EXTREMISMDoes Germany's Special Network to Prevent Islamist Extremists' Attacks Work?

By Marcel Fürstenau

Published 23 July 2022

Political and religious extremism has long been seen as a threat to democracy in Germany. The Counter Terrorism Center is where agencies and police network to prevent Islamist extremist attacks. Is it effective?

December 19, 2016, was a particularly dark day for Germany’s Joint Counter Terrorism Center. That was the day when the terrorist Anis Amri steered a stolen truck into a crowd of people at the Christmas market on Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz. Twelve people died, and over 60 were injured, some of them critically. Many victims are still suffering today from the consequences of the worst Islamist attack in Germany.

The tragic twist to the story was that police had had the attacker on their radar for a long time. The Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) had long had him on their list of “Gefährder” (potential attackers or dangerous persons), a term used for suspects who might carry out an attack at any time. The special investigator appointed by the Berlin Senate gave the security authorities a devastating report, saying “everything that could be done wrong, was done wrong.”

Anti-Terror Network
Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, who has been in office since 2021, was far away from Berlin at the time. She was a member of the Hesse state parliament. In her new role, she has paid a visit to the Joint Counter Terrorism Center, or GTAZ, in Berlin, which deals exclusively with the issue of Islamist extremism.

Here, 40 federal and state security agencies work together. The large number is mainly due to the fact that all 16 German states have their own Criminal Investigation Office (LKA) and their own domestic intelligence agency (Verfassungsschutz). Every day, the representatives meet in a long conference room to discuss the current threat levels.

The Interior Minister described this form of networking as the “most important building block” in the fight against Islamist terrorism. Since the GTAZ was founded in 2004, 21 attacks have been prevented, she said, calling this a “great achievement.” But in eleven more cases, security authorities were too late, she admits. “This shows that the threat level remains high,” Faeser concluded.

While the Interior Minister was upbeat in her assessment of the German “security architecture” — a label for this formalized interaction of the authorities – other politicians were more critical.

In view of the many mishaps before and after the Breitscheidplatz attack, conservative MP Stephan Harbarth came to the conclusion that, “federalism can become an obstacle to the fight against Islamist terrorism.” He made his remarks following the special investigator’s final report in 2017.