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Terror in Europe

Why Christmas Markets Will Stay Prime Targets For Terrorists

Police forces in central Strasbourg on Dec. 12
Police forces in central Strasbourg on Dec. 12
Ronen Steinke


MUNICH — At first glance, the video footage looks like a harmless Advent promotional clip. It showed cheerful people walking between decorated stalls, tinsels, Christmas trees, Santa hats. But back in 2000, the Strasbourg Christmas Market was already a prime target for terrorists, and this video was the most important piece of evidence against those suspected of plotting the attack. A man comments on the video in Arabic: "There we see the enemies of God strolling around," the voice says. "You will go to Hell, God willing."

In December 2000, four Algerians were arrested in Frankfurt, following a tip from Israel's secret service, the Mossad. German and French judges later ascertained that, a few months before the 9/11 attacks, this "Frankfurt cell" had planned to blow up a pressure cooker bomb. Two of the men had tried to defend themselves in court by saying the planned attack had in fact been intended to hit the Strasbourg synagogue, thus endangering the lives of fewer people than at the Christmas market.

There we see the enemies of God strolling around.

But time and time again, Christmas markets are targeted by terrorists. In Germany, the news from Strasbourg — where on Tuesday evening a man killed three and wounded 13 — has brought back bad memories. "In view of what happened, we in Berlin immediately think of the brutal terrorist attack on the Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz on December 19, two years ago," Berlin mayor Michael Müller said on Wednesday. A Tunisian Islamist had driven a truck into the crowd in the Berlin market, killing 12 people.

Berlin's Christmas market, a day after the Dec. 19, 2016 attack — Photo: Andreas Trojak

In November 2016, a planned attack on the Strasbourg Christmas market was feared, and police arrested seven men in Strasbourg and Marseille. And in December 2016, the Christmas market in Ludwigshafen, in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, was also targeted by a 12-year-old boy who had built an explosive device. Initially, he had planned to detonate it in a church, but an 18-year-old pulling the strings recommended, via the Telegram messenger service, that he hit the Christmas market instead. There, he told him, would be "many more people."

The only goal, as far as they're concerned, is to hit "infidels."

Ultimately, this is probably the main driving factor. In the cold European winter, there aren't many places where so many people gather in the open air. The many instructions to wannabe terrorists out there on the Internet contain cynical tips, with groups like ISIS recommending certain weapons and targets. You won't necessarily find special preferences for places with a religious Christian connotation. Neither the killer from Breitscheidplatz in Berlin nor the "Frankfurt cell" from the year 2000 were determined from the beginning that the target should necessarily be a Christmas market. The only goal, as far as they're concerned, is to hit "infidels' wherever there is an opportunity.

Since the attack from Breitscheidplatz could have inspired copycats, many Christmas markets in Germany have since been protected with concrete barriers and armed policemen. Now that Strasbourg has joined the list of victims, other cities will no doubt look to further tighten security at their open-air markets.

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The Problem With Always Blaming Climate Change For Natural Disasters

Climate change is real, but a closer look at the science shows there are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters. It is important to raise awareness about the long-term impact of global warming, but there's a risk in overstating its role in the latest floods or fires.

People on foot, on bikes, motorcycles, scooters and cars navigate through a flooded street during the day time.

Karachi - People wade through flood water after heavy rain in a southern Pakistani city

Xinhua / ZUMA
Axel Bojanowski


BERLIN — In September, thousands of people lost their lives when dams collapsed during flooding in Libya. Engineers had warned that the dams were structurally unsound.

Two years ago, dozens died in floods in western Germany, a region that had experienced a number of similar floods in earlier centuries, where thousands of houses had been built on the natural floodplain.

Last year saw more than 1,000 people lose their lives during monsoon floods in Pakistan. Studies showed that the impact of flooding in the region was exacerbated by the proximity of human settlements, the outdated river management system, high poverty rates and political instability in Pakistan.

There are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters, but one dominates the headlines: climate change. That is because of so-called attribution studies, which are published very quickly after these disasters to highlight how human-caused climate change contributes to extreme weather events. After the flooding in Libya, German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described climate change as a “serial offender," while the Tageszeitung wrote that “the climate crisis has exacerbated the extreme rainfall."

The World Weather Attribution initiative (WWA) has once again achieved its aim of using “real-time analysis” to draw attention to the issue: on its website, the institute says its goal is to “analyse and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events." Frederike Otto, who works on attribution studies for the WWA, says these reports help to underscore the urgent need for climate action. They transform climate change from an “abstract threat into a concrete one."

In the immediate aftermath of a weather-related disaster, teams of researchers rush to put together attribution studies – “so that they are ready within the same news cycle," as the New York Times reported. However, these attribution studies do not meet normal scientific standards, as they are published without going through the peer-review process that would be undertaken before publication in a specialist scientific journal. And that creates problems.

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