Terrorism Plagues Europe
German intelligence chief Hans-Georg Maassen has said that the security services are facing a record numer of Islamists. The news comes as world leaders announce the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, potentially prompting an exodus of fighters.
The number of Islamist sympathizers is at an “an all-time high”, Maassen, the president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), said on Sunday. The number has gone up from 9,700 to 10,800 over the past year, with the fundamentalists increasingly abandoning radicalization in mosques in favor of “small conspiratorial circles, primarily on the internet,” which is proving a “particular challenge” for the security services. The splitting up of Islamist groups into smaller factions has also made them more difficult to monitor, Maassen added.
Germany envisions a second base for its elite counter-terrorism police force, the GSG 9, in Berlin and also plans to bolster its ranks by a third amid growing security threats, according to the unit’s chief.
The second hub for the unit is essential to ensure a “quicker response” to security threats, including in Germany’s capital, Berlin, which already saw a major terrorist attack in 2016, GSG 9 commander Jerome Fuchs said. The GSG 9 is currently stationed near the city of Bonn, which used to be the capital of West Germany.
“If you look at comparable terrorist situations across Europe, often then the capitals were affected,” Fuchs told RBB broadcaster on Monday. “It is essential that we are better prepared in the capital.”
Capitals across Europe have been among the primary targets for terrorists over the past few years. The November 2015 Paris attacks were the deadliest, with 130 killed and over 350 injured.
Apart from receiving a second base, the unit will see its ranks significantly bolstered.
“We’re talking about around a third of the current strength of the unit,” the commander said. While the exact number of GSG 9 operatives is not public, it is estimated to be around 400.
Finding the necessary number of new and capable members is expected be a “big challenge,” according Fuchs, as recruits must have the proper “fitness, strength of character, and teamwork” abilities to join the elite unit.
The GSG 9 was created in the aftermath of the kidnapping and murder of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, as the police largely failed to handle the crisis, which resulted in multiple casualties. The special unit gained international renown following the successful storming of a hijacked Lufthansa jet in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1977 without any casualties among the hostages or operatives.
Germany has experienced a surge in terrorist attacks over the past few years, committed by Islamist sympathizers. The Berlin Christmas Market truck attack of December 19, 2016 was the most high-profile incident of its kind, leaving 12 people dead and more than 50 injured.
The perpetrator, failed Tunisian asylum-seeker Anis Amri, committed the attack on behalf of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS). He managed to evade German police and flee the country after the incident, but was shot dead three days later by police in Italy.
Hundreds of prison officers have blocked access to dozens of jails across France in a bid to demand tighter security around dangerous inmates after three guards were injured in an attack by a terrorist convict last week.
“We are afraid of dying today at prisons,” a trade union chief participating in the protest, Emmanuel Baudin, told BFM.
According to France Bleu, “more than a third” of the 188 correctional establishments in France have taken part in the protest.
A former senior Al-Qaeda member, 51-year-old Christian Ganczarski, attacked and wounded guards at the high-security prison in Vendin-le-Vieil on Thursday after learning that he might face extradition to the US in connection with investigations into the September 11, 2001, attacks. The prison service said he was armed with scissors and a razor blade.
On Monday, the director of the Vendin-le-Vieil prison, Richard Bauer, submitted his resignation, while the guards used washing machines and a pile of burning tires to block access to the facility on the border with Belgium.
The officers’ unions say Ganczarski’s attack on the prison officers illustrates the “lax approach” of prison authorities to radicalized and violent convicts. Ganczarski is accused of masterminding the 2002 suicide blast at a synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba, in which 21 people were killed.
“We have between 4,000 and 5,000 assaults of staff per year, about 20 episodes of hostage-taking of staff. When will it stop? When someone is killed?” Secretary-General of UFAP-UNSA penitentiary union Jean-François Forget told Europe 1 on Sunday.
“This is the first protest [by prison officers] to show the government that it must take us seriously,” David Cucchetti of the CGT-Penitentiary of Baumettes (Marseille) said. “We must stop talking. We want concrete actions to improve our working conditions and our security.”
Some 150 officers demonstrated outside one of France’s largest prisons, Fresnes prison south of Paris, where riot police were deployed, as well as in Marseille and Lyon on Monday.
On Saturday, trade unions walked out of talks with the justice ministry saying they had failed to receive a “concrete answer” to their demands to step up security around dangerous inmates.
“No concrete response to the demands of our trade union organizations has been made to put an end to the lack of resources, including security, in prisons,” the three unions said in a joint statement.
The prison where Ganczarski is being held will soon be housing Salah Abdeslam, the sole surviving suspect in the November 2015 Paris attacks, which left 130 people dead. Abdeslam will be moved to Vendin-le-Vieil next month during his trial in Belgium over a shootout with local police.
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