BERLIN KNIFE ATTACK, WAVE OF ARRESTS UNDERLINES GERMAN RADICALIZATION THREAT
A known radical Islamist stabbed and wounded a policewoman in Berlin on September 17, and was subsequently shot dead (DW, September 17). The attacker, a 41-year-old ethnic Kurdish Iraqi man called Rafik Mohamad Yousef, had previously been convicted by a German court in 2008 of being a member of Ansar al-Islam, a jihadist group comprised mainly of Iraqi Kurds, and for plotting to kill the Iraqi prime minister on a visit to Berlin; he was released in 2011 (Berlin Morgenpost, September 17; Rudaw, September 18). The precise motives for the attack, and Yousef’s most recent affiliations, are not yet known.
A few days after the stabbing attack, on September 22, police carried out eight counter-terrorism raids, focusing mainly on suspects in the Berlin area (DW, September 22). Among those arrested was a 51-year-old Moroccan man suspected of inciting others to join the Islamic State. Although the police said that the raids were not related to the earlier knife attack, the developments indicate the increasing threat to Germany from jihadists and the authorities’ increasing efforts to monitor radical Islamist circles and to disrupt groups actively involved in supporting jihadist groups abroad or plotting attacks at home.
Underlining this trend, also on September 22, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz—BfV), Germany’s internal security organization, said that the number of radical Salafists had increased to 7,900, up from an estimated 7,500 in June. In addition, BfV President Hans-Georg Maassen stated:
In addition, Maassen provided updated figures on the number of German foreign fighters abroad, saying that an estimated 740 people had left Germany to join jihadists in Syria and Iraq; around one-third of these individuals have returned to Germany, and about 120 have been killed. The government has also begun prosecuting those who have returned from Syria, particularly those involved with the Islamic State. For instance, also in September, the authorities charged a 25-year-old German individual, known legally as “Nils D,” for traveling to Syria to join the Islamic State in October 2013, and subsequently receiving firearms and explosives training (Berlin Kurier, September 9). He returned to Germany in November 2014, and was arrested two months later (DW, January 10).
Meanwhile, in the Middle East itself, Germany has continued to provide some of the most significant European support for forces fighting against the Islamic State (particularly the Kurds), most recently training Iraqi peshmerga forces on mitigating chemical weapon attacks (Rudaw, September 18). This came after the government confirmed instances of the Islamic State using mustard gas against Kurdish fighters. Adding urgency to both the German government’s efforts in Iraq and its actions against the growing number of Islamist radicals at home is the flow of migrants and refugees expected into Germany in the coming months and years from mainly Muslim parts of the Middle East; an estimated 800,000 people will arrive this year (Der Spiegel, August 31). To date, Germany has generally been more successful in integrating Muslim immigrants than other European countries. However, this is partly because up until now the vast majority of German Muslims have generally originated in relatively more developed countries with a long history of secularism, such as Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan and a range of Balkan states; the flow of new migrants from Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, including states without a similarly strong secular tradition, will undoubtedly pose new challenges to the German government, including in the sphere of political radicalization.
VICTORY OVER BOKO HARAM CONTINUES TO ELUDE NIGERIA
Nigeria’s conflict with the Boko Haram Islamist militant group continues to be marked by a mix of successes and setbacks, with the group continuing to prove itself an adaptable and wily adversary. For instance, in the last few weeks, the government has scored a number of considerable localized victories against the group. On September 23, the government announced that its troops had continued to advance against Boko Haram in parts of Borno State, the longstanding heartland of the group’s Islamist insurgency. The government claimed to have captured the group’s “kingpin” in the area, Bulama Modu, arrested 43 suspected militants, freed 241 women and children being held prisoner by the militants and seized arms and ammunition (Premium Times [Abuja], September 23). Separately, across the border in northern Cameroon on the same day, Cameroonian forces said they had killed 17 suspected militants in a series of operations (Punch [Lagos], September 23).
Simultaneously, the Nigerian government has continued to give the impression that the defeat of the group is imminent. A senior presidential advisor, on September 23, tweeted a message ascribed to the country’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, that: “Boko Haram’s reign of terror in parts of the country will be finally over very soon as the ongoing military onslaught against the terrorist sect will continue relentlessly until total victory is achieved” (Twitter, September 23; Punch [Lagos], September 23). Similar rhetoric has come from the ministry of defence. Colonel Rabe Abubakar, the ministry spokesperson, in response to an apparent audio message released by Boko Haram leader Abubakr Shekau, said that: “Our candid advice to Shekau or his ghost, cohorts or impersonators is to toe the line of their fellow comrades and surrender now as there is no more hiding place for him or his criminal gang to operate freely,” adding that the “era of cheap propaganda is over and in no distance time Nigerians and the whole world will know who is saying the truth” (Premium Times [Abuja], September 22).
On the ground, however, evidence of solid Nigerian gains against Boko Haram are harder to find. On September 20, the group carried out one of its most significant attacks in months, killing around 85 people in the northeast city of Maiduguri, in Borno State (Vanguard [Lagos], September 21). The attacks mainly targeted a mosque and people watching a football game on television. In further evidence that the group remains strong in Borno State, the government banned the use of cars, public transportation, donkeys and camels in the state over the Eid al-Adha Islamic holiday in order to reduce the potential for militant attacks (BBC, September 24). Moreover, in addition, between July and August, the Nigerian authorities arrested 20 suspected Boko Haram leaders in southern parts of the country, suggesting that the group may be planning to extend its operations to these regions, including the economically critical city of Lagos, which have largely been unaffected by the conflict so far. A Department of State Service (DSS) spokesman said that “the sudden influx of Boko Haram members into Lagos State points to the determination of the sect to extend its nefarious terrorist activities to the state and in fact, other parts of the country” (This Day Live [Lagos], August 31). In a further indication that the government’s offensive is not going entirely as well as advertised, the government has also floated the idea of negotiating with the group, or potentially releasing some prisoners, in return for the release of the schoolgirls who were kidnapped from Chibok in May 2014 (Punch [Lagos], September 16; The Nation [Lagos], September 22).