Investigations Expose Sunni and Shia Terror Threats in Germany
German police conducted counter-terrorism raids across the country last week, arresting multiple alleged Islamists suspected of “planning a serious violent act endangering the state.” According to German prosecutors, the suspected terrorists were of “Chechen origin from the Islamist scene.”
The suspects reportedly conducted surveillance of multiple locations to target in terrorist attacks, possibly including a Berlin synagogue, after video footage of the building was discovered on a suspect’s cellphone.
Germany has been increasingly vigilant against Islamist terrorism after 12 people were killed in a 2016 truck ramming attack on a Berlin Christmas market. The terrorist, Tunisian national Anis Amri, had been denied asylum.
German security authorities have foiled nine Islamist terror plots since then. In November, the country’s security authorities thwarted an Islamic State bomb plot.
Most terrorism analysts and observers continue to focus only on the attacks that succeeded. But exploring major attacks that could have transpired — yet were foiled by security authorities — provides a more accurate understanding of overall terrorist threats. Reporting foiled, significant plots, and including these incidents in datasets, can also help security authorities signal the virtues of specific counter-terrorism measures to a concerned public.
Last year, for example, jihadist terrorist attacks declined by roughly 50% in Europe, following significant spikes in attacks over the previous two years. Based on this data, some observers started to believe that the Islamic State threat was declining in Europe. But by including foiled jihadist plots, overall terrorist activity in 2018 was actually higher than any year before 2015, including the 2000s, when Al-Qaeda struck Europe in several high-profile attacks.
German authorities assess that there are roughly 11,000 Islamist extremists in Germany, including 680 people viewed as dangerous and capable of violence.
But the Islamist threat in Germany is not solely reserved for Sunni extremists.
Last week, a Kurdish-German community filed a formal criminal complaint targeting the Iranian regime-controlled Islamic Center of Hamburg for supporting terrorist activities. According to The Jerusalem Post, 600 Islamic Republic sympathizers mourned former Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Qassem Soleimani’s death during a memorial service at Hamburg’s Islamic Center. While German intelligence considers the Center an “instrument” of the Iranian regime, the German government continues to tolerate an Iranian and Hezbollah presence and terror finance activities on their soil.
According to a Hamburg intelligence agency publication, reported by the Post last month, roughly 30 German mosques and cultural centers maintain ties to Hezbollah. German intelligence also points to more than 1,050 known Hezbollah members in the country. The terror group exploits Germany to recruit operatives and generate finances for arms purchases. Germany also plays a central role in Hezbollah’s international terror financing network, which includes money laundering and drug trafficking routes from South America through West Africa and into Europe.
Beyond terror financing, Iran and its allies exploit Germany to plot attacks as well. In a 2017 report, Germany launched 22 criminal investigations into Iran’s illegal espionage activity — more than it looked into China and Turkey, two countries that engage in significant spying operations in Germany.
In one case, German prosecutors allege that Iran ordered Haidar Syed-Naqfi to identify Jewish and Israeli institutions in Germany and other Western European countries as potential targets for terrorist attacks. He allegedly received more than $2,200 from the IRGC’s Quds Force to monitor Jewish targets, including the headquarters of a Jewish newspaper in Berlin and several Israel supporters, which German authorities believed was “a clear indication of an assassination attempt.”
In Germany, it is clear that Iranian proxies raise money to fund terrorism, civilian sympathizers of the Islamic Republic mourn the assassination of an international terrorist figure, and Iran-directed operatives scout Jewish targets for attacks.
Germany’s parliament passed a non-binding initiative last month advocating for banning Hezbollah activities in the country. It is time for Germany to follow the UK’s recent move and fully designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, expanding sanctions and asset-freezing mechanisms targeting the entirety of the group. And recent foiled Sunni Islamist plots by Germany’s security services deserve much more attention from terrorism observers, and point to a growing terrorist threat.
Steven Emerson is Executive Director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism, a non-profit organization that serves as one of the world’s largest storehouses of archival data and intelligence on Islamic and Middle Eastern terrorist groups.