High Alert Europe Torn Between Terrorism and Far Right

Cities across Europe ramped up security, while politicians called for calm in the wake of the terror attack in Paris that has left 12 dead.
Berliners gather to show solidarity with France and the slain journalists.

European authorities were urging the public to remain both vigilant and calm on Thursday as the streets of Berlin, Paris and Rome filled with armed guards a day after a brazen terrorist attack on a French satirical magazine shook the world.

France was put on high alert after the attack when masked gunmen stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 people, including eight journalists, one person visiting the magazine, two policemen and a building maintenance worker.

The police named two suspects as Cherif Kouachi, 32, and his brother, Said Kouachi, 34. French news agency AFP reported that the two men had been located in Aisne region in northern France. A third man, 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad, turned himself in at a police station in a small town in the Champagne region of France.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said intelligence services had been monitoring the Kouachi brothers before the attack. Cherif was convicted in 2008 for being part of a jihadist network that sent fighters to Iraq. The French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve confirmed that another seven people had been arrested overnight in relation to the attack.

One of Europe's largest publishing houses, Axel Springer's headquarters in Berlin, shows solidarity with the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

 

The mood across Europe remained jittery.

In France, one police officer was killed and another critically injured in a shooting in a southern Paris suburb on Thursday. It is not yet clear if the shooting is linked to the attack on Charlie Hebdo offices.

On Wednesday afternoon, hours after the shooting, Spanish newspaper El Pais evacuated its offices after receiving a suspicious package. The package turned out to be safe and staff went back into the office, but the incident highlighted the tense mood in many European newsrooms.

European countries have taken widely differing approaches to how they deal with the threat of terrorism.

Most countries in Europe have a long, unfortunate history of terror attacks.

The Irish Republican Army in the United Kingdom and ETA terrorists in Spain, and Algerian separatists in France have all conditioned the people in these countries to the threat of attacks, to report suspicious packages and not leave bags unattended. The al-Qaida attacks in London and Spain also reinforced this behavior among Europeans.

As in the United States, Europeans share a strong sense that despite the death and horror, everyday life must not be disrupted in the days after an attack, and that staying home or changing behavior would signal that the terrorists had “won.”

No one should exploit the terror attack to sow new hatred. Yasmin Fahimi, SPD General Secretary

But news that the Kouachi brothers were both born in Paris has also highlighted the fact that one of the biggest threats to European public security is from home-grown terrorism: attacks by people who grew up in and understand the country they live in.

In Germany, authorities were insistent there was no threat to public safety.

“In Germany, it is up to the individual states which buildings or embassies are protected. In general, naturally Germany is also the focus of Islamist terrorism but there is no concrete threat,” a spokeswoman for the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) told Handelsblatt Global Edition.

“There is not a general increase in security measures, the individual state police forces decide on how much buildings need to be protected,” she added. “There is no concrete indication that a similar attack is planned in Germany, or that in general any terrorist attacks are being planned at the moment.”

Despite the reassurances, in Berlin, armed guards were prominently placed outside newspaper offices. In a city that is reluctant to appear too militaristic, the sight was an incongruous one.

Public demonstrations in Germany in recent months have focused on Islamophobia. In Dresden, thousands have joined marches organized by an anti-Islam group known as Pegida, while a counter movement, attacking xenophobia, has also gathered strength.

A leading member of the anti-euro and anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) said that the events on Wednesday showed that Pegida’s concerns were justified.

Alexander Gauland, AfD deputy leader and head of the party in the state of Brandenburg, said that “all those who have ignored or made fun of the worries of many people about the increased threat from Islamism, have seen their lies punished by this bloody act.”

Mr. Gauland said the Paris massacre showed how fragile and vulnerable the values of our society were.

“Against this background, Pegida’s demands have gained particular relevance and weight. The old parties have to think carefully about whether they want to stick with their stance of defaming the people of Pegida,” he said.

Frauke Petry, an AfD leader and head of the party in Saxony, said that there are several “overlaps” with the Pegida program and her party’s policies. At a press conference on Thursday after a meeting of the two groups, she said that it was important to talk with citizens and that was why she met with the organizers.

 

Quelle: dpa
French flag flies at half mast above embassy in Berlin.
(Source: dpa)

 

But other German politicians were keen to distance themselves from Pegida.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière has warned against allowing right-wing populists to exploit the attacks.

He told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that the terror attacks had “nothing to do with Islam.” The attacks were aimed at the entire society and their values.

He warned against a blanket suspicion of all refugees. The people who were seeking asylum in Germany were fleeing terrorism in Syria and Iraq, he said, and should not then fall under suspicion just because they are Muslim.

Peter Tauber, the general secretary of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party, warned Pegida against feeling vindicated by the attacks. He tweeted that those who have backed Pegida “have simply not understood what the West stands for.”

His counterpart in the Social Democratic Party, Yasmin Fahimi, said that “no one should exploit the terror attack to sow new hatred.”

Germany’s intelligence services have been keeping a close eye on the country’s radical Islamist scene. They are particularly concerned about the capacity of Islamic State, an extremist group that has taken control of broad swathes of Iraq, to attract disaffected young people in the country. More than 550 people have gone from Germany to join the jihadists in Syria and Iraq and around 200 have returned.

The concern is that these radicalized and trained young men could carry out attacks back home.

The domestic intelligence office, the Verfassungsschutz, calculated that 230 of the estimated 7,000 ultra-conservative Salafists in Germany are potentially dangerous.

 

Terror Attacks Worldwide

 

The Salafists are a tiny proportion of the 4 million Muslims who live in Germany, out of a population of 81 million.

A study into the attitudes of Muslims and non-Muslims in Germany by the Bertelsmann Stiftung, which was released on Thursday, found that Islamophobia is on the rise in Germany.

The researchers for the “Religion Monitor” found that “although Muslims have long become a part of German society, the majority population are increasingly rejecting Muslims and Islam.”

Of those surveyed, 61 percent of non-Muslims were of the opinion that Islam “does not fit in the Western world,” while 40 percent felt that Muslims made them feel like a “stranger in their own country” and 57 percent said that Islam was “threatening.”  In Saxony, the nexus of the Pegida movement, that figure was 78 percent.

Surprisingly, the researchers found that “neither political views nor education levels had a significant impact on the image of Islam.” They concluded that Islamophobia had become socially acceptable, was found in the “center of society” and was “not limited to the margins of society.”

 

Meera Selva is an editor with Handelsblatt Global Edition and has covered security issues and terrorism in Britain, Africa and Berlin. Siobhán Dowling has covered German politics and society, including the far-right and immigration, for a decade. To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected]