Terrorism Threats Ansbach Attack Reignites Refugee Debate

The Syrian refugee who detonated an explosive device in Ansbach declared allegiance to Islamic State in a cell phone video. There are growing calls in Germany for authorities to tighten border controls and speed up refugee deportations.
Police officers secure the scene after a bomb attack in Ansbach, Germany.

Two attacks carried out by refugees and apparently claimed by Islamic State have triggered a renewed debate in Germany about security and Chancellor Angela Merkel's migration policy.

On Sunday, a 27-year-old Syrian refugee detonated an explosive device outside an open-air music festival in Ansbach, killing himself and wounding 15 others.

During a sweep of the Syrian man's living quarters in a refugee shelter, police found two cell phones, multiple SIM cards and a laptop containing Salafist and Islamist content.

In an Arabic-language video found on one of the cell phones, the 27-year-old Syrian man threatens to take revenge on Germans for killing Muslims. He says he's acting in the name of Allah and declares himself a follower of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The media outlet Amaq said the man was a "soldier of the Islamic State." Amaq is closely associated with the terrorist organization that controls territory in Iraq and Syria.

The attacker arrived in Germany two years ago and faced deportation after his asylum request was rejected. He tried to commit suicide twice before and had had psychiatric treatment.

Democratic societies must be able to defend themselves without any ifs, ands or buts about it. But that starts with politicians keeping their nerve. Christian Lindner, Head of Free Democratic Party

The attack in Ansbach came six days after a 17-year-old, who was registered as an Afghan refugee, attacked a family with an axe in a regional train near Würzburg, seriously wounding four people. The teenager was shot dead by police.

"We have to see that, next to the refugees with terrible fortunes, there are also people who are coming to our country or who have arrived that pose a real danger to the security in our country," the interior minister of Bavaria, Joachim Herrmann, said.

More than a million migrants and refugees have arrived in Germany over the past year, many coming from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

Germany's federal police have received 410 leads about possible terrorists among refugees seeking asylum, according to a report by the newspaper Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.

Based on those leads, the federal Interior Ministry has launched 59 investigations against asylum seekers who are suspected of being involved in terrorist networks.

A government spokeswoman warned against placing all refugees under suspicion, saying asylum seekers are not more or less likely than the rest of the population to engage in terrorism.

"Most of the terrorists that have carried out attacks in Europe over the last months were not refugees," Ulrike Demmer told a news conference on Monday.

Throughout the refugee crisis, Chancellor Angela Merkel has insisted on keeping Germany's borders open to migrants and refugees, allowing them to apply for asylum after they have already arrived in the country.

The flow of migrants and refugees has slowed since the European Union, under German leadership, reached agreement with Turkey to send back people who cross illegally into Europe through Greece.

But the attacks of the past week have triggered renewed calls for a stricter national policy in Germany.

The right-wing Alternative for Germany party has called for more effective national border controls and consistent deportation of refugees who have committed crimes.

And members of Ms. Merkel's own center-right Christian Democrats are also calling for authorities to be more resolute in deporting migrants whose asylum requests are denied.

Armin Schuster, a Christian Democrat who heads the home affairs committee in parliament, told Handelsblatt that Germany must do everything in its power to integrate those refugees whose asylum requests are granted.

Otherwise, Germany could face conditions like those in France, Mr. Schuster said. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice were largely carried out by French and European citizens of North African heritage.

In order for integration to work, Mr. Schuster said Germany must also send back the 300,000 people whose asylum requests will probably be denied.

There have also been calls for more security in the aftermath of the recent attacks. Some have even raised the possibility of deploying the German military.

"There is no absolute security, the lot of open societies is that they are threatened,” Christian Lindner, the head of Germany's liberal Free Democratic Party, told Handelsblatt. But he added: “If the German military is made available for everything it would be an excuse to further weaken the police.”

Mr. Lindner called instead for beefing up the ranks of the state police and equipping them with better technology to make up for deficits when it comes to the Internet.

"Democratic societies must be able to defend themselves without any ifs, ands or buts," Mr. Lindner said. "But that starts with politicians keeping their nerve."


Frank Specht is based in Handelsblatt's Berlin bureau, where he focuses on the German labor market and trade unions. To contact the author: [email protected]