Terror Attacks Germany Under Attack From All Sides

As claims emerge that the man who killed nine people at a Munich shopping center identified as a right-wing extremist, Germany is reviewing all aspects of its security, from weapons to the internet. Bavaria's interior minister also warns the country must properly deal with its refugees.
Police in Ansbach.

A series of violent attacks in Bavaria last week has stoked fears over Germany’s vulnerability to terrorism in the wake of last year’s massive influx of asylum seekers.

But reports that the deadliest of these attacks, the killing of nine people at a Munich shopping center, may have been the work of a far-right fanatic, has also triggered a debate about gun laws and the dark side of the internet.

Bavaria’s interior minister, Joachim Herrmann, a member of Bavaria’s ruling Christian Social Union, insists that the wave of refugees poses new risks.

“Of course, not every refugee is suspected of violence but we have a considerably heightened risk in connection with Islamic extremism,” he said.

This elevated risk exists, he added, “whether the migration of refugees is being intentionally misused or people radicalize after they arrive.”

His comments come as security sources identify the 18-year-old German-Iranian man behind the Munich shootings as a right-wing extremist, according to a report by the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

The shooter, identified as Ali David S., considered himself an "Aryan" and was proud to have the same birthday as Adolf Hitler, the sources said, citing information from people close to the 18-year-old, who was born in Munich. He also looked down on people of Turkish and Arab heritage.

Investigators are examining whether the shooter targeted people based on their national and ethnic background. All nine people killed in the attack last Friday had immigrant backgrounds.

The victims included three youths and a 45-year-old woman with Turkish roots in addition to a boy and two girls who were ethnic Albanians from Kosovo.

The Munich attack has focused authorities' attention on the availability of illegal weapons in Germany.

“Weapons get into illegal hands from various sources,” Holger Münch, head of Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office, told Handelsblatt. This includes not only weapons smuggled into Germany from former conflict zones, he said, but also illegal weapons purchased on the “dark net.”

Federal investigators say old guns and other weapons rendered useless, are increasingly being imported legally into Germany and Europe where they are illegally repaired.

This hidden internet-based network, which can only be accessed with special browsers or software, is under increasing scrutiny after the Munich attacker procured his Glock 17 pistol via the clandestine communications portal.

“Currently we are investigating 85 cases in connection with illegal weapons dealing on the dark net,” Mr. Münch said.

Federal investigators say old guns and other weapons rendered useless, are increasingly being imported legally into Germany and Europe where they are illegally repaired.

The gun used by the Munich attacker was such a weapon and had previously been used as a theater prop.

Dark net platforms modeled after Amazon or eBay deal in guns, drugs and counterfeit money. But going after criminals dealing and buying weapons in such shadowy marketplaces is not easy, since they pop up and disappear rapidly. IP addresses are encrypted and goods are mostly acquired with virtual Bitcoin currency.

“We don’t want to just take down marketplaces,” said Mr. Münch. “We want to catch the sellers and also the buyers.”

Media agency Amaq, which is closely associated with Islamic State, said the terrorist group claimed responsibility for two other attacks to hit Bavaria last week.

These included an ax attack on a regional train near Würzburg on July 18, in which a 17-year-old Afghan refugee seriously injured four people before being shot and killed by police. Days later, a 27-year-old Syrian refugee detonated an explosive device near an open-air music festival in Ansbach, killing himself and wounding 15 people.

We need strict border controls as long as the European Union cannot provide sufficient protection on all external borders. Joachim Herrmann, Bavarian Interior Minister

Mr. Herrmann confirmed that Islamic State was “very probably” behind the latter attack. “The latest findings of the investigation quite clearly indicate there was guidance,” he added, even if investigators have not pinpointed the source.

With many Germans on edge, a blast yesterday close to a refugee center in Zirndorf, near Nuremberg, initially triggered fears of another bombing. But police dismissed reports of explosives detonated after finding a burned suitcase with an aerosol-based spray can in it that may have caused the incident.

“We must be extremely aware,” Mr. Herrmann said. “Our security agencies are especially focused on Islamic activities. But there can be no 100-percent safety.”

Mr. Herrmann warned that while Germany should continue to offer support and solidarity to refugees who have fled war and oppression, “We must not neglect our security amid the whole refugee debate.”

“It can’t be the case that we don’t know who is staying in our country,” he said. In his view, border controls were too lax last year, when Germany accepted more than 1.1 million refugees.

“We need strict border controls as long as the European Union cannot provide sufficient protection on all external borders,” Mr. Herrmann said.

The interior minister warned against casting a general suspicion on all refugees, but also said failing to take appropriate security measures would only erode Germans’ feeling of safety and generosity toward refugees, playing into the hands of right-wing extremists.

“Right-wing extremist circles are using citizens' fear for their hate propaganda purposes,” Mr. Herrmann said.

In the wake of last week’s attacks, rising far-right party Alternative for Germany is demanding greater restrictions on refugees. Alexander Gauland, the party’s co-founder, called for a suspension of asylum rights for all Muslims.

But Germany’s federal interior ministry quickly countered that such a move would stand in contrast to the country’s fundamental belief in freedom of religion.

Germany needs “a strong state” to prevent such groups from taking advantage of the situation and to protect Germany’s security and freedom, said Bavaria’s interior minister. “But the state cannot assume responsibility for everything,” he added.

Family, friends, classmates and faith-based groups must also “maintain contact with children,” he said, while doctors and psychologists must assist troubled youths before police and security agencies are called upon when violence erupts.

Despite widespread concern in Germany following last week’s attacks, Mr. Herrmann said the country had not lost trust in domestic security.

“Bavaria’s police performed excellent work,” he said. The task Germany now faces, he added, is to support and strengthen the police force, for instance with better equipment.


Frank Specht is based at Handelsblatt’s Berlin bureau, where he focuses on the German labor market and trade unions. Andreas Dörnfelder is a politics reporter. To contact the authors: [email protected] and [email protected]