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Opinion: Terror means to frighten

A new Europol report of possible terror attacks in Europe has raised public alarm. There is little new about the agency's warning, yet fear is growing - and, thus, the "Islamic State" has achieved its goal.

The word terror comes from Latin and means to frighten. The goal of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) is to spread fear and fright, therefore it is right to label the group a terrorist organization. Germans are scared of IS. Yet, they themselves are incapable of assessing the threat it poses - so they have to trust politicians, experts and the media to do so.

What the new Europol report says:

1. IS has a new tactic

2. There will be an attack in Europe

3. Fighters are already here

The natural reaction: fear.

The supposedly "new tactic" was announced by now-dead IS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani back in 2014. He said, in summary: Carry out attacks on "disbelieving" Westerners, no matter who they may be and with whatever weapons possible, if feasible, with high numbers of casualties. He stated the aim of such attacks as well: To bring so much terror to the West that "neighbor fears neighbor." Is that what we want?

von der Mark Fabian Kommentarbild App

DW's Fabian von der Mark

Imminent attack?

Since then, there have been a number of terrorist attacks in Europe (Brussels, Paris, Nice, Essen, Hanover, Würzburg) and no one can say whether more will follow. It is likely they will, and for that reason authorities are on high-alert. Recently, potential terrorists and high-ranking Islamists have been arrested in Germany, and vigilance is high throughout Europe. Is it not already high enough?

Security and intelligence agencies have been observing European fighters returning to Germany, France and Belgium from Syria and Iraq. Some of those returning are frustrated and traumatized, others are now working with European authorities and others still could carry out attacks. Moreover, there are also potential attackers in Germany that have never been to Syria or Iraq. Described as possible threats by Europol, authorities are now trying to keep an eye on all of these people. Does one really have to remind them of the need to do so?

Threatening, but not new

The situation is every bit as alarming as it has been for the last two years. But there is nothing new about Europol's findings. Of course intelligence and security agencies have other concrete information - and say that they are aware of lower and higher levels of "chatter." And decisions by politicians and police authorities are made based on such knowledge. But what decisions can citizens make?

Frankreich Fußball Stade de France (picture alliance/Sven Simon)

Fans crowded onto the pitch at the Stade de France during the Paris attacks

Should they stop using public transportation? Avoid Christmas markets? After attacks, politicians rightly proclaim that we must not give up our freedom, our lifestyle and our open society; that we must continue to live our lives as we always have. But this should also be our motto prior to attacks as well.

Citizens must certainly be informed about new terror threats. Yet, what good are sensational reports that simply state generalizations?

Panic is the aim

We experienced something similar before football's 2016 European Championship in France. At the time, the German tabloid "Bild" quoted a report by the German Federal Criminal Office (BKA): "A successful attack on a team from a 'crusader nation,' to which Germany is also counted, would have great symbolic importance." One need not be a terror expert to know that such an attack would please IS. But what do such reports do beyond ruining trips to stadiums, Oktoberfest or Christmas markets?

Sure, an agency gets attention from such reports, and newspapers attract readers - though both needs are legitimate, they are of secondary importance in the fight against terror. Last year in Europe, 170 times as many people were killed in automobile accidents than in terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, Germans fear nothing more than terrorism - partly because the fear of such attacks is constantly stoked. We should end the scaremongering; that's the terrorists' job, not ours. Terror means to frighten - and we want to win the fight against terror.  

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