A European terror expert who used to head up Berlin’s police and intelligence agency has denied that there is any link between the recent spate of terror attacks across France and Germany, and the migrant crisis which saw over a million completely un-vetted migrants enter Europe last year.
On Sunday night a Syrian man killed himself and injured twelve others when he detonated a shrapnel packed bomb in Ansbach. Hours earlier another Syrian failed asylum seeker killed a pregnant woman with a machete and injured two others. And days previously yet another asylum seeker hacked at a family on a train using an axe, seriously injuring four people.
Yet speaking to Euractiv, Alexander Ritzmann, who currently chairs the Communication and Narratives Working Group at the European Commission’s Radicalisation Awareness Network, insisted that the recent attacks had nothing to do with immigration and must not be allowed to derail European migration policies.
“There is a perception that the attacks are linked to the welcoming of refugees to Germany. But it is the job of policymakers and the media to help the population understand the difference,” he said.
Mr. Ritzmann argued that murders by migrants should be treated in the same way as crimes carried out by native Germans, and must not be allowed to effect policy.
“If there are 500,000 Syrian refugees and one of them stabs someone that is not something that policy should be dealing with,” he said. “It is a crime and it should be investigated by the police.”
He added: “And, by the way, the average Syrian refugee commits fewer crimes than the average German citizen.”
That claim is almost impossible to verify, not least as many migrants claiming to be Syrian have entered the country on forged documents in order to take advantage of a blanket invitation to Syrian refugees to come to Germany.
However, a police brochure on crime statistics put the total number of German suspects for all crimes in 2015 at 1,456,078, or around 2 per cent of the German population, while the total number of non-German suspects, excluding those suspected of illegally crossing the border, at 401,632, around 6 per cent of the non-German population.
That aside, Mr. Ritzmann admitted that allowing so many migrants in at once creates the “potential for radicalisation and for sectarian violence [as] the refugees bring the conflict [in Syria] with them,” and he acknowledges that the migrants may radicalise others in the future. But he is satisfied that the way to address this is through the government working with the “right organisations”, even those with links to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Assessing the political landscape in Germany, Mr. Ritzmann predicted that Islamic State using the migrant crisis to infiltrate Germany could topple Angela Merkel.
“If there are continuous attacks by people classified as refugees or by individuals who falsely came here under a refugee status, it could cost [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel the election, absolutely.”
But to his mind, the tactic by Islamic State is less traditional warfare – sending soldiers to attack an enemy – more a clever propaganda exercise.
“This is a trick by so-called Islamic State,” he said. “Every terrorist organisation can bring operatives into a country. What they are doing is tainting the whole concept of taking in refugees, playing into the angst of German people, making them suspicious of refugees. That enables radicalisation and propaganda. They say that in their publications. The fact that ISIS is using people pretending to be refugees is a political trap. We are smart enough as a society not to fall into that trap and our political leadership and media must identify that trap and not fall into it.”
His answer, for Europe as a whole, is to continue with the current policy of allowing migrants to come.
“We really need to keep calm and carry on. We need to analyse whether there is a threat from the refugees. In France, it seems to be an issue that is not linked to refugees. It is way too early to come up with policy recommendations as we don’t have the facts.
“It’s important we don’t mix integration and immigration with terrorism. We need to separate the two things.”