German anti-immigrant party beats Merkel in her home district

The New York Times reports: Voters in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political home state delivered her a stinging rebuke on Sunday, propelling a far-right party to second place in the state legislature, ahead of her center-right bloc.

It is the first time in an election in modern Germany that a far-right party has overtaken Ms. Merkel’s bloc of Christian Democrats and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union.

Official results released early Monday showed that Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats had received 19 percent of the vote, against 21 percent for the far-right Alternative for Germany. The center-left Social Democrats, with whom Ms. Merkel governs nationally, got 31 percent in the state, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and are likely to continue their coalition there with Ms. Merkel’s bloc.

The vote took place a year to the day after Ms. Merkel agreed with Austria that the two countries would admit thousands of mostly Syrian refugees then trapped in Hungary, with several hundred desperately marching on foot toward the West.

Although Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has only 1.3 million eligible voters in a country of 81 million people, Sunday’s elections were seen as an indicator of Ms. Merkel’s political strength and as the real start of the campaign for national elections, due by fall of next year. [Continue reading…]

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Days of rage

Kenan Malik writes: In the past, the distinction between political violence and sociopathic rage was relatively clear. No longer. There seems today almost a continuum between ideological violence, disjointed fury and some degree of sociopathy or mental illness. What constitutes ideological violence has decayed; instead, amorphous rage has become a persistent feature of public life.

One reason is the breakdown of social and moral boundaries that once acted as firewalls against such behavior. Western societies have become more socially atomized and more riven by identity politics. The influence of institutions from the church to labor unions that once helped socialize individuals and inculcate them with a sense of obligation to others has declined.

As broader identities have eroded, and traditional social networks and sources of authority have weakened, people’s sense of belonging has become more parochial. Progressive movements that gave social grievance a political form have faded. Instead, the new oppositional movements are often rooted in religious or ethnic identity and take sectarian or separatist forms.

There is a growing disaffection with anything “mainstream,” and a perception of the world as out of control and driven by malign forces. All this has helped incubate a sense of rage without an outlet, undermined people’s ties to others as human beings, and weakened the distinction between sociopathy and political violence. [Continue reading…]

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Former ISIS members open up to German investigators

Der Spiegel reports: Prior to his field trip into the realm of the murderous IS band, Nils D. had been a good-for-nothing. He would sleep until mid-day, then surf the Internet and meet up with his buddies in a café, where they took drugs, drank booze and played cards. They didn’t have any hobbies and they lacked any enthusiasm. The company that had provided him with vocational training fired him because he wasn’t attending the vocational school courses that were part of the program. Afterward, the most he found were temporary jobs. “I was a pothead,” Nils D. says. “I didn’t feel like doing anything.”

This continued for years. Then D. discovered Islam through his cousin Philip B. and became a Salafist. He was still serving a sentence for grand theft when his cousin and the other guys went to Syria to fight. Then, during the autumn of 2013, D. also traveled to the “caliphate.”

During his trial in the dock of the Higher Regional Court in Düsseldorf, Nils D. said “he wanted to see things for himself.” He then quickly became part of the murderous system. In Manbij, he joined a special IS unit. The force’s task was to capture suspected traitors, spies or deserters. D. is believed to have taken part in up to 15 missions.

He also knew what happened to the men he had helped to capture. The former pothead from Dinslaken knew about the wooden crates they would be placed in. There were large ones in which they could stand, sandwiched. And there were small ones in which the prisoners could only crouch — sometimes for days at a time.

Nils D. sported a typical Islamist beard. Whenever he went out, it was always dressed in black and with his face covered. He attended five executions as a spectator. “I had goosebumps all over,” D. would later tell investigators with the State Office of Criminal Investigation in Düsseldorf. “But after a while it bounces off you.” [Continue reading…]

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How a secretive branch of ISIS built a global network of killers

The New York Times reports: Believing he was answering a holy call, Harry Sarfo left his home in the working-class city of Bremen last year and drove for four straight days to reach the territory controlled by the Islamic State in Syria.

He barely had time to settle in before members of the Islamic State’s secret service, wearing masks over their faces, came to inform him and his German friend that they no longer wanted Europeans to come to Syria. Where they were really needed was back home, to help carry out the group’s plan of waging terrorism across the globe.

“He was speaking openly about the situation, saying that they have loads of people living in European countries and waiting for commands to attack the European people,” Mr. Sarfo recounted on Monday, in an interview with The New York Times conducted in English inside the maximum-security prison near Bremen. “And that was before the Brussels attacks, before the Paris attacks.”

The masked man explained that, although the group was well set up in some European countries, it needed more attackers in Germany and Britain, in particular. “They said, ‘Would you mind to go back to Germany, because that’s what we need at the moment,’” Mr. Sarfo recalled. “And they always said they wanted to have something that is occurring in the same time: They want to have loads of attacks at the same time in England and Germany and France.”

The operatives belonged to an intelligence unit of the Islamic State known in Arabic as the Emni, which has become a combination of an internal police force and an external operations branch, dedicated to exporting terror abroad, according to thousands of pages of French, Belgian, German and Austrian intelligence and interrogation documents obtained by The Times.

The Islamic State’s attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 brought global attention to the group’s external terrorism network, which began sending fighters abroad two years ago. Now, Mr. Sarfo’s account, along with those of other captured recruits, has further pulled back the curtain on the group’s machinery for projecting violence beyond its borders.

What they describe is a multilevel secret service under the overall command of the Islamic State’s most senior Syrian operative, spokesman and propaganda chief, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani. Below him is a tier of lieutenants empowered to plan attacks in different regions of the world, including a “secret service for European affairs,” a “secret service for Asian affairs” and a “secret service for Arab affairs,” according to Mr. Sarfo. [Continue reading…]

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Angela Merkel defends Germany’s refugee policy after attacks

The Guardian reports: Angela Merkel has delivered a staunch defence of her open door policy towards refugees, insisting she feels no guilt over a series of violent attacks in Germany and was right to allow hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees to arrive last summer.

“A rejection of the humanitarian stance we took could have led to even worse consequences,” the German chancellor said, adding that the assailants “wanted to undermine our sense of community, our openness and our willingness to help people in need. We firmly reject this.”

Repeating her infamous “wir schaffen das” – we can manage it – mantra, delivered last summer at the peak of the refugee crisis, Merkel said: “I didn’t say it would be easy.”

“I said back then, and I’ll say it again, Germany is a strong country. I called it a task for the whole nation. But just as we’ve managed so much already, we’ll manage this.” [Continue reading…]

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Why Putin prefers Trump

Mikhail Zygar writes: The year 2005 was a turning point in Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy and worldview. Until then, he’d had the sense that he was in control on the world stage, that he knew the rules of the game, that he understood whom he was dealing with and who his partners were. But in 2005, everything changed, and slowly the ground started moving out from under his feet.

That was the year Putin’s friend and partner Gerhard Schroeder lost the German elections and resigned as chancellor. Schroeder and Putin, who spoke German after serving in the KGB in East Germany, understood each other well and established close diplomatic and personal ties. But in 2005, Schroeder was replaced by Angela Merkel, whom Putin didn’t understand — and doesn’t understand to this day. In the intervening 12 years, he started suspecting Merkel of deceiving him, spinning intrigues and weaving conspiracies against him. He showed his distrust by bringing his dog to meetings with Merkel, knowing full well that she had an intense fear of canines.

Now, Putin seems to be experiencing déjà vu: In the upcoming U.S. election, the battle is, once again, between a Gerhard Schroeder and an Angela Merkel—but with the differences and the stakes hugely amplified. The American Merkel is even more unpleasant to Putin. Hillary Clinton is already inclined to dislike him and Russia from her experience as secretary of state. Their personal interactions have not been positive; there is no love lost between the two. And then you have the American Schroeder, who seems to be an even better fit for Putin than the German one, and better even than Putin’s favorite international partner, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Donald Trump, in the Kremlin’s view, is extremely pragmatic, extremely unprincipled and extremely cynical — which makes him easier to reach an understanding with. Not to mention that Trump, unlike Clinton and just about the entire rest of the Washington foreign policy class, has explicitly expressed admiration and sympathy for Putin.

This is the kind of relationship with a US president the Kremlin has dreamed about, and has been unable to attain, for years. [Continue reading…]

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In Germany, anti-Muslim extremists may pose as big a threat as Islamist militants

The Washington Post reports: When an 18-year old German Iranian killed nine people and then shot himself on Friday in Munich, speculation that it was an Islamist attack circulated for hours.

But doubts arose when a video was uploaded in which the attacker can be heard shouting: “I am German.”

On Wednesday, German media cited police sources as saying that they now had credible information that the attacker was a right-wing extremist who hated Arabs and Turks. Although he was not thought to have been associated with any right-wing groups, according to those media reports, the sources called him a “racist.” His victims were mostly foreigners.

It would not be the first time an anti-Muslim attacker has been mistaken for an Islamist extremist in Germany.

Germany is still wrestling with the anti-Muslim terror group National Socialist Underground (NSU), which killed 10 people — most of them Turks — between 2000 and 2007. Investigators had initially blamed Germany’s immigrant community for most of the deaths, characterizing them as the result of infighting and organized-gang activity.

Two of the NSU suspects later killed themselves; a third, Beate Zschäpe, is on trial in Munich. The attacks have fostered deep mistrust between Germany’s large immigrant community and authorities: The country’s intelligence services stand accused of having deliberately ignored clues that right-wing extremists had carried out the killings. [Continue reading…]

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Germany faces one of its greatest political challenges since World War II

By Holger Nehring, University of Stirling

Within the space of a week a teenager seriously injured three people on a train in Würzburg before being shot dead by police and another shot and killed nine people in a Munich shopping centre. A Syrian man was also arrested in the city of Reutlingen after a woman died in a knife attack, and another Syrian man is dead and several injured after he set off a bomb in Ansbach.

Four events, one seeming similarity. The attackers were all either asylum seekers or Germans from an immigrant background. They seemed to be people bringing terror from war-torn places to the pristine streets of German towns and cities. This is certainly the conclusion that the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany) promotes. Curiously, it is also one that has coloured news reports of these incidents outside Germany.

Before the facts were known, the BBC wheeled out various counter-terrorism experts to comment on Munich and CNN reported that Muslim fundamentalists were thought to be on the loose before any such knowledge was clear. French president François Hollande was calling Munich a terrorist incident before the facts were available.

For many Germans, for many around the world, Islamic State (IS) – and even Islam itself – provide good placeholders while we gather specific knowledge about what is going on. We must have someone to blame as soon as possible.

[Read more…]

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Boris Johnson rebuked for blaming Munich shooting on terrorists

The Guardian reports: The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, was urged to avoid passing politically sensitive judgments on world events until he was in full possession of the facts after he prematurely blamed Islamist terrorists for the killings in Munich on Friday.

Johnson made his remarks before the identity of the killer – an 18-year-old German citizen of Iranian descent who was obsessed with mass slaughter – had been known.

Although early reports of the attack, in which Ali Sonboly shot nine people dead before killing himself, suggested a gang of three people might be on the loose in Munich in a terror attack reminiscent of the killings in Paris, no definitive information was available and the authorities had not identified a motive for the killings.

Speaking about the attack on Friday while in New York, Johnson told the press that that the “global sickness” of terrorism needed to be tackled at its source in the Middle East.

“If, as seems very likely, this is another terrorist incident, then I think it proves once again that we have a global phenomenon and a global sickness that we have to tackle both at the source – in the areas where the cancer is being incubated in the Middle East – and also of course around the world.”

He added: “We have to ask ourselves, what is going on? How is the switch being thrown in the minds of these people?”

Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, told the Guardian: “Just days into his new role, Boris demonstrates again why it was a huge gamble appointing him. The off-the-cuff remark may suit Have I Got News for You, but it doesn’t the tragedy in Munich. In future, Boris needs to hold his tongue until he is in full possession of the facts. There is too much as stake.” [Continue reading…]

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How did the media cover the Munich attack?

 

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Munich killer was troubled, but had no terrorist ties, Germany says

The New York Times reports: He had been bullied at more than one school. He played violent video games, and developed a fascination with mass shootings. He kept a copy of the German edition of “Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters,” a study by an American academic psychologist, and he was treated for psychiatric problems.

Somewhere along the way, Ali Sonboly got his hands on a 9-millimeter Glock handgun, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition for it. And at 5:52 p.m. on Friday, at a McDonald’s in Munich a few miles from where he lived with his mother, father and brother, he started shooting.

Mr. Sonboly, 18, moved on to a shopping mall across the street, then to the top level of an adjacent parking garage. By the time his rampage was done, he had killed eight other young people and one middle-aged person. Then, in front of two police officers, he killed himself with his own gun, the police said. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: A copy of a German translation of the 2009 work, by the American academic Peter Langman, was found by police in the bedroom of the gunman, identified as Ali Sonbaly.

The book examines the factors that combine to turn young people into mass murderers. It classifies 10 school killers into three groups: psychopathic, psychotic, and traumatised.

The 10 include the Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who shot dead 12 students and one teacher in Littleton, Colorado in April 1999; and the Virginia Tech gunman, Cho Seung-hui, who killed 32 people at the university in April 2007.

Katherine Newman, a professor of sociology at Princeton University and senior author of the book Rampage: the Social Roots of School Shootings, described Why Kids Kill as a dispassionate but clinically powerful analysis.

“It provides an interior view of the mind of rampage school-shooters that helps us understand the origins of the narcissism, paranoia, sadism, and thwarted rage that appears to motivate them … We come to understand the differences between shooters who are psychopaths and those who are schizophrenics, and why these distinctions matter,” she said. [Continue reading…]

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Afghan teenager who attacked passengers on German train ‘wanted revenge’ for friend’s death

BBC News reports: Prosecutors in Germany say a teenager who attacked train passengers with an axe in Wuerzburg had learnt that a friend had been killed in Afghanistan, and wanted to get revenge.

The 17 year-old, who arrived in Germany a year ago as an unaccompanied refugee, injured four people, two critically, in the attack on Monday evening.

He was shot dead by police as he fled. [Continue reading…]

Deutsche Welle reports: The Afghan teenager, who travelled to Germany unaccompanied to seek asylum, had been staying with a foster family in the town of Ochsenfurt. The assault sparked concerns among other Afghan asylum seekers in Germany who now fear it could further delay their asylum application process.

“I condemn the incident in the strongest of words. I also want to stress that it is an act of an individual and it should be treated as such,” said 19-year-old Abdullah, who has been living in Germany for six months.

Abdullah is worried that the situation for Afghan asylum seekers could deteriorate even further following a series of attacks by radicalized Muslims across the world.

“It is becoming worse for Afghan asylum seekers, especially after what happened recently in the US and France. People in Europe will now have a more skeptical view of the refugees,” said 27-year-old Jawid, another asylum seeker.

Jawid, who like many other Afghans has only one name, was referring to the recent terrorist attacks in these countries – the Orlando shooting in the US which killed 49 people, and the truck attack in the French city of Nice that claimed 84 lives. The Orlando shooter was also of Afghan origin.

But these incidents are isolated cases and should not be attributed to all Afghan migrants, said Zargar Haroon, a refugee. “The German people should understand that it is the same violence that made us flee our own country,” he added. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: Germany’s “welcoming culture” that defined 2015 has largely disappeared, and Monday’s attack could mark another significant new development in the country’s public debate about refugees.

Skepticism had particularly risen after the sexual assaults of about 1,200 women on New Year’s Eve, which put the country into a shock mode for weeks and sparked a backlash against refugees after authorities said that many of the suspects were asylum seekers from North Africa.

So far, concerns focused primarily on young male refugees who had come to the country alone. Monday’s axe-attack has raised new questions over whether German authorities are too overwhelmed to provide adequate support for those refugees, and particularly for unaccompanied minors.

Authorities in Bavaria, the southern German region where the attack occurred, said on Tuesday that they had put a particular focus on Salafist recruitment efforts of unaccompanied minors for months. It was unclear whether those efforts had been taken based on specific information indicating that recruiters were targeting minors, or whether they were part of more general precautions.

“Maybe we need to take care of unaccompanied minors even more so that they can overcome their trauma,” said Friedhelm Hofmann, the bishop of Würzburg, which is located in the proximity of where the attacker lived. Hofmann was quoted by local German newspapers as saying that it would be wrong to put all asylum seekers under general suspicion, following the attack. [Continue reading…]

At a time when there is a global refugee crisis — a crisis that has been exacerbated in the Middle East by Western interventionism and anti-interventionism — the Western attitude towards refugees fleeing conflict has ranged from compassionate, to charitable, to fearful.

There is a prevailing sentiment that to the extent that the needs of refugees are met, refugees themselves are expected to be grateful for whatever help they receive. No doubt, most are.

But suppose the Trump mentality — xenophobic, fearful, and mean-spirited — was applied to all people in need: to children with behavioral problems, teenagers in foster care, the homeless, drug addicts, victims of domestic violence, and so forth.

Suppose that whenever an individual from such a segment of the population committed an act of violence or other crime, the public and political response was to declare that we can’t help these people. There would be no social services. There would be no philosophy of care. The guiding principle upon which society would function would be that those in need should be shunned and cast aside. There would in effect be no such thing as society.

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