August 10, 2016

TSG IntelBrief: Germany’s Rising Terror Threat

• On August 9, German officials arrested a 24 year-old Syrian refugee suspected of plotting a terror attack.  

• Security officials are concerned about the heightened threat facing the upcoming season of the German national football league, the Bundesliga.

• Two of the four attacks in Germany in July were associated with the Islamic State, adding more fuel to concerns about the 1.3 million asylum seekers that entered the country last year.

• Police raids like the one seen in late July in Hildesheim will increase as officials seek to disrupt suspected cells of individuals already under some level of suspicion.


In the aftermath of four attacks over the last month—two of which were linked to the so-called Islamic State—German officials are scrambling to detect and disrupt future plots. The German government is determined to find a balance between policies that address the massive numbers of refugees seeking safety from war-torn places such as Syria with the increasingly undeniable fact that Islamic State supporters and members have a presence within the refugee population. The threat of Islamic State operatives hiding amongst refugees is real, though it is also ripe for exploitation and exaggeration. Nonetheless, authorities will have to deal with this threat and its implications for the foreseeable future.

On August 9, officials announced the arrest of a Syrian refugee in the Rhineland-Palatinate state after receiving a tip that the individual was preparing to carry out a terror attack. Accurate tips and cooperation are vital in a heightened threat environment; there are too many unknown vectors and actors for security and intelligence services to wade through in a timely manner. Though initial reports described the suspect as a ‘high-ranking’ member of the Islamic State, officials have since refuted that description.

On July 28, German security forces carried out a large raid in Hildesheim, searching a mosque and eight apartments. Searches of mosques are always controversial, and German officials do not take such measures lightly. The police stated that Hildesheim was a ‘hotspot’ that officials had been monitoring for some time. Disrupting extremist clusters through targeted raids and persistent pressure is among the most effective tactics for security services when the potential threat is overwhelming.

Localized clusters of extremists, if left to metastasize like the ones in Belgium and France, create more than individual terrorists and small-scale attacks; they lay the groundwork for campaigns of terror. Once a certain tipping point of motivation and capability is reached, a relatively small group can destabilize an entire region with a series of attacks. The impact of a sustained campaign of terror consisting of multiple attacks over a period of several months would be highly pernicious. It would tear at the construct of the EU, and would likely impact politics and elections.

The German premier football league, the Bundesliga, begins on August 26. The German press has reported that officials are concerned about a possible plot against the commencement of the Bundesliga. The league’s season runs through May 2017 and involves eighteen teams and locations. German security services will press hard before the start of the league to keep terror clusters off balance.

Germany is hardly alone in dealing with a systemic terror threat; all of the EU—France and Belgium in particular—is facing an unprecedented and sustained threat. The confluence of homegrown extremism and a large influx of refugees has produced an amplified fear of terrorism that is both valid and exploitative. According to recent reports in the New York Times, the Islamic State has dispatched operatives among the massive pool of refugees in numbers greater than previously assumed. Trying to identify legitimate threats among a large population of innocent and desperate refugees is an enormous challenge for European officials that will only continue to grow as the war in Syria drags on.


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