Germany’s plan of conducting security investigations of all military recruits appears to be more and more a concrete reality.
German media reported on 5 November that the military counter-intelligence service (MAD) identified 20 Islamists in the country’s armed forces. An agency’s spokesman confirmed the figure later, adding that other 60 potential cases are under investigation for suspected links to Islamist militants.
Early in 2015, MAD had already warned that extremists could have potentially taken advance of the German Military to gain skills that they could then take to groups such as the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Reportedly, in fact, Daesh and other terrorist organizations were actively encouraging their followers to join states military forces to get training. This seemed to be confirmed, according to MAD President Christof Gramm, by the fact that, for example, the killers who launched an attack on the Paris magazine Charlie Hebdo had military skills.
Two months after this attack, Gramm proposed for the first time an initial check for applicants to armed services.
After multiple Islamist militant attacks that shook Germany in July this year, the German government decided in August to allow preliminary background checks on recruits to be done starting in July 2017. At that time it was reported that more than 300 German soldiers were being investigated for some forms of suspected extremism: 268 suspected right-wing extremists, 64 suspected Islamists and six suspected left-wing extremists.
According to MAD it has been decided to speed things up after recruitment offices across the country have reported increasing individual inquiries from applicants expressing a commitment request to join the German Military (Bundeswehr) of only few months and expressly interested in intensive weapons and equipment training.
Currently, under German military law, recruits only need to present their police records and formally agree to comply with the German constitution to enlist; moreover just service members that have already enlisted, including soldiers and officers, are vetted.
The new measure, if adopted, would allow conducting comprehensive background checks on all applicants as of January 2017 and it would result in at least 20,000 screenings annually, causing some €8.2 billion in additional expenditures.
The German army is regarded as one of Europe’s most capable in terms of training. During army boot camp, recruits are taught shooting and marksmanship skills, map reading and topography, and the fundamentals of woodland and urban warfare, as well as to give emergency aid. Having said that, it is evident that Islamic infiltrations in the national army constitute a serious risk not only for insider attacks in country but also for the rest of Europe.
However, this measure has received critics from several parts of the public opinion, both in Germany and outside. The Measure is, in fact, considered in line with the questioned new state defence plan put in place in August, which entails for citizens to stockpile food and water enough to last for at least ten days, in the event of a major disaster or armed attack.
According to its critics, the German government seems concentrating its efforts just on radical Islam, when the country is relatively safe in comparison to France and other nations. There would be instead other areas that need particular attention like right and left wing extremists.
The so-called Islamic State (IS) group confirmed on 30 August that one of its most prominent and longest-serving leaders, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, was killed in what appears to be an American air strike in Syria, effectively depriving the militant group of the man in charge of directing attacks overseas.
IS’ Amaq News Agency has reported that Adnani was killed “while surveying the operations to repel the military campaigns against Aleppo.” While IS holds territory in the province of Aleppo, it does not control the city, where rebels are fighting Syrian government forces. Amaq did not say how Adnani, born Taha Subhi Falaha in Syria’s Idlib Province in 1977, was killed, however it did publish a eulogy dated 29 August. A US defense official has also disclosed that the United States targeted Adnani in a Tuesday strike on a vehicle that was travelling in the Syrian town of al-Bab. The official however stopped short of confirming Adnani’s death. Such US assessments usually take several days to confirm and often lag behind official announcements made by militant groups.
Adnani was one of the last living senior members of IS, along with self-appointed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who founded the group, which would later go on to seize huge parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014. He was a Syrian from Binish in Idlib, southwest of Aleppo, who pledged allegiance to IS’ predecessor, al-Qaeda, more than a decade ago. He was once imprisoned by US forces in Iraq. He was from a well-to-do background however he left Syria to travel to Iraq in order to fight US forces there after the 2003 invasion. He returned to his homeland after the start of its own civil war in 2011. According to the Brookings Institution, he once taught theology and law in jihadi training camps. He had been the chief propagandist for IS since he declared in a June 2014 statement that it was establishing a modern-day caliphate spanning swaths of territory that it had seized in Iraq and neighbouring Syria. As IS’ spokesman, Adnani was its most visible member, often being the face of the militant group, such as when he issued a message in May urging attacks on the US and Europe during the holy month of Ramadan and as in September 2014, when he called on supporters to kill Westerners throughout the world. As the group’s head of external operations, he was in charge of attacks overseas, including in Europe, which this year have become an increasingly important tactic for the group as its core Iraqi and Syrian territory has ben eroded by military losses. Under Adnani’s auspices, IS launched large-scale attacks, bombings and shootings on civilians in countries outside its core area of operations, including France, Belgium and Turkey. According to one US official, Adnani’s roles as propaganda chief and director of external operations had become “indistinguishable” because the group uses its online messages in order to recruit fighters and to provide instruction and inspiration for attacks.
According to SITE Intelligence monitoring group, which monitors jihadist activity online, a statement in the group’s al-Naba newspaper has indicated that the group reacted by stated that his death would not harm it and that his killers would face “torment,” adding “today, they rejoice for the killing…and then they will cry much when Allah will overpower them, with His permission, with affliction of the worst torment by the soldiers of Abu Muhammad and his brothers.” A US counter-terrorism official, who monitors IS, has disclosed that Adnani’s death will hurt the militants “in the area that increasingly concerns us as the group loses more and more of its caliphate and its financial base…and turns to mounting and inspiring more attacks in Europe, Southeast Asia and elsewhere.”
On the ground, advances by Iraq’s army and allied milita towards IS’ most important possession in the country, Mosul, have put the group under new pressure at a time when a US-backed coalition has cut its Syrian holdings off from the Turkish border. These setbacks have also been due to air strikes, which have killed a number of the group’s leaders and which have undermined its organizational ability and dampened its morale.
Amongst senior IS officials killed in air strikes this year are Abu Ali al-Anbari, Baghdadis’ formal deputy, and the group’s “minister of war,” Abu Omar al-Shishani.
Police operations carried out in Mons and Liege last week resulted in two brothers being arrested on suspicion of carrying an attack on the country.
One of the men arrested, named only as Nouredine H, 33, has ben charged over an alleged plot to attack Belgium. He is accused of attempting to commit a “terrorist murder” and participation in the activities of a terrorist organization and was arrested along with his brother Hamza H. Hamza H. has since been released from police custody without charge. The raids were carried out by federal police in the cities of Mons and Liege, with officials disclosing that no weapons or explosives were found during the operations. In a statement, the federal prosecution office disclosed that “based on provisional results from the investigation, it appears that there were plans to carry out an attack somewhere in Belgium.” The French version of the statement referred to “planning attacks” in the plural.
Belgium is currently on security alert level three, of four, effectively meaning that the threat is considered serious, possible and probable. In March, thirty-two people were killed after attacks were carried out on Brussels Airport and a metro station in the city. Last month, Belgian police disclosed that they had received warning that a group of so-called Islamic State (IS) fighters had recently left Syria and were heading to Europe to plan attacks in Belgium and neighbouring France.
On 16 June, a Belgian court cleared the extradition to France of two suspects who are currently under investigation in connection with Islamist militant attacks that occurred in Paris last November.
A statement released by the Belgian government disclosed that a Brussels appeals court “declared enforceable” European arrest warrants issued by France for Moahmed Amri and Ali Oulkadi. The prime surviving suspect of the 13 November Paris attacks, which killed 130 people, is Salah Abdeslam, a French citizen who was born and raised in Belgium. He was captured in Brussels on 18 March, after a four-month manhunt, and was handed over to French authorities on 27 April. In May, France sought the extradition of Amri. According to investigators, Amri drove to Paris shortly after the attacks to fetch Abdeslam and bring him to Belgium. Oulkadi, a Frenchman who lived in Brussels, has ben accused of driving Abdeslam on 14 November.
The Paris bomb and shooting attacks were claimed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, as were the 22 March bombings at Brussels airport and a metro station, which killed 32 people.
A court in Belgium has approved the extradition to France of Mohamed Abrini, a key suspect in both the Paris and Brussels attacks. Prosecutors however have disclosed that he may not be handed over for some time as he is currently being investigated in Belgium. Mohamed Bakkali, another suspect in the November 2015 attacks in Paris, will also be extradited.
Belgian judges have agreed that both men should be sent to France in order to face questioning over the Paris attacks, which killed 130 people. Prior to the hearing, Belgian prosecutors disclosed that Abrini would not be handed over the French authorities immediately, as he was still being investigated over the bombings at Zaventem airport and at a metro station immediately after. According to a spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office, “the timeline is not at all fixed,” adding that it was possible that Abrini could stand trial in Belgium first before being handed over to France, or he might be questioned in Belgium by French investigators.
Abrini, a 31-year-old Belgian of Moroccan descent, was identified as “the man in the hat,” seen on CCTV just moments before the explosions at Brussels airport in March. He was also filmed at a petrol station in northern France with fellow suspect Salah Abdeslam, two days before the Paris attacks. He reportedly told investigators that he was at the scene of the 22 Mach suicide bombings in Brussels, which killed 32 people.
Investigators claim that the Brussels and Paris attackers were part of the same network, adding that they were backed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group. Abrini was said to be part of that cell, and before his arrest in Brussels in April, he was one of Europe’s most-wanted men.
The other suspect who will be extradited, 29-year-old Mohamed Bakkali, is believed to have rented the Brussels apartment where the suicide vests that were used in the Paris attacks were assembled.