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Global threats

Marcel Fürstenau / dc
February 25, 2015

The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence service, Hans-Georg Maassen, spoke about the threat of "crisis globalization" at this year’s European Police Convention in Berlin.

Deutschland Europäischer Polizeikongress in Berlin Plenum
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka

By way of introducing Maassen, the moderator of the congress reminded the audience of the latest terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen. Similar attacks could happen at any time in Berlin, Hamburg, or Munich, he said. Maassen, the president of Germany's Office for the Protection of the Constitution, then spoke at length about international crises and their consequences for security. His was a sobering message for the roughly 400 audience members.

Maassen said that the "number of brush fires is growing." Then he listed the countries: Syria, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen. Some of them, he said, are on their way to becoming failed states with no functioning government structures. He added that he was also concerned about the ability of Lebanon and Jordan to withstand the "onslaught of Islamism." The brush fires, he warned, are in danger of turning into a wildfire.

Armed crusaders

The domestic intelligence expert said he was most concerned about people "who are bringing these conflicts to Germany." He said that the estimated 7,000 Salafists on German soil are a "breeding ground" for radical jihadists and terrorists. That is increasing the danger that young people in Europe could try to carry out attacks here. Maassen spoke of the more than 600 radical Islamists who have left Germany to fight in Syria and Iraq. Of them, 200 have since returned to Germany, while around 70 have been killed – 10 during suicide attacks.

Across Europe, he said, there are approximately 4,000 such voluntary jihadists. They return having been exposed to the brutality of the Islamic State terror group, and trained in the use of weapons. The results were evident in the deadly attacks in Paris and Copenhagen. Maassen said that these people pose a challenge to police officers. Monitoring their threat potential around the clock is impossible. For that reason, he said, there is a collective social responsibility when dealing with possible terrorists. In addition to his office as well as other security services, Maassen said also expects cooperation from youth institutions and corrections facilities, adding that the attacker in Copenhagen was radicalized in prison.

Deutschland Europäischer Polizeikongress in Berlin Hans-Georg Maaßen
Terrorism is a global threat, warned MaassenImage: picture-alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka

When the threat came from the East

In the face of so many threats from so many directions, Maassen said it almost made him wistful when thinking of the past. During the classic East-West conflict, his office had to look "as far as East Berlin, or perhaps Moscow." But that shifted in 1972 with the Palestinian attack on the Israeli team during the Summer Olympic Games in Munich. Then came the giant push after September 11, 2001 and the terrorist attacks on the United States. The days of a "bipolar world" are over, he said.

It used to be that the terrorists of al Qaeda "never came out of their caves in Waziristan," said Maassen. Today, al Qaeda is competing with Islamic State to mobilize warriors for jihad. The West is their common enemy, and the war should be brought to Western cities. In the fight against terror, Maassen said he wished he could still count on a partnership that was strong only a few years ago – that with Russia. However, developments in Ukraine have lead to a mutual distancing. Maassen said his office is observing the use of "old KGB methods": disinformation and interference, especially in Eastern European states.

Protests about treatment of refugees

German and European security officers are also dealing the threats amassing along the EU's external borders. Frontex, the EU's external border management office, says there's a heightened risk of terrorists sneaking into the EU along with the flood of refugees, in particular from Syria and African countries. Klaus Rösler, director of operations for Frontex, said he fears a "mixing of migrant groups with foreign fighters."

Deutschland Europäischer Polizeikongress in Berlin Klaus Rösler
Rösler sees a threat of terrorists sneaking into Europe with refugeesImage: picture-alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka

Speaking at the convention, Rösler vehemently defended his agency against accusations that it was responsible for the death of suffering boat refugees. Instead, he pointed to shared rescue operations with international organizations, including the UNHCR, which have saved more than 23,000 people. While Rösler was speaking at the Berlin Convention Center, around 50 activists gathered outside in protest against the EU's policies on refugees, using chalk to write "Frontex plus police equals murder and racism" on the sidewalks.

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