in the minds of many Islamists was shown, for example, after the attack in Brokstedt. The public prosecutor's office accuses the defendant Ibrahim A. of stabbing a 17-year-old girl and her boyfriend, who was two years older, to death on January 25, 2023 near Brokstedt train station. Two other women and two men suffered serious injuries. Following the arrest of the Palestinian, it became known that he had previously made positive references to the Berlin attacker during a stay in a Hamburg prison.

France raises terror alert level

Germany is not the only country affected. The analysis by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution states: "In various neighboring European countries, terrorist attacks have taken place in recent weeks, some of whose perpetrators made explicit reference to the Middle East conflict." Against this backdrop, several EU states - including France - recently raised their national terror alert level.

The "Middle East confrontation and its impact on Germany" is also on the agenda of the autumn conference of federal and state interior ministers, which Berlin is hosting next week. The President of the Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, and Israel's ambassador, Ron Prosor, are expected to attend.

In the consultations on the planned reform of the citizenship law, representatives of the coalition with the traffic light system have emphasized in recent days that the draft bill presented by the cabinet explicitly mentions that someone who has been convicted of an anti-Semitic crime cannot be naturalized. Saxony-Anhalt's Minister of the Interior, Tamara Zieschang, would like to go one step further. She proposes that the naturalization tests "be supplemented by questions on the special responsibility for Jewish life in Germany and on Israel's right to exist". In an interview with the German Press Agency, the CDU politician says: "Naturalization should be denied in the case of anti-Semitic attitudes."

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