Calculations suggest that the returning Islamist fighters from Syria and Iraq will soon present the largest domestic security threat ever to the Federal Republic.
(Editor’s Note: This article is an abridged and updated translation of the original article published in October 2014 in the German webzine Blaue Narzisse.)
|Replica of Islamist suitcase bombs employed in the failed 2006 plot against Western German trains|
The problem of militant Syrian returnees threatens to bring the war in Mesopotamia to the shores of the Rhine and Danube. Since mid-2013, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the German domestic intelligence service, has been registering a steadily growing stream of Muslim residents leaving for jihad, but only slowly the grand coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats has reacted to the menace. Repeated calls of the ‘Islamic State’ and Al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda, to retaliate against members of the US-led alliance and their nationals have alerted Western governments to their vulnerability on the ‘home front’.
In a poll conducted by ZDF, the second-largest German public-service television broadcaster, around 60 percent of the respondents expressed their concern that Islamists are going to commit terror attacks in Germany. In May, an Algerian Syria veteran killed four people in an attack on the Jewish Museum in Bruxelles, the first of its kind on European soil. Last week, the president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Hans-Georg Maaßen, told the press that 550 individuals from the Federal Republic have joined the jihad in Syria or Iraq — twice the number of one year ago.
The ‘terror formula’
In the following, I attempt to determine how long it will take until an Islamic terror organization has been established on German soil. At what point in time have enough radicals returned from the war-zone to reach the critical mass and network density sufficient for a permanent jihadist underground organization in Germany? While it is clear that such a development cannot be precisely predicted on the basis of a numerical function, it is equally obvious that the probability of a Muslim guerrilla grows with the number of ideologically motivated and militarily experienced Islamists.
The communist Red Army Faction (RAF), which waged war against the Bonn Republic in the 1970s and 1980s, provides a historical comparison. According to Horst Herold, the former head of the Federal Criminal Police Office and leading anti-RAF investigator of the time, the number of RAF members hiding from prosecution, the inner terrorist circle, amounted “over the entire period to consistently fifty to sixty persons”. Hence, this number of personnel was sufficient to secure, against the prosecution efforts of the federal police, its survival as an underground organization capable of terrorist action.
Thus, the question is how many jihad travellers does it take until Islamic terrorism in Germany will have reached the strength of the RAF of sixty terrorists and at what point in time will that be? Based on the data provided in the regular press releases of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution since mid-2013, one can easily calculate that on average one Islamist per day left for Syria.
All the other statistical information necessary is also approximately available:
- survival rate
- return rate
- militarization rate
About one in nine of these jihadists perished in the Near East, according to Maaßen. The return rate is subject to variation, as the conflict persists and some Islamists only temporarily return to Germany to recover from the war; the number of returnees is currently estimated at around one-third. The militarization rate denotes the number of jihadists who continue to pursue terrorist activities after their return at home. The Norwegian terrorism expert Thomas Hegghammer concludes in his survey that about every ninth returnee in the period from 1990 to 2010 turned to a domestic terrorist.1
By using the formula
x * 8/9 (survival rate) * y (return rate) * 1/9 (militarization rate) = 60,
and assuming a varying return rate of one third, two thirds or three fourths, one can now determine that some 1820, 910 and 810 jihadists respectively must have gone through the radicalization process in the Levant until Muslim terrorism in Germany will have reached the manpower of the RAF. Provided that the number of Syria travellers continues to increase in a linear way, this will be the case in 8-42 months’ time, that is sometime between summer 2015 and mid-2018. During this period, the Islamist terror potential will surpass, mathematically, that of the left-wing extremist RAF, the largest domestic security challenge to the Federal Republic to date.
Hegghammer, moreover, identified a “veteran effect”, according to which the involvement of an experienced fighter makes it twice as probable that a terror plot will have a deadly effect.2 To make matters worse, the Islamist supporter scene of around 6,000 salafists is already today larger than that of the RAF at its time.
It is also worth recalling that the calculation is necessarily restricted only to the number of 550 jihadist travellers who are known to the German Verfassungsschutz; Maaßen believes their actual number to be “substantially higher”. In October, information leaked to the press suggested that the agency estimates the total number of prospective fighters having travelled to Syria to be four times as high, at that time 1,800 persons.
If this estimate is correct, the emergence of Islamic terrorism in Germany may be a foregone conclusion, because even if the stream of fighters from Germany would abruptly and completely dry up now, and only as little as one third would ever make its way back to Germany, their sheer number is sufficient to achieve parity with the RAF as early as mid-2015.
However, the Verfassungsschutz has succeeded only in a small number of cases to provide enough evidence for their actual participation in combat operations. It is unclear what the remainder is doing in the Levant and to what extent they are active combatants, and thus potential domestic threats for the purposes of this analysis.
Changes in German security situation and public awareness
Compared to the times of the RAF, the German security situation has undergone considerable change — to the worse. The abolition of border controls in the Schengen Area has created a continuous area of operation for terrorists: the Bruxelles perpetrator was an ethnic Algerian with a French passport who arrived by plane in Germany in order to strike in Belgium. It is doubtful whether the announced intensified cooperation of the national security agencies will be enough to neutralize the freedom of movement terrorists enjoy in the EU — with 26 Schengen states the net has become wide, while the threat by the Syrian terror breeding ground is steadily getting more immanent: the EU counter-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove estimates the Islamist fighters from Europe to number around 3,000 people. After the terror attack in Bruxelles, the director of the German Police Union warned that “the permanent observation of even a single person is immensely personnel-intensive” and that the observation of all returning fighters around the clock is “completely illusory”.
It can thus be concluded that the arrival of organized Islamist terror in Germany is only a question of time. Unlike the first wave of Al-Qaeda attacks against Western targets between 2001 and 2005, which was still widely perceived — rightly or wrongly — as an external threat, the German public, as in other Western countries, has developed a keen awareness of the domestic dimension of the problem. It won’t fail to notice that it is the sons and grand-sons of Muslim guest-workers, supported by the odd German convert to Islam, who have turned into a fifth column against their host country. This in turn will likely lead to a major reevaluation of the negative effects of multiculturalism and non-Western mass immigration as a whole, a reawakening process which is already underway as the current PEGIDA street protests demonstrate.
 Ibid. 11