Country Report on Terrorism 2017 - Chapter 1 - Germany

Overview: In 2017, Germany significantly increased the number of its terrorism-related investigations, arrests, and prosecutions, and to a lesser extent, increased prosecutorial and law enforcement resources to handle the increased caseload. Law enforcement targeted a range of terrorist groups including violent Islamist extremists (approximately 90 percent of cases, and the greatest threat according to German officials), the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Turkish Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP-C), and domestic left wing and right wing actors. The government increased monitoring of Gefaehrder (i.e., dangerous persons who have not been accused of crimes but have come to the attention of law enforcement), began deportations of foreign terror suspects, and actively investigated returning foreign terrorist fighters. Terrorism was a major issue for all political parties in the September national elections, and counterterrorism will continue to be a top priority. Germany is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and continued its counterterrorism cooperation with the international community.

2017 Terrorist Incidents: On July 28, a United Arab Emirates-born Palestinian refugee who had been denied asylum allegedly killed one and injured five others with a machete while shouting Allahu akhbar in a Hamburg grocery store. Reportedly radicalized shortly before the attack, the defendant was known to the police and assessed as mentally unstable rather than a security risk. The incident sparked widespread calls for stronger enforcement of deportation laws and discussion of the difficulty of identifying threats.

On November 27, the Mayor of Altena in North-Rhine Westphalia was seriously injured in a knife attack. His attacker said the mayor’s refugee-friendly policies were the motive for the attack.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Germany bolstered its existing counterterrorism laws with several pieces of legislation, including: expanded use of mobile license plate reading systems to assist police and border security personnel; legalization of electronic ankle bracelet monitors; implementation of European Union (EU) Directive 2016/681 concerning Passenger Name Record (PNR) data; implementation of EU regulations to strengthen EU-wide law enforcement data sharing and align data protections with Europol regulation 2016/794; authorization of online search and source telecommunication surveillance; and enhanced prosecution tools for hate crimes and online propaganda posted by terrorist organizations. In August, the Constitutional Court upheld a law permitting expedited deportations of persons on the Gefaehrder list.

Counterterrorism investigations are conducted by both federal and state-level law enforcement agencies and coordinated through the Joint Counter-Terrorism Center, which is composed of 40 internal law enforcement and security agencies. The Ministry of Justice estimates there were 1,119 active terrorism investigations during January to November 2017, a sharp increase from 238 in 2016. Some cases were offshoots of refugee processing (for example, asylum seekers claiming to be threatened by violent Islamist extremists) and many will likely be dropped. Law enforcement agencies significantly expanded use of the Gefaehrder designation, used to monitor “extremists,” and completed the first deportations of known terrorists. Thirty-six Gefaehrder were deported in 2017, the majority to Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Tunisia.

Germany continues to participate in international efforts to enhance border security. In 2017, Germany introduced a new passport with enhanced security features, tested wider biometric collection upon entry in connection with the EU Smart Border pilot, and began preparations to introduce the EU Entry Exit System and EU Travel Information and Authorization System. It is on track to collect and analyze PNR by the May 2018 EU deadline.

Significant law enforcement actions included:

  • On October 3, Federal Police arrested a 19-year-old Syrian refugee in Schwerin (in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) on suspicion of planning an attack using bomb-making components purchased online.
  • On November 21, six Syrian refugees were arrested in a series of coordinated raids in four states on suspicion of plotting a terrorist attack. German law significantly limits pre-trial and/or preventative detention, and the six were released two days later.
  • Two high profile 2017 cases highlight increased sentences for terrorism convictions. Four defendants associated with the 2012 Bonn Rail Station Bombing Plot were convicted on charges that included founding and/or membership in a terrorist organization, conspiracy to commit murder, and weapons violations. The main defendant received a life sentence with no possibility of parole, which is rare in Germany. The accomplices received between nine years and nine months and 12 years, which are atypically long sentences.
  • In a separate case, prominent Salafist preacher Sven Lau (36) received a five-and-a-half year prison term for providing support to the ISIS-connected terrorist organization, Jamwa (“Army of Emigrants and Supporters”), including providing financial aid to Jamwa’s Syrian operations, recruiting foreign fighters, and providing night vision goggles obtained from German Army inventories.

Germany continued to examine the December 19, 2016 Christmas Market terrorist attack, and two state parliaments (North-Rhine Westphalia and Berlin) established special parliamentary inquiry committees into law enforcement’s performance in the case. Shortcomings identified by the Berlin inquiry – including lack of law-enforcement coordination among different agencies and states, failure to monitor a known criminal who carried false identification papers, and poor collection of physical evidence – were discussed in a press conference. A state senator called for a formal Federal Bundestag inquiry. In March, the Federal Justice Ministry appointed a temporary victims’ representative and at least US $1.9 million in compensation was paid to victims and their families.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Germany is a member of the Financial Action Task Force and its financial intelligence unit (FIU) is a member of the Egmont Group. In June, Germany transferred its FIU to the Customs Office. The government adopted legislation implementing EU-Directive 2015/849 against Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing, which establishes a transparency register of beneficial owners, extends anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism laws to all goods traders, adopts the EU High Risk Third Country List, expands the list of sanctionable situations, and raises fines from a maximum of US $118,000 to US $1.18 million. Germany remained a strong advocate of the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): In 2017, Germany expanded funding for existing CVE programs and earmarked a total of approximately €218 million (US $255 million) for programming targeting all types of violent extremism. The majority of programs are federally funded and implemented locally through non-governmental organizations. Several federal states also have CVE offices. In March, the German Cabinet announced a new €101 million (US $118 million) National Prevention Strategy against Islamist Extremism, part of the €218 million (US $255 million) total CVE funding. The program is led jointly by the Federal Interior and Family Ministries and implemented with the states, remaining federal ministries, Federal Commission for Migration, Refugees and Integration, and other stakeholders. Focusing on local communities, schools, refugee integration centers, and mosques, the program will give special attention to prevention and de-radicalization through the internet, refugee integration, and prisons. In July, the government released the inaugural report of the Federal Extremism Prevention Strategy. In 2017, local research institutions, including universities and private think tanks, began to engage in CVE-related research. As of the end of 2017, the German cities of Augsburg and Dresden were members of the Strong Cities Network.

International and Regional Cooperation: In December, Germany co-sponsored UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 2396 on returning and relocating foreign terrorist ‎fighters. Besides its memberships in the EU, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Germany is also a member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum. In response to UNSCR 2309 on aviation security, the German government was funding initiatives in Egypt, Kenya, and Nigeria aimed at improving aviation security.