Germany: Extremism and Terrorism

On March 3, 2021, Germany’s domestic intelligence service reportedly placed the AfD under surveillance for suspicions of promoting extremism. A German court halted the surveillance program two days later, stating that German authorities must allow the AfD to conclude its legal challenge before initiating surveillance. If surveillance is approved, it would mark the first time a post-war German political party represented in the federal parliament has been subjected to such a high level of scrutiny. (Sources: New York Times, Deutsche Welle, Deutsche Welle)

On February 24, 2021, the Higher Regional Court in Celle sentenced Iraqi preacher, Ahmad Abdulaziz Abdullah A., to 10-and-a-half years in prison for his role in recruiting and planning attacks for ISIS. The defendant, better known as Abu Walaa, was arrested in raids in Lower Saxony and North-Rhine Westphalia in November 2016. Walaa was found guilty of taking part in planning an attack in Germany and collecting funds and fighters for ISIS. Walaa allegedly recruited seven individuals who eventually traveled to the Middle East where they fought alongside ISIS. Additionally, two of Walaa’s recruits reportedly killed more than 150 Iraqi soldiers in suicide bombings. (Source: Reuters)

Germany has long endured violence from various forms of extremism including ultra-right, far-left, and faith-based. More recently, Islamism has posed a large and growing threat to Germany, and 2016 was marked by a series of Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks. Since September 11, 2001, more German citizens have died in Islamist terror attacks than in the entire history of violence perpetrated by the Red Army Faction, a far-left German terror group that operated in Germany for over thirty years. As early as 2014, the Federal Criminal Police has warned that the largest threat in Germany emanates from Islamist terror attacks perpetrated by fanatic individuals or small groups. According to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz or BfV), there are an estimated 25,810 followers of Islamism or Islamist terrorism in Germany as of April 2018. German authorities have identified approximately 760 individuals as “islamistische Gefährder,” who are believed to be motivated and capable of executing a terrorist attack. More than half of them reside in Germany, while 153 are currently detained. (Sources: Reuters, Miko and Froehlich (Congressional Research Service), Deutsche Welle, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Focus)

Germany has experienced an influx of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa in recent years, with more than 44 percent originating from Syria, Iraq, and Nigeria. As of July 2018, approximately 110,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Germany, representing a decrease of 15 percent compared to the previous year. Germany, at its peak, processed approximately 746,000 asylum applications in 2016. German authorities have warned that asylum seekers are at risk for radicalization by domestic Salafist jihadists of which there are currently an estimated 10,800 within the country. Additionally, ISIS has reportedly used migratory routes to smuggle fighters into Germany and worked to recruit asylum seekers. As of April 2018, about 1,000 foreign fighters are estimated to have left Germany and traveled to fight alongside extremist groups abroad. Of those that left, one third has since returned to Germany, and about 150 are believed to have been killed abroad. (Sources: Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, Bundeskriminalamt, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz)

Germany regularly experiences anti-immigrant and racist-related violence. Far-right propaganda and hate speech offenses as well as assault typically occurs during protests and marches. However, about 20 far-right extremists reportedly attacked six Pakistanis in Cologne in January 2016, leaving two victims hospitalized. According to the German interior minister, right-wing extremists were responsible for more than 90 percent of anti-Semitic crimes and similar percentage of anti-Islamic crimes in 2019. Anti-Semitic attacks surged by 13 percent compared to 2018. Far-right extremists were also credited with committing more than half of all politically motivated crimes, which rose by 14 percent in 2019 from 2018. (Sources: Zeit Online, Deutsche Welle, NBC News)

The number of far-left extremists in Germany has increased by almost 6 percent in 2017 compared to 2016, and a third are believed to be prone to violence. Notably, extremist-leftist protesters and German police violently clashed during the July 2017 G20 Summit in Hamburg. The protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, caused fires, and looted shops. Police responded with water cannons and teargas. (Sources: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, CNN, Focus)

Since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, Germany has invested in improving its counterterrorism capabilities and legislation. Germany introduced the Joint Counter-Terrorism Center in 2004 as a joint cooperation between 40 internal security agencies, the Joint Internet Center in 2007 to counter cyber threats and monitor Islamist terrorist networks online, and the Center for Information Technology of Security Authorities in 2017 as a research center to combat crime and terrorism on the Internet. Following the 2015 ISIS attacks in Paris, Germany enacted tougher legislation against Islamist extremism, prohibiting to travel outside Germany for terrorist training, putting restrictions on foreign fighters, and expanding existing laws against terrorist financing. In 2017, the German Bundestag adopted the Network Enforcement Law (Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz or NetzDG) to compel tech firms to crack down on hate speech, terrorist propaganda, criminal material, and misinformation on their sites and platforms. (Sources: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Bundesministerium des Innern, Foreign Affairs, Guardian, Bundesministerium für Justiz und Verbraucherschutz, Bundeskriminalamt, Deutsche Welle, Der Tagesspiegel)

Germany has engaged in various international efforts and military operations to combat extremism and terrorism. As of September 2018, there are 3,300 German soldiers stationed abroad, including more than 1,000 in Afghanistan and Mali, respectively. Up until November 2015, the German government refused to join the U.S.-led airstrike campaign against ISIS, and ruled out sending combat troops to Iraq and Syria. A month after the ISIS attacks in Paris, however, the German Parliament voted to send 1,200 troops, reconnaissance planes, a frigate, and a refueling aircraft to the region. (Sources: Bundeswehr, U.S. Department of State, Bundesregierung, Bundeswehr)

Terrorist attacks have gradually declined as an area of concern among Germans. In September 2018, the insurance group R+V released survey results that showed that 59 percent of Germans are worried about terrorist attacks, representing a decrease from 2016 (73 percent) and 2017 (71 percent). (Sources: R+V Versicherung, R+V Versicherung, Reuters)  

Islamism and Islamist Terrorism

Salafism has gradually expanded its influence in Germany, and Salafists remain the primary source for jihadist recruitment in the country. According to the BfV, the pro-violence jihadist Salafist scene was estimated to include 12,150 individuals in 2019, about 46 percent more than in 2015. (Sources: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz)

Banned in Germany, The True Religion (Die Wahre Religion or DWR) is a political Islamist Salafi group that advocates for violent jihad. Founded by Ibrahim Abou Nagie, the group is comprised of a network of German Salafist preachers, who initiated the “Lies! Read!” initiative in 2011, in which the Salafists set up booths and handed out Qurans in Muslim-majority areas in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Nagie wrote on his website that he discusses the “one true religion” with those who stop by his booth, according to a 2013 intelligence report, and is believed to command a sizable following. The German government banned DWR in November 2016 after authorities found that 140 of the group’s supporters had gone to fight with ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Currently, members occasionally conduct “street dawa” to proselytize, but the group has turned to less public-facing activities. Thus, the BfV believes that current radicalization efforts take place online and in small circles—less so in mosques and national Salafist organizations. (Sources: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Deutsche Welle, Gatestone Institute, New York Times, Niedersächsisches Ministerium für Inneres und Sport, Spiegel Online, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz)

The BfV estimates that there are likely 28,020 followers of Islamism or Islamist terrorism in Germany. As of December 2019, the BfV has identified 679 individuals as “islamistische Gefährder,” who authorities believe are motivated and capable of carrying out a terrorist attack.  Terror attacks and plots in Germany declined overall in 2019, which authorities attributed to increased vigilance in the wake of the 2016 Berlin Christmas market attack. However, the threat of Islamist terrorism remained high due to continued targeting of Germany in jihadist propaganda and as evidenced by thwarted terror plots, including lone wolf attacks. (Sources: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Tagesschau, Deutsche Welle)

On July 28, 2017, 27-year-old Ahmad Alhaw killed one man and injured six others in a stabbing rampage at a Hamburg supermarket. Bystanders outside the supermarket confronted the attacker and overpowered him until the police arrived. The assailant, a Palestinian who applied for asylum in Germany in 2015, was scheduled to be deported after his application was denied. His asylum application had also been in Norway, Sweden, and Spain. Alhaw was reportedly self-radicalized and was known to have watched ISIS propaganda videos online, but did not declare himself to be a member of ISIS or any other terrorist organization. During police interrogations, he revealed that he planned the attack alone and viewed it as his personal contribution to the global jihad. He pled guilty to murder and assault in a court in Hamburg and was sentenced to life imprisonment on March 1, 2018. (Sources: Reuters, BBC News, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Times of Israel)

In 2016, Germany experienced five terrorist attacks, all of which had ties to ISIS. The December 19 attack at the Christmas market in Berlin was the most notorious, where perpetrator Anis Amri plowed a truck into a crowd of people, killing 12 and injuring 48 others. In July 2016, a Syrian refugee carried out a suicide attack near a music festival in Ansbach that injured 12 people. A few days prior, an Afghan refugee armed with an ax went on a stabbing rampage on a train traveling through southern Germany. On April 16, 2016, German nationals, with ties to Islamist extremists, detonated a bomb at a Sikh Temple in Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia, wounding three people. Earlier in the year in February, a 15-year-old German-Moroccan girl identified as Safia S. stabbed a police officer in Hanover. (Sources: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Deutsche Welle, U.S. Department of State, Reuters, New York Times)

German intelligence has been able to disrupt several terrorist plots and attempted attacks. In June 2018, police arrested a Tunisian man in Cologne who was suspected of planning and preparing a ricin attack. In March 2018, a court in Hamburg pressed charges against a Syrian citizen identified as Yamen A., who was suspected to have planned a bomb attack in Germany. A German-Kazakh was convicted for the “preparation of a serious act of violent subversion” in October 2017, after police forces found precursors for the explosive material TATP and his pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In February 2017, the police arrested a Nigerian and Algerian citizen suspected of preparing a terrorist attack in Germany. Both suspects had previously been in close contact with known militant Salafists. In December 2016, a 12-year-old German-Iraqi boy planted a backpack containing a nail bomb at a Christmas market in Ludwigshafen. The boy was allegedly in contact with other ISIS members via Telegram. Two months prior, police forces in Leipzig arrested Jaber al-Bakr, a Syrian refugee suspected to have links to ISIS, after a two-day manhunt. Police uncovered several hundred grams of TATP and alleged that the suspect had been planning a largescale attack inside the country. (Sources: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Spiegel Online, Washington Post, Independent, Reuters, Hamburger Abendblatt, New York Times, Spiegel Online)

ISIS produces a wide range of German-language propaganda, including videos, pamphlets, blog posts, and magazines. In January 2016, German-speaking jihadists on Twitter released the first issue of the German-language jihadi technology magazine Kybernetiq, which instructs jihadists on effective encryption and identity protection practices. The magazine’s third issue released in December 2017, focused on wiretapping, spyware, and technical communication in Syria. Following ISIS’s March 2016 attacks in Brussels, Belgium, the group released a German-language video calling on German Muslims to carry out similar domestic attacks. In September 2016, the group released a German-language video in which a German foreign fighter Abu Issa al-Almani called for lone wolf attacks in Germany. Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists in Syria have also translated their English-language magazine Al-Risalah into German. (Sources: SITE Intelligence, International Business Times, Heavy,,, Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, SITE Intelligence)

As of April 2018, an estimated 1,000 foreign fighters have left Germany and traveled to fight alongside extremist groups in Iraq and Syria since mid-2013. Most of the foreign fighters that left Germany were male and under 30 at the time of departure. An estimated 5 percent were minors and 20 percent were female. Since 2015, the number of new departures has dropped significantly. Of those that left, approximately 150 are believed to have been killed, while roughly a third are believed to have returned to Germany. As ISIS continues to experience military defeat and territorial losses in Iraq and Syria, the BfV expects this number of returnees to increase. (Sources: Combatting Terrorism Center, U.S. Department of State, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz)

A 2016 study showed that German foreign fighters have returned for various reasons: 10 percent felt disillusioned and frustrated with their situation, 10 percent felt pressured through family and friends in Germany, and 6 percent returned due to health issues. Authorities believe that about 8 percent of returnees left Syria and Iraq to raise money in Germany and Europe and to further support the jihadist cause. Most returnees, however, refrained from explaining their motivation (50 percent). German authorities collected evidence on more than 80 returnees as of April 2018, who actively participated in or received training for combat. According to an unidentified German investigator, returning jihadists are celebrated as “pop stars” in the German Islamist scene. In the majority of cases, however, German authorities have insufficient evidence in order to prove the returnee’s active engagement in the battlefield. (Sources: Combatting Terrorism Center, Deutsche Welle, Soufan Group, Zeit Online, Wall Street Journal, Combatting Terrorism Center, Deutsche Welle, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Egmont Institute)

German security authorities also monitor the influx of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. Official figures for the first half of 2018 show that more than 44 percent of asylum applications are submitted by people coming from Syria, Iraq, and Nigeria. Overall, estimates conclude that 1,390,000 refugees have registered in Germany between January 2015 and March 2018. ISIS has reportedly used migratory routes to smuggle fighters into Germany and recruited asylum seekers. Additionally, some refugees have self-radicalized and joined jihadist cells in Germany. (Source: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, Bundeskriminalamt)

Of the approximately 1,000 foreign fighters from Germany, Denis Cuspert’s story is especially infamous. Born in Berlin in 1975 to a German mother and Ghanaian father, Cuspert joined ISIS’s ranks in 2012. Under his nom de guerre Abu Talha al-Almani, Cuspert was featured in numerous ISIS videos, recorded and distributed Islamic chants, and served as an important online recruiter for the group. Previously during his youth, Cuspert was involved in gangs and convicted for minor offences. He was also a well-known rapper under the name “Deso Dogg.” Cuspert was also known to have seduced an FBI translator who was assigned to investigate Cuspert. In June 2014, the agent, Daniela Greene, traveled to Syria and married Cuspert. Greene returned within weeks of her departure and was later sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. On January 27, 2015, the U.S. Department of State designated Cuspert as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224. While previous reports of his death proved unfounded, Cuspert was ultimately killed in January 2018, during clashes with anti-ISIS forces in Syria. (Sources: Newsweek, Deutsche Welle, New York Times, New York Times, U.S. Department of State, United Nations, Guardian, CNN, Telegraph

In September 2017, the trial against the Iraqi-born radical Islamist preacher Abu Walaa (a.k.a. Ahmad Abdulaziz Abdullah A.) began at the Supreme Court of Celle, Germany. Walaa was accused of taking “the leading role as the representative of the so-called Islamic State in Germany” and running a “pan-regional Salafist-jihadist network” linked to the perpetrator of the 2016 Berlin Christmas market attack. On February 24, 2021, the Higher Regional Court in Celle sentenced Walaa to 10-and-a-half years in prison for his role in planning an attack in Germany and collecting funds and fighters for ISIS. (Sources: Schaumburger Nachrichten, Spiegel Online, Telegraph, Reuters)

In July 2017, a German court sentenced Sven Lau to five-and-a-half years in prison for funding Islamist militants and recruiting jihadists. He was found guilty of supporting the U.S.-designated terrorist group Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JAMWA). The group was previously affiliated with ISIS, but allegedly switched allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2016. Lau was born in Wuppertal in 1982 and converted to Islam as a teenager. He is a leading figure in Germany’s Salafist scene, and founded the Sharia Police. Members of the group patrolled the streets to enforce sharia law regarding the consumption of alcohol, gambling, and listening to music. (Sources: U.S. Department of State, Deutsche Welle, Express)

Born in Saxony in 1987, Silvio K. was a leading member of the banned Salafist association Millatu Ibrahim and eventually joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq. He appeared in numerous ISIS videos, including one in which he threatens to assassinate German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In July 2014, he appeared in an ISIS video in which he threatened to attack a U.S.-owned nuclear stockpile at the Büchel air base in Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany. Silvio K. was allegedly killed in Syria by fellow jihadists, after he started to distance himself from ISIS. (Sources: Westen, Deutsche Welle, Focus)

In March 2016, a German court sentenced Nils D. to four and a half years’ imprisonment for joining ISIS in Syria. However, new evidence from July 2018 suggested that Nils D. had brutally tortured and killed three people while fighting for ISIS, which could be used to extend his sentence. Born in 1991, Nils D. converted to Islam as a teenager and radicalized by listening to online speeches by German Salafist preacher Pierre Vogel. Nils D. traveled to Syria in August 2013 and joined ISIS’s special assault team six months later. He returned to Germany in 2014 and agreed to cooperate with German authorities, providing key intelligence on the terrorist group’s structure and inner workings. (Sources: Deutsche Welle, Deutsche Welle, Deutsche Welle)

In addition to al-Qaeda and ISIS, German authorities believe there is domestic support for other Islamist groups. In 2017, the BfV estimated that the Muslim Brotherhood had approximately 1,040 supporters, Hezbollah about 950, and Hamas about 320. As of April 2020, German authorities estimated there were approximately 1,050 Hezbollah supporters in the country. In line with the European Union, Germany had previously designated only Hezbollah’s so-called military wing as a terrorist group, allowing its political supporters to freely gather and publicly display flags and other propaganda. Under pressure from the United States and Israel, Germany designated Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization on April 30, 2020. In conjunction with the ban, German police raided multiple mosque associations across the country that they suspected of providing financial and propaganda support to Hezbollah. Germany’s Interior Ministry issued a statement that Hezbollah’s activities “violate criminal law and the organization opposes the concept of international understanding.” In July 2020, German authorities alleged 50 members of the Al-Mustafa Community Center in the German city-state of Bremen were “involved in the financial support” of Hezbollah by sending funds to Lebanese families of deceased Hezbollah fighters. Al-Mustafa was one of the centers German authorities raided in April 2020. Bremen’s intelligence service previously identified the center in 2018 for fundraising on behalf of Hezbollah. Germany had previously shut down the Lebanon Orphan Children Project in 2014 for sending money to the families of deceased Hezbollah fighters. (Sources: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Reuters, Jerusalem Post, Jerusalem Post, Asharq al-Awsat)

Far-Right Extremism

According to statements made in March 2020, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), was aware of 32,000 far-right extremists in the country—13,000 of whom the BfV considers violent. In 2018, far-right extremists were responsible for 1,212 attacks in Berlin, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia. Authorities suspect links between the German chapter of the international neo-Nazi group Combat 18 and the June 2019 murder of German politician Walter Lübcke. In July 2020, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer called rising far-right extremism Germany’s largest concern after a BfV report recorded 22,300 crimes by far-right extremists in 2019, a 10 percent over the previous year. (Sources: Wall Street Journal, The Local, Deutsche Welle, Deutsche Welle)

Combat 18 is a neo-Nazi group that seeks to create white-only countries through violence. The group was established in 1992 in the United Kingdom and is now present in at least 18 countries worldwide. The “18” in the name refers to the first and eighth letters of the English alphabet, A and H, for Adolf Hitler. Combat 18initially drew its membership from white supremacists associated with the Chelsea Headhunters soccer hooligan gang and the British neo-Nazi record label and political organization Blood and Honour (B&H). (Sources: Independent, Internet Archive)

Since 2013, Combat 18 has established cells in seven of Germany’s 16 states. In 2006, a Combat 18 cell in Dortmund smuggled firearms from Belgium and planned assaults on immigrants and politicians. Other German Combat 18 members were convicted in 2017 of illegally importing ammunition to Germany after firearms training in the Czech Republic. The German chapter of Combat 18 released a propaganda video in July 2019 that declared it had decided to go public because Germany had arrived at a point of no return and citizens needed to arm themselves. Combat 18 promotes “leaderless resistance,” encouraging the creation of independent cells and lone-wolf terrorism under the slogan "whatever it takes!” Germany banned Combat 18 in January 2020 after a series of raids on supporters across the country. (Sources: Deutsche Welle, Deutsche Welle, Deutsche Welle, Spiegel Online, Guardian, Right-Wing Terrorism in the 21st Century: The ‘National Socialist Underground’ and the History of Terror from the Far-Right in Germany, 217-218)

The vast majority of far-right crimes are propaganda offenses. Far-right extremist propaganda is often disseminated through music events and festivals, but primarily through the Internet. In its annual crime report for 2019, the Germany’s Interior Ministry noted an increase in anti-Semitic crimes in the country with 2,032 reported incidents, representing a 13 percent increase from 2018. Right-wing extremists were responsible for more than 93.4 percent of anti-Semitic crimes and 90.1 percent of anti-Islamic crimes. Far-right extremists were credited with committing more than half of all politically motivated crimes, which rose by 14 percent in 2019 from 2018. (Sources: Wall Street Journal, NBC News, Bundesministerium des Innern, für Bau und Heimat)

In 2017, the BfV noted a 34 percent decrease in far-right extremist violence compared to 2016. Assaults on refugee accommodations also decreased, down 72.5 percent, but the overall number of attacks was still higher than in 2014. The decrease in violence correlates with the deterring practices of German courts, which have imposed longer prison sentences for far-right crimes—including those committed by the Freital Group and Oldschool Society. The Freital Group (Gruppe Freital, also known as Bürgerwehr FTL/360), a far-right, racist, and anti-immigrant terrorist organization in Saxony, seeks to intimidate political opponents and refugees. The group has no clear organizational structure, but maintains an active social media presence, posting far-right extremist content on Facebook and calling for violent attacks against refugees. Members have reportedly met in pubs and gas stations and communicated through encrypted messaging services to plan attacks. Between June and November 2015, the Freital Group conducted several attacks on refugee shelters and political opponents, using explosives and arson. In March 2018, the eight members were sentenced between four and 10 years’ imprisonment for multiple charges, including membership in a terrorist organization, causing an explosion, and attempted murder. (Sources: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Spiegel Online,, Zeit online, Spiegel Online)

The Oldschool Society (OSS) began as an online network consisting of members who expressed hatred for migrants on social media and mobile messaging applications. Their Facebook profile reached 3,000 likes before it was removed from the platform. In November 2014, the nine OSS members were found to have been plotting attacks on refugee homes and mosques with nail bombs and arson. Police found weapons and explosives during raids on their homes, and arrested the individuals before any attack was executed. In March 2017, four members of the OSS were sentenced to prison terms between 3 and 5 years for creating a terrorist organization. (Source: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Huffington Post, Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, Deutsche Welle, Zeit Online, Welt, Süddeutsche Zeitung)

Germany has continued to experience racist violence and protests. Specifically, the far-right has used criminal offenses committed by Muslim immigrants and refugees in order to fuel racism and xenophobia in Germany. Information can be exaggerated, intentionally miscommunicated, or fabricated and is subsequently spread on social media to promote racist rallies and xenophobic violence. On August 26, 2018, a German carpenter identified as Daniel H. was fatally stabbed in Chemnitz. Police arrested two male suspects believed to have been refugees from Syria and Iraq. While details about the crime were initially unconfirmed, racist and anti-immigrant rumors spread rapidly—in particular through social media—triggering far-right extremists and neo-Nazis to rally in the streets of Chemnitz. Estimates concluded that the far-right scene mobilized around 6,000 protesters, while police were outnumbered with only 600 officers. (Sources: Zeit Online, Spiegel Online, CNN, Frankfurter Rundschau)

The Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes or Pegida) has become a cornerstone of the far-right scene in Germany. Pegida was established as a Facebook group in October 2014, encouraging people in Dresden to join their weekly Monday marches against what they perceive as the growing influence of Islam in Europe. The movement has spread rapidly, drawing a record crowd of 25,000 marchers in Dresden in January 2015. Supporters have created spin-off groups in other German cities. Among Pegida’s followers are neo-Nazis, hooligans, and members of far-right political parties like AfD and NPD. (Sources: Zeit Online, Deutsche Welle, Spiegel Online, CNN, BBC News, Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung)

The National Democratic Party (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands or NPD), founded in 1964, is a far-right political party that has advocated racist, anti-Semitic, and revisionist views. NPD’s activities have been motivated by anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiments. For instance, anti-immigrant protests erupted at a refugee center in Heidenau, near Dresden, after a visit from Chancellor Angela Merkel. The protests grew progressively violent as NPD members, joined by several hundred neo-Nazis, threw stones and bottles at the police while yelling, “Heil Hitler!” In January 2019, German media reported that NPD members had formed vigilante patrols in the Bavarian town of Amberg in response to a series of violent attacks by asylum-seekers, aged between 17 and 19 from Afghanistan, Syria, and Iran. The NPD posted pictures to social media of its members patrolling the town in vests labeled “We're creating safe zones.” An NPD statement on Facebook declared, “When we say we will create protection zones in Amberg, we mean it.” In 2017, groups of vigilantes also attacked foreigners in the city of Chemnitz after a local was allegedly stabbed to death by a migrant.  (Sources: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Berliner Zeitung, Independent, TelegraphDeutsche Welle, Mittelbayerische Zeitung)

According to a 2017 BfV report, the NPD has 4,500 members. Several members of the NPD’s Executive Committee are known neo-Nazis, including former party chair and Member of European Parliament Udo Voigt as well as deputy chairman Ronny Zasowk. In January 2017, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court rejected a proposal to ban the NPD. Though the court concluded that the NPD’s political objectives are unconstitutional, a ban was not justifiable due to the party’s lack of influence in German society. In the federal general elections on September 24, 2017, the NPD received 0.4 percent of the votes and failed to gain any seats in the Bundestag, the German federal parliament. However, the BfV believes that the NPD will likely try to regain its leading role within the “national resistance.” (Sources: Reuters, International Business Times, European Parliament, Christian Science Monitor, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Bundeswahlleiter)

Nonetheless, the 2017 electoral success of the Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland or AfD)—a right-wing nationalist political party that was founded in 2013—demonstrates some popular support for far-right positions. With 12.6 percent of the vote, the AfD currently occupies 94 seats of the Bundestag and is therefore third-largest party after the Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party. The AfD, whose supporters are primarily located in the formerly communist eastern parts of Germany, attracted attention and gained recognition for its anti-immigration policies. The AfD consists of a moderate and far-right wing, with the latter often holding explicit ethnic and even racist nationalist viewpoints. Party members have also been regularly accused of promoting neo-Nazi ideology and maintaining close contact to known neo-Nazis. However, there is no consensus on how to classify the AfD as a political movement, that is as right-wing populists or neo-Nazis. A 2018 study by Bertelsmann-Stiftung found that the AfD’s electoral success resulted from increasing populism in German society. The AfD had not been under surveillance by the BfV, even though some politicians strongly advocated for such measures after the riots in Chemnitz in August 2018, where the AfD “failed to distance itself.” (Sources: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Deutsche Welle, Bundeswahlleiter, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Business Insider, Welt, Zeit online, Tagesschau, Bertelsmann Foundation)

In mid-January 2019, the BfV announced that it will start monitoring elements of the AfD, focusing its efforts on Björn Höcke who is a leading politician of the party in Thuringia. At the time, however, the BfV was only allowed to collect and analyze open-source material. The agency was not allowed to gather information through surveillance or undercover informants. This changed in March 2020, when the BfV described a faction led by Höcke within the AfD as an extremist organization and a threat to Germany’s democratic order. The faction, Flügel (“wing”), has about 7,000 members, representing approximately 20 percent of AfD’s overall membership. The BfV said it would place Flügel under systematic surveillance, allowing the domestic intelligence agency to recruit informants, keep personal data on file, and monitor phone calls. According to a BfV official, the increased scrutiny comes as the faction is believed to be uniting far-right extremist groups, including neo-Nazis, and coordinating online. On March 20, 2020, AfD’s executive committee voted to dissolve Flügel by April 30, 2020, fearing the faction could bring increased scrutiny to the entire party. Nonetheless, according to local media reports, former members of Flügel were still under surveillance and maintained their influence over internal party politics. (Sources: Deutschlandfunk, Guardian, BBC News, Deutsche Welle, Deutsche Welle)

In June 2020, German media reported that prosecutors were investigating a police officer who allegedly leaked information about the 2016 Berlin terror attack to his AfD associates. Authorities alleged that the officer was in a Telegram chat group with 11 other AfD members and, shortly after the Christmas market attack, passed on internal police information, including forensic details. One of the recipients of the information was a suspect in a series of politically-moticated attacks on left-wing stores and individuals in Berlin. (Source: Deutsche Welle)

On January 12, 2021, the BfV in Saxony-Anhalt approved a decision to place the regional branch of the AfD under surveillance. The approval was based on evidence collected over several years, according to German media. The classification allows the state’s intelligence agency to observe communications and financial transactions of the 1,400 members of the party in the state of Saxony-Anhalt. The move came days before the BfV was expected to announce whether the  entire national AfD party would be placed under surveillance for posing a threat to democracy. The BfV conducted a two-year investigation on the AfD’s activities in order to determine whether the party should be labeled a “suspected case” for its links to right-wing extremism. The classification would allow the agency to shadow the party, tap its communications, and use undercover informants. In February, an administrative court in Cologne ruled the BfV could investivate the AfD for extremism. On March 3, 2021, German media reported the BfV had placed the AfD under surveillance. The move allows the BfV to tap phones and other communications and monitor the movements of AfD members. The BfV would neither confirm nor deny the reports, purportedly because of an AfD legal challenge. AfD members condemned the decision as purely political. On March 5, a German court halted the surveillance program and said German authorities must first allow the AfD to conclude a legal challenge. If surveillance is approved, it would mark the first time a post-war German political party represented in the federal parliament has been subjected to such a high level of scrutiny. (Sources: Deutsche Welle, Agence France-Presse, Deutsche Welle, New York Times, Deutsche Welle)

On June 23, 2020, Germany’s Interior Ministry banned neo-Nazi group Nordadler (Northern Eagle). That same day, German police carried out raids targeting the group in four federal states: North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony, Brandenburg, and Lower Saxony. The group operates primarily online, according to a ministry spokesman, and is believed to have more than 30 members. Nordadler members subscribe to a national socialist ideology and pledge allegiance to Adolf Hitler. The group was reportedly planning to establish a Nazi settlement project in rural areas, including paramilitary training camps for youths. The group also operates under the following names: Völkische Revolution (People’s Revolution), Völkische Jugend (People’s Youth), Völkische Gemeinschaft (People’s Community), and Völkische Renaissance (People’s Renaissance). (Sources: Deutsche Welle, Tagesspiel, Deutsche Welle)

On December 1, 2020, Germany banned the neo-Nazi group Wolfsbrigade 44 and raided the homes of 11 members of the group in Hesse, Mecklenburg West-Pomerania, and North Rhine-Westphalia. During the raids, authorities seized the group’s funds and Nazi propaganda, as well as knives, a machete, a crossbow, and bayonets. Founded in 2016, Wolfsbrigade 44 seeks to abolish democracy and reestablish the Nazi regime. The number 44 represents the letters DD, the fourth letter of the alphabet, in reference to Division Dirlewanger, a World War II SS unit led by Nazi officer Oskar Dirlewanger who ordered massacres of Belarusan civilians. (Sources: Associated Press, Reuters)

According to December 2020 data, the BfV reportedly identified more than 1,200 far-right extremists who are licensed to own guns. Furthermore, the BfV discovered that there have been at least 17 cases of shooting practice sessions or programs attended by far-right members between early 2019 and late 2020. The majority of those shooting practices took place in other parts of Europe. The German federal police, however, do not consider shooting range usage to be a criminal offense. (Sources: The Sun, Deutsche Welle)

Selbstverwalter and Reichsbürger

Members of the Citizens of the Reich (Reichsbürger) and Sovereigns (Selbstverwalter) are ideologically diverse but fundamentally reject the legitimacy and sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Germany as well as its existing legal system. Structurally, Reichsbürger and Selbstverwalter either remain to themselves or form small groups. There are currently about 19,000 people that identify as Reichsbürger and Selbstverwalter, 950 of whom are also considered right-wing extremists. Most of them are male and between 40 and 60 years old. Typical criminal offenses of Reichsbürger and Selbstverwalter are verbal abuse, coercion, blackmail, resistance to law enforcement, document fraud and illegal possession of firearms. The BfV noted that the Internet plays a central role in the movement’s propaganda dissemination, radicalization, and recruitment, and that the Reichsbürger and Selbstverwalter started calling for donations online in 2019. (Source: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz)

On March 19, 2020, Germany’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announced a ban on a 120-member faction of the Reichsbürger movement known as the United German Peoples and Tribes (Geeinte deutsche Völker und Stämme) and its subgroup Osnabrücker Landmark. The ban marks the first official federal ban of any groups that comprise the movement. That same day, more than 400 German law enforcement officers carried out raids at the homes of 21 of the group’s leaders in 10 states, discovering weapons, propaganda material, and small amounts of narcotics. Seehofer noted that the Reichsbürger movement had engaged in verbal abuse and “massive threats” against government officials and their families. In late November 2020, military authorities began an investigation of eight civilian employees of the German armed forces suspected of belonging to the Reichsbürger movement. (Sources: Deutsche Welle, New York Times, Reuters)

According to December 2019 data, the BfV reportedly identified 528 Reichsburger members who are licensed to own guns. Furthermore, a number of recent reports determined that Reichsburger members have attempted to stockpile weapons in the past few years. (Sources: The Sun, Deutsche Welle)

Far-Left Extremism

Left-wing extremists in Germany seek to overthrow the capitalist system and overcome perceived social injustices. The number of left-wing extremists increased from 32,000 in 2018 to 33,500 in 2019, of which 9,200 are considered violent. Though violent acts decreased by 8.8 percent to 921, overall left-wing extremist crimes increased by 39.5 percent—from 6,449 in 2019 compared to 4,622 in 2018. Violent acts include violence against law enforcement and right-wing extremists, as well as government institutions and symbols. The other criminal offenses were comprised of property damage, including arson, threats, and “other offenses.” (Sources: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Deutsche Welle)

The increase in leftist-extremist attacks is primarily attributed to the incidents that occurred during the G20 Summit in Hamburg on July 7 and 8, 2017. What was supposedly planned as a peaceful protest by leftist groups, had soon escalated into violent clashes between leftist-extremists and German police forces. In order to disrupt the course of the summit, protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, caused fires, and looted shops. Police responded with water cannons and teargas. According to government official records, the G20 protests resulted in 186 arrests and 476 injured police officers, in addition to considerable property damage. (Sources: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, CNN, Focus)

Extremism in Germany's Military and Federal Authorities

Islamists, as well as right- and left-wing extremists, are believed to be serving in Germany’s federal authorities and armed forces. The Military Counterintelligence Service (Militärischer Abschirmdienst or MAD) has investigated 300 suspected cases of Islamism in Germany’s armed forces, identifying 24 Islamists within its own ranks since 2011. Citing a military counterintelligence report from April 2016, approximately 29 soldiers went to Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIS. Dr. Christof Gramm, then head of the MAD, expressed concerned that Germany’s armed forces can be “misused as a training camp for violence-ready Islamists.” (Sources: Deutsche Welle, Associated Press, Newsweek, Welt, Zeit Online)

In November 2016, German authorities arrested a member of the BfV on suspicion of making Islamist statements online, encouraging violence and attacks, and sharing agency material. The individual, a 52-year-old German-Spaniard, had converted to Islam in 2014. He was hired by the BfV to surveil the Islamist scene inside Germany. His trial in Düsseldorf in 2017 revealed that he was not a fanatic supporter. A psychiatric expert confirmed his “theatricality and pomposity.” In September 2017, he was sentenced to one year on probation for attempted betrayal of state secrets. (Sources: BBC News, Newsweek, Focus, Frankfurter Allgemeine)

As of August 2020, the MAD was investigating 600 cases of right-wing extremism within its ranks, according to the defense ministry spokesman. Most of the offenses were related to propaganda and racist commentary, resulting in financial penalties or dismissal. However, an army lieutenant identified as Franco A. was arrested in 2017 for planning a “grave act of violence against the state.” Franco A. posed as a Syrian refugee and planned a terrorist attack on high-ranking political figures. He intended to frame refugees for the attack in order to fuel anti-immigrant sentiments about refugees in Germany. In December 2018, five police officers in Frankfurt were suspended on suspicion of forming a neo-Nazi cell. They exchanged right-wing extremist and racist messages in a chat group and threatened to kill the daughter of a German-Turkish lawyer. (Sources: Süddeutsche Zeitung, Deutsche Welle, Deutsche Welle, Deutsche Welle, Deutsche Welle, Guardian, Voice of America)

Since Germany abolished its compulsory military service, suspected cases of left-wing extremism within the armed forces notably decreased. (Source: Tagesspiegel)

Authorities warned that these suspected Islamist, far-right, and left-wing extremists were utilizing the army’s training in order to prepare for domestic or international attacks. Consequently, the MAD has intensified its security checks on those applying for the military, resulting in several applicants being denied. (Sources: Telegraph, Daily Mail, Deutsche Welle)

On May 28, 2020, the German parliament swore in Eva Högl as its overseer of the German military, the Bundeswehr. Högl will head a new defense ministry task force created to probe extremist elements within the Germany military. The move comes two weeks after police raided the home of a soldier in the elite special operations unit, Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK). The soldier had been under investigation since 2017 for suspected ties to the far right and was found to possess a cache of weapons and explosives. On June 30, 2020, the German defense minister announced the disbanding of the KSK’s 2nd Company, after a report by the defense ministry’s task force found that 20 of its members were linked to right-wing extremism. As a result, some of the 70 soldiers from the disbanded company would be reassigned to one of the KSK’s three other combat units. The 2nd Company was officially disbanded on August 1, 2020. In July 2020, the Bundeswehr admitted that it was missing more than 60,000 rounds of ammunition and 137 pounds of explosives, in addition to another 48,000 rounds from the KSK. (Sources: Deutsche Welle, BBC News, NPR, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America)

In June 2020, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition cabinet began the process to amend Germany’s Military Act to help expedite the firings of soldiers disciplined for extremism and other severe misconduct. Currently, professional soldiers with more than four years of service can only be removed through lengthy dismissal procedures, and the proposed amendment seeks to raise the threshold to eight years. The Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament, must approve the decision. The cabinet’s plan, supported by Defense Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer, comes after a spate of largely far-right incidents within the Bundeswher’s ranks. (Source: Deutsche Welle)

On September 24, 2020, the German government dismissed the head of MAD, Christof Gramm, after a string of scandals highlighted instances of far-right extremism within the military. Though Gramm attempted to introduce internal reforms to address extremism during his five-year tenure at the helm of the military counterintelligence service, cases of far-right extremism in the armed forces increased. (Source: New York Times)

Separate from the MAD’s investigations, the BfV released a report in October 2020 that recorded more than 1,400 cases of suspected far-right extremism among the country’s soldiers, police officers, and intelligence agents. The report, which covered a period beginning in January 2017 and ending in March 2020, is the first attempt to document far-right infiltration of German security services—as recorded by the state and federal police authorities, the intelligence services, and the armed forces. State authorities documented 319 cases, federal agencies reported 58, and an ovewhelming majority were reported by the military with 1,069 suspected cases of extremism. (Sources: New York Times, Washington Post

Berlin Christmas Market Attack 2016

On December 19, 2016, Tunisian-born Anis Amri plowed a hijacked truck into a crowd of people at a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring 48 others. The attack took place at 8 p.m. in Breitscheidplatz, a major public square in western Berlin, near the landmark Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Witnesses say that the driver jumped the sidewalk and careened into the crowd of market-goers at an estimated 40 miles per hour. One of the attack’s victims, the truck’s registered driver, was found shot and killed in the truck’s passenger seat. (Sources: Reuters, CNN, Guardian, Reuters, Telegraph, New York Times, Spiegel Online, New York Times, Guardian, Spiegel Online, Reuters, Associated Press, Guardian)

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq News Agency, calling the driver a “soldier” of the Islamic State. Police reported that the primary suspect, Anis Amri, was a Tunisian-born asylum seeker who had used false documentation and at least six aliases. Amri had moved to Italy in 2011, arriving in Germany in December 2015. He was allegedly part of a broader Islamist network. On December 23, 2016, after a European-wide manhunt and several raids in Germany, Amri was stopped by police in Milan and killed in a shootout. In July 2018, Germany’s Federal Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for Meher D., the alleged key accomplice and mastermind behind the attack at the Berlin Christmas market. (Sources: Reuters, CNN, Guardian, Reuters, Telegraph, New York Times, Spiegel Online, New York Times, Guardian, Spiegel Online, CNN, Reuters, Associated Press, Guardian, Reuters)

On February 3, 2021, Germany’s BVG constitutional court announced that opposition parties in parliament would not be allowed to question an intelligence officer who was allegedly in charge of coordinating informants close to Amri. The intelligence officer’s role is to gain further insight into whether Amri acted alone, had accomplices and who exactly planned the attack. Judges determined that in certain cases, the country’s welfare depends more on protecting the privacy of rare informants over a parliamentarian’s right to know about classified agency operations. Judges claimed that questioning the intelligence supervisor would “erode confidentiality, expose informants, endanger current undercover operations, and shut down intelligence service access and recruitment.” (Source: Deutsche Welle)

National Socialist Underground

The National Socialist Underground (Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund or NSU) was a far-right and neo-Nazi terrorist organization composed of three members: Beate Zschäpe, Uwe Mundlos, and Uwe Böhnhardt. Together, they killed eight people of Turkish origin, one Greek man, and a German policewoman between 2000 and 2007. The NSU was also responsible for the pipe bomb explosion in Cologne on June 9, 2004, that left 22 people injured and caused considerable property damage. In November 2011, Mundlos and Böhnhardt failed in an attempted bank robbery. They committed suicide before police officers were able to arrest them. Zschäpe turned herself in to authorities. She went on trial in May 2013 for numerous charges and was sentenced to life-long imprisonment on July 11, 2018. She was found guilty for murder, attempted murder, robbery, and membership in a terrorist organization. (Sources: Deutsche Welle, Deutsche Welle, Spiegel Online)

G20 Summit and Protests in Hamburg 2017

What was initially planned as a peaceful protest by leftist groups during the July 2017 G20 Summit in Hamburg, escalated into violent clashes between leftist-extremists and German police forces. In order to obstruct the course of the summit, protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, caused fires, and looted shops. Police forces responded with water cannons and teargas. According to government official records, the G20 protests resulted in 186 arrests and 476 injured police officers, in addition to considerable property damage. (Sources: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, CNN, Focus)


Post-1972 Munich Massacre at the Olympic Games

Since the Munich Massacre at the 1972 Olympic Games, counterterrorism has been among the most important security concerns for Germany. Before the attack, Germany had previously focused on threats posed by internal far-right and far-left extremist and terrorist groups, especially the Red Army Faction (Rote Armee Fraktion or RAF). In response to the Munich Massacre, the German government founded the GSG9 (Grenzschutzgruppe 9), Germany’s first federal anti-terrorism police unit. Germany also shifted from viewing terrorism as a solely internal and domestic phenomenon to one with a broader focus. (Sources: Encyclopedia, Wissenschaftliche Dienste des Deutschen Bundestages)

Post-September 11, 2001 Attacks on the United States

Germany adopted two major anti-terrorism packages in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. The first, enacted in November 2001, revoked the immunity of religious groups and charities from investigation or surveillance, enabled prosecution of extremists living inside Germany who belonged to foreign terrorist organizations, and strengthened air and land border control, among other things. The second focused on increased cooperation and communication between intelligence and law enforcement agencies at the federal and state levels. Approximately $1.8 billion was made immediately available to put towards counterterrorism measures. In the following two years, the budget increased by about $580 million. (Source: Miko and Froehlich (Congressional Research Service))

Post-November 2015 Paris Attacks and Charlie Hebdo

Following the November 13, 2015, Paris attacks, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière expressed that the danger from international terrorism in Germany “was high, it is high, and it will remain high for the foreseeable future.” By December of that year, officials announced the expansion of the German Evidence and Arrest Units (Beweissicherungs- und Festnahmeeinheiten or BFE). These specialized units are made up of the German state police forces and the German Federal Police (Bundespolizei). The 250 additional officers, referred to as the BFE+, are part of a special, well-armed unit meant to combat terrorists. The BFE+ is responsible for day-to-day counterterrorism responses such as large-scale, sustained manhunts. (Sources: Associated Press, Deutsche Welle)

Following the January 7, 2015, Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, German authorities moved to enact tougher legislation against Islamist extremism. On January 15, Chancellor Angela Merkel revealed a nine-point plan to the German parliament designed to prevent similar attacks on German soil. For instance, Merkel called for enhanced measures against hate preachers and the introduction of data retention to track potential terrorist activities online. In June that year, the German Cabinet passed new counterterrorism legislation in line with Merkel’s plan. The new law made it illegal to travel outside of Germany with the intent to receive terrorist training. It also put restrictions on national identity cards and passports of foreign fighters. Authorities may revoke the identity cards of individuals suspected of constituting a threat, and replace their cards with ones that indicate “not valid for travel outside of Germany.” Critics believe that the legislation is unconstitutional because it criminalizes the intention of a crime ahead of an actual criminal act or attempt. (Sources: N24, Telegraph, Library of Congress, Bundesgesetzblatt)

In July 2016, Germany adopted additional legislation designed to combat the threats from extremism and terrorism. The law known as Improving Information Exchange to Combat International Terrorism allows Germany’s Federal Police to operate undercover agents for the purposes of protecting public safety, expands data exchanges with foreign intelligence services, and allows for advanced monitoring activities of prepaid cellphones by the BfV. (Source: U.S. Department of State)

Post-October 2019 Yom Kippur Shooting

On December 1, 2019, Germany tightened its laws against anti-Semitic hate crimes following a number of incidents that have left Jewish citizens feeling unsafe. The move comes one month after a failed attack on a synagogue by a far-right gunman who later killed two bystanders. Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht told parliament that anti-Semitism would be made an aggravating factor for hate crimes in the criminal code. (Source: Daily Mail)

The Far Right

Germany has banned a handful of far-right extremist groups. In 2000, Germany banned Blood & Honor, an international neo-Nazi network. In September 2019, the interior ministers of Lower Saxony, Thuringia, and Hesse called on the government to outlaw the German chapter of the far-right group Combat 18, which was linked to the June 2019 murder of German politician Walter Lübcke. Germany outlawed Combat 18 in January 2020. In November 2019, the German state of Bremen banned neo-Nazi group Phalanx 18. In June 2020, Germany’s Interior Ministry banned neo-Nazi group Nordadler (Northern Eagles), which the ministry noted operates mainly online. (Sources: The Local, Deutsche Welle, Xinhua, United Press International, Deutsche Welle)

In March 2020, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency (BfV) labeled a faction within the AfD as an extremist organization and a threat to Germany’s democratic order. The BfV said it would place Flügel (Wing) under systematic surveillance. On March 20, 2020, AfD’s executive committee voted to dissolve Flügel by April 30, 2020, fearing the faction could bring increased scrutiny to the entire party. (Sources: BBC News, Deutsche Welle)

Terrorist Propaganda Online

In September 2014, Germany’s interior minister imposed a ban on ISIS to counter the group’s financial infrastructure and communication abilities—both in public demonstrations and on the Internet. The ban seeks to undermine the group’s overall media campaign, which spreads jihadist propaganda to potential terrorist recruits around the world. (Sources: Deutsche Welle, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz)

Germany has worked to censure both jihadist propaganda and racist rhetoric disseminated by far-right Germans. In September 2015, German authorities formed a task force that included government agencies, technology companies, industry associations, and activists to help tackle online hate speech. Facebook announced it would work with the German Justice Ministry to combat xenophobic and racist messages on the social network and strengthen its content screening process according to German laws on hate speech and incitement to violence. On December 15, 2015, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the German Ministry of Justice issued a joint statement promising that social media companies would make it easier for users and anti-racism groups to report offensive online content. The companies agreed to allow German domestic law to take precedent over their corporate policies to review posts. (Sources: Wall Street Journal, BBC News, Washington Post)

In September 2017, the Bundestag adopted a new legislation cracking down on hate speech, criminal material, and misinformation on social media platforms. The Network Enforcement Law (Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz or NetzDG) entered into force on October 1, 2017, and requires social media companies, in particular Google, Facebook, and Twitter, to remove illegal content and hate speech from their platforms within 24 hours of receiving a notification. The law enables Germany to fine social media companies up to 50 million euros in cases of systematic non-compliance. The NetzDG also mandates that social media companies publish detailed reports on the amount of complaints and the company’s countermeasures. (Sources: Foreign Affairs, Guardian, Bundesministerium für Justiz und Verbraucherschutz)   

The NetzDG requires social media companies with more than 2 million users to remove extremist content within 24 hours of notification or face fines of up to 50 million euro. In February 2020, the German cabinet approved a bill requiring social media companies to report to police instances of far-right propaganda, graphic portrayals of violence, murder or rape threats, and posts indicating that someone is preparing a terrorist attack or distributing child sexual abuse images. The bill also expands the definition of criminal hate speech to include threats of rape or property damage and expressions of approval for serious crimes. The bill still requires parliamentary approval, but critics claim it censors the Internet. (Sources: BBC News, Indian Express, Associated Press)

In the wake of a series of Islamist-inspired attacks in 2016, the German government has also urged the European Union to draft new legislation that would make it easier to uncover encrypted messages during terror investigations, for example by creating “back doors” for national security officials. German authorities have struggled to intercept terrorists’ encrypted messages on apps such as Telegram and WhatsApp. In August 2016, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière warned that “some terrorists and criminals are ahead of us on the technology front. That’s not right.” In October 2017, EU Commissioner for the Security Union Julian King announced a new plan that included legal, financial, and technical measures to help unencrypt messages, but opposed the call for so-called “back doors.” (Sources: EU Observer, Politico, Wall Street Journal)

In February 2017, the BKA introduced its new analysis tool, RADAR-iTE, meant to provide a more accurate risk assessment of Gefährder—individuals authorities have determined capable of committing politically-motivated crimes. The analysis is based on multiple aspects of a suspect’s social background and “observable behavior,” instead of ideology or religious habits. (Sources: Bundeskriminalamt, Bundeskriminalamt, Deutsche Welle)

Since August 2017, Germany has been testing its facial recognition software, which could allow authorities to identify criminal and terrorist suspects through video surveillance and database comparison. According to Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, the system works well and shows positive identifications in 70 percent of the cases. False identification occurs in less than 1 percent. (Sources: Newsweek, Deutsche Welle, Der Tagesspiegel)

Intelligence and Security Infrastructure

The German government established the Joint Counter-Terrorism Center (Gemeinsames Terrorismusabwehrzentrum or GTAZ) in 2004, to combat the threat posed by Islamist terrorism. The GTAZ consists of 40 internal security agencies, providing a platform for cooperation and communication. It identifies potential Islamist terrorists and spearheads de-radicalization efforts, among other tenets. The Joint Internet Center (Gemeinsames Internetzentrum or GIZ), created in 2007, works to counter cyber threats and monitor Islamist terrorist networks. Additionally, the Joint Counter-Extremism and Terrorism Center (Gemeinsames Extremismus- und Terrorismusabwehrzentrum or GETZ) was established in November 2012 in order to provide a comprehensive cooperation platform to counter far-right and far-left extremism and terrorism. (Sources: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz)

As part of Germany’s cyber security strategy, the Ministry of Interior launched the Center for Information Technology of Security Authorities (Zentrale Stelle für Informationstechnik im Sicherheitsbereich or ZITiS) in January 2017. ZITiS researches and develops new methods, products, and strategies to combat crime and terrorism on the Internet. (Sources: Bundesministerium des Innern, ZITiS, Bundesministerium des Innern)

Germany’s foreign intelligence agency (Bundesnachrichtendienst or BND) is responsible for surveilling and monitoring extremist activities outside of Germany. The agency relies on signal intelligence, open sources intelligence, human intelligence, and imagery intelligence. (Source: Bundesnachrichtendienst)

With regards to border controls, Germany is party to the Schengen Agreement implemented in 1995. The agreement created an internally borderless entity of several European nations under a common visa policy. Germany is therefore reliant on Schengen Area states with external borders adjacent to non-Schengen countries. The German Federal Police (Bundespolizei) is tasked with protecting German borders against illegal migrants who have evaded Schengen border controls. The Federal Police is also responsible for policing Germany’s 700km coastline along the Baltic and North Sea. (Sources: Council of Europe, Bundespolizei)

Tackling Extremism in Germany’s Military

On May 28, 2020, the German parliament swore in Eva Högl as its overseer of the German military, the Bundeswehr. Högl will head a new defense ministry task force created to probe extremist elements within the Germany military. The move comes two weeks after police raided the home of a soldier in the elite special operations unit, Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK). The soldier had been under investigation since 2017 for suspected ties to the far right and was found to possess a cache of weapons and explosives. On August 1, 2020, Germany’s defense minister officially disbanded the 2nd Company, one of the KSK’s combat units, after an investigation found that several of its members were linked to right-wing extremism. (Sources: Deutsche Welle, BBC News, Voice of America)

In June 2020, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition cabinet began the process to amend Germany’s Military Act to help expedite the firings of soldiers disciplined for extremism and other severe misconduct. Currently, professional soldiers with more than four years of service can only be removed through lengthy dismissal procedures, and the proposed amendment seeks to raise the threshold to eight years. The Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament, must approve the decision. The cabinet’s plan, supported by Defense Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer, comes after a spate of largely far-right incidents within the Bundeswher’s ranks. (Source: Deutsche Welle)

Recruitment and Radicalization

German authorities have launched several community-based programs in partnership with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to help prevent homegrown radicalization. In 2012, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees set up a counseling center on radicalization (Beratungsstelle Radikalisierung), which is available to anyone concerned about the radicalization of a relative or friend. Several states in Germany have established support centers, such as the Information and Competence Center against Extremism in Hesse (Hessisches Informations- und Kompetenzzentrum gegen Extremismus or HKE), to efficiently coordinate preventive and early intervention efforts. (Sources: Deutsche Welle, Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, Landesverfassungsschutz, HKE)

The government funded-NGO, EXIT-Deutschland, was founded in 2000 to facilitate the de-radicalization process of right-wing extremists. Since its inception, the program has helped approximately 500 individuals escape from right-wing ideology, with a 3 percent rate of recidivism. Most recently, the organization promoted and received funding from Donate the Hate, an initiative that makes a one euro donation for every hateful comment identified on social media to support refugee projects and campaigns against right-wing extremism. (Sources: EXIT-Deutschland, European Commission, UK Fundraising)

Additionally, the government-funded group Hayat (meaning “life” in Turkish and Arabic) launched a counseling hotline for individuals involved in radical Salafist groups or on the path toward radicalization. The hotline is also available to families and acquaintances of potentially radicalized individuals. The counseling services connect individuals to the necessary authorities, including imams, school teachers, police, or others. Hayat has helped to prevent the radicalization of “dozens” of young Muslims. In 12 cases, “those concerned were successfully discouraged from participating – or having any further involvement – in the Syrian conflict,” according to an August 2014 BBC News report. (Sources: Deutsche Welle, BBC News, Hayat)

In January 2019, the Turkish Community in Germany (Türkische Gemeinde in Deutschland, or Almanya Türk Toplumu) launched a new project called “emel,” an online counseling service for primarily Turkish- and Arabic-speaking parents who are concerned that their children may be leaning toward religious extremism. Emel aims to offer “culture- and religion-sensitive counseling services” while communicating anonymously either via email or live chat. The project is funded by the European Union and the German government through the end of 2019. (Sources: Deutsche Welle, Türkische Gemeinde in Deutschland, Zeit Online)

On November 15, 2019, the German domestic intelligence agency, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), revealed that the YPG/PKK had recruited nearly 270 foreign fighters from Germany who took part in battles and terror attacks in Syria and Iraq. Three German citizens, Jakob Riemer, Sarah Handelmann, and Michael Panser, who were known to German authorities as left-wing extremists, were among those killed. The PKK has been banned in Germany since 1993, but it remains active, with nearly 14,500 followers among the country‘s Kurdish immigrant population. (Source: Anadolu Agency)


In August 2014, the German government began to ship weaponry and military equipment to Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in northern Iraq. According to Chancellor Merkel, “It is our humanitarian responsibility and in the interests of our security to help those suffering and to stop [ISIS].” Between April and May 2015, the German government increased its aid to the Kurdish Peshmerga fighting ISIS in northern Iraq. The aid included anti-tank guided missile launchers, ammunition, mine-resistance vehicles, combat gear, and medical supplies. Since February 2015, German military personnel has trained more than 4,700 Peshmerga soldiers. (Sources: Al Jazeera, Spiegel Online, AICGS, Wall Street Journal)

Up until November 2015, the government refused to join the U.S.-led airstrike campaign against ISIS, and ruled out sending combat troops to the region. Following the November 13 ISIS attacks in Paris, however, members of German Parliament urged Chancellor Merkel to strongly consider military intervention in Syria—especially as part of a wider coalition. On December 4, 2015, the German Parliament voted to send 1,200 troops, reconnaissance planes, a frigate, and a refueling aircraft to the region to aid in the U.S.-backed coalition against ISIS. (Sources: Wall Street Journal, Independent, New York Times, Bundeswehr)

In January 2016, Germany opened a military training camp in Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. German commander Col. Bernd Prill said that the cooperation between German and Kurdish forces was necessary to defeat the “common enemy” ISIS. (Source: K24)

In November 2016, the German Parliament approved the expansion of its earlier mandate allowing the German armed forces to join NATO-led reconnaissance missions in Syria. As of February 2021, there are more than 500 soldiers stationed in Iraq, Syria and Jordan to combat ISIS. On October 29, 2020, the mandate for the “Counter Daesh” mission in Jordan and the “Capacity Building Iraq” mission was extended until January 31, 2022. (Sources: Bundesregierung, Bundeswehr, Bundeswehr)

On November 28, 2019, German authorities announced that they were currently investigating 116 returnees to Germany from areas previously controlled by ISIS. The return of suspected ISIS supporters to Germany has been pre-occupying German security officials for weeks as Turkey recently announced plans to send imprisoned ISIS supporters back to their home countries. Authorities knew of a total of 122 people who had “at least temporarily” resided in areas of ISIS terrorists, the German Interior Ministry said in response to a formal inquiry by opposition lawmaker Stefan Ruppert. Some 95 Germans suspected of supporting ISIS are believed to be in custody in Turkey, Syria, or Iraq. German police have launched investigations into 33 of them with arrest warrants out in relation to 26 cases, according to the DPA news agency. (Source: Anadolu Agency)

Foreign Military Engagements

As of February 2021, there are 3,000 German soldiers stationed abroad, including more than 1,000 in Afghanistan and Mali, respectively. Other soldiers are placed throughout the Middle East and Africa, including in Sudan, Lebanon, Somalia, and Iraq. (Source: Bundeswehr)


The Bundeswehr joined the NATO-led mission Resolute Support following the end of the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) mandate in 2014. The Bundeswehr has helped provide training and assistance to Afghan Security forces. (Source: Bundeswehr)

Germany began its operation in Afghanistan in 2001 as part of the ISAF in support of the United States’ Operation Enduring Freedom. More than 5,000 German troops at a single time have led and participated in a number of operations to counter Taliban forces. Germany’s Defense Ministry said that the Bundeswehr would continue the NATO mission through the end of 2016. The German cabinet has decided to increase the troop limit in Afghanistan from 850 up to 980. As of February 2021, there are 1,124 German troops involved in Resolute Support. Under the mandate, German troops provide consultation, training, and support for domestic security forces. The German military was set to withdraw in March. However, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas suspects an extension to Germany’s military deployment due to continued violence between the Taliban and the Afghan government despite the ongoing peace talks between the two camps. (Sources: Bundeswehr, Deutsche Welle, Deutsche Welle)

Germans are gradually becoming less concerned about terrorist attacks. In 2020, the insurance group R+V released long-term survey results that showed that 35 percent of Germans are worried about terrorist attacks, representing a decrease from 2018 (59 percent) and 2019 (44 percent). About 43 percent of those surveyed expressed fear that “federal authorities risked being overwhelmed by refugees,” and are “afraid of increasing tensions with foreigners.” Furthermore, 37 percent of Germans surveyed feared that political extremism would spread. However, 47 percent—up from 25 percent the previous year—are afraid of right-wing extremism spreading. Accordingly, 33 percent fear the spread of Islamist extremism, whereas eight percent of respondents fear the rise of left-wing extremism. (Source: R+V Versicherung)   

According to a 2018 study conducted by the research institute Kantar Emnid, the majority of Germans opposed military intervention in Syria. Only 10 percent supported the deployment of German military forces against ISIS. In comparison, a December 2015 poll found that a majority of the German public—58 percent—supported military deployment against ISIS, while 37 percent opposed. A larger majority (63 percent) feared that the chance of a terror attack on German soil would rise due to German military involvement against ISIS. (Sources: Telegraph, Reuters)

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