Terror in Europe

Germany’s "Remote-Control" Terror Attacks, Online Chats Revealed

Investigators assume that ISIS instructors are looking for new candidates for becoming potential terrorists on the Internet. Chat protocols reveal how they proceed.

After the attack in Ansbach in July
Hans Leyendecker and Georg Mascolo

MUNICH â€" When German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière was talking last week about the arrests of the three alleged members of the terror group ISIS, he noted that there might also be individual perpetrators being "remote controlled." He appears to be talking about the culprits in the Würzburg and Ansbach attacks this summer in the German state of Bavaria.

"Remote controlled" â€" that’s a whole new category from the terrorism investigators’ point of view. The agents who are dealing with this new phenomenon act with the presumption that suspected ISIS instructors move freely across the Internet, recruiting new candidates who are likely to connect with them digitally â€" "followers-as-terrorists," in a way.

Police officers in Würzburg on July 18 â€" Photo: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/DPA/ZUMA

Würzburg, July 18, axe attack on a train. Riaz Khan A., the 17-year-old culprit had arrived in Germany as a refugee from Afghanistan without his parents in 2005. Nobody had noticed him as a “extremist.” But in secret, the boy was chatting online with alleged ISIS instructors.

Chat-partner: "What weapons do you need for the killing?"

Riaz A.: "Knives and an axe are placed ready."

Chat-partner: "Brother, don’t you think doing it with a car would be better?"

RiazA.: "I don’t know how to drive a car."

Chat-partner: "You should learn it."

RiazA.: "Learning takes time."

Chat-partner: "The damage would be considerably bigger."

RiazA.: "I want to go to paradise tonight."

The night of July 18, Riaz A. and the presumed ISIS guide were in particularly close contact, beginning at 6.34 p.m..

Riaz A.: "Brother, I’m sending you my video. I will carry out an attack with an axe in Germany today."

Riaz A. sent a video to an ISIS propaganda-agency: "I’m a holy warrior of the Islamic state. I will kill you with my knife and chop your heads with my axe, God willing."

Chat-partner: "Not with a knife. Do it with the axe. If you carry out the attack, God willing, the Islamic State will take responsibility for you."

RiazA.: "I’m sending you the video now."

Chat-partner: "Secure it quickly."

RiazA.: "Pray for me to become a martyr. I’m waiting for the train."

Shortly after that Riaz A. got on the regional train armed with a knife and an axe. After a while he wrote once more.

RiazA.: "I’m about to start."

Chat-partner: "Paradise is awaiting you."

Riaz A. severely injured four passengers on the train. On the run he attacked police officers and was eventually shot by a special task force agent.

Ansbach, July 24 suicide bombing outside a wine bar : The Syrian refugee Mohammed D. arrived in Germany in 2014. His family is believed to have been killed in Syria. Before that the 27-year-old had applied for asylum in Bulgaria, claiming he had been heavily abused there. In Ansbach a group of refugee workers took care of him. His application for asylum had been turned down. He attempted to kill himself, twice.

Broken window on July 24 after the explosion in Ansbach â€" Photo: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/DPA/ZUMA

Mohammed D. too was in contact with presumed ISIS instructors. He too had been asked to kill. The assault was supposed to take place at the music-festival "Ansbach Open 2016". Beforehand, Mohammed D. had sent the instructor a photo of the place where the festival was about to take place.

Mohammed D.: "This place will be crowded."

Chat-partner: "Kill them all, so they’ll all be lying down on the ground."

July 24, the day of the attack, the 27 year old once again contacts his instructor.

M.D.: "The party’s over soon, and there’s a doorman."

Chat partner: "Go into the middle of the crowd, run, and do it."

M.D.: "Pray for me. You have no idea what’s happening to me right now."

Chat-partner: "Forget the party, go to the restaurant. What’s wrong with you? I’d do it for two people. Trust in God and go to the restaurant."

M.D. headed for the wine bar close to the festival area. That’s where his bomb went off. Fifteen people were hurt. Mohammed D. died. The bomb had most likely detonated by accident. ISIS claimed D. had been an experienced warrior, a "soldier."

Meanwhile, a lawsuit in Lower Saxony in October against a 16-year-old student with German-Moroccan origins, named as Safia S., will start at the Higher Regional Court. On February 26, she allegedly stabbed a policeman at the Central station in Hannover. According to the investigations of the Federal prosecutor, the student had asked an ISIS instructor for help via a messenger for planning the act. Her guide presented herself to Safia as "Leyla".

One day before the act, "Leyla" gave her final instructions. Under a pretext the student should attract the policeman into a corner of the station, stab him, steal his gun, and then shoot. Safia S. explained she didn’t know how to handle a gun. "Leyla" promised to help her. All she needed was a picture of the guns German policemen used.

The student didn’t send the photo, but she sent a confessor video to ISIS. The next day, she took two knives, went to the train station and stabbed a policeman in the neck, leaving him seriously injured

Investigators to this day still have no idea who "Leyla" is.

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European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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