Berlin (CNSNews.com) – Monday’s attack in Berlin, claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), has left Germans wondering about domestic security capabilities in the face of an evidently growing threat.
Twelve people were killed when a truck ploughed into crowds at a Christmas market in the city center. A police hunt continues for the suspected perpetrator – named as Anis Amri, a 24-year-old Tunisian whose application for asylum in Germany had been turned down earlier.
According to Ralph Jäger, interior minister of Germanys North-Rhine Westphalia state, Amri was already under investigation for terror plotting.
Security authorities are warning that there is no way to completely remove the threat of terrorism, suggesting no choice but for tight security precautions against terror to become part of everyday life.
A special law enforcement agency whose brief includes preventive action has already been implementing police checks at stations, airports, football matches and Christmas markets, with officers equipped with machine guns and fire-resistant vests.
A new emergency response plan, executed at the site of the Berlin attack, saw 550 police officers, 153 firefighters and 80 helpers of the Red Cross arrive at the scene in a short time, Die Welt reported. Emergency rooms were alerted in advance and the injured were treated without waiting.
“The system has worked,” Berlin fire brigade chief Wilfried Gräfling was quoted as saying, while acknowledging that the responders “could not do anything for the nine dead on the ground, and the three more who succumbed to their serious injuries in the clinics.”
With 2,500 Christmas markets in Germany, 60 of them in Berlin alone, the question of how to protect its residents during the festive season, let alone year round, remains a difficult one.
The attack took place despite prior warnings by the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) that events like the popular Christmas markets were subject to “high threat.”
Earlier this year the BKA also warned that hundreds of ISIS agents may be hiding in Germany under the guise of refugees. New measures introduced in response include requiring new arrivals to be photographed and fingerprinted immediately.
Berlin police chief Klaus Kandt said the risk of terrorist attacks could not be reduced to zero, and BKA president Holger Münch also argued that the security authorities simply cannot never protect all conceivable targets.
“We have to concentrate on hints in order to be able to recognize something in advance,” he said, apparently alluding to information gleaned during security monitoring of jihadist Internet and communication channels. “That did not work in this case, we must acknowledge that,” he added.
John Blaxland, professor at the Strategic and Defense Studies Centre at Australian National University suggested in an op-ed that in the current digital landscape it will become be almost impossible for intelligence agencies to monitor and track everything.
“In the social media age the task of monitoring for indicators of [terrorist and criminal] behavior has become harder as the volume of data passed over the internet has gone from an emergent flood to an overwhelming deluge,” he wrote.
Blaxland suggested that moving forward, responsibilities must be shared by both intelligence agencies and the public. While intelligence agencies should remain vigilant, “this does not absolve the rest of society from remaining engaged in community, by being inclusive, welcoming and helpful, while also maintaining a level of vigilance,” he said.
The German government has, for now, decided that closing Christmas markets would be the wrong answer. More police officers will be placed on patrol and the Cabinet has decided to expand CCTV coverage across the country.
Still, Ernst Walter, chairman of the Federal Police Union, called on the government to better equip police for counter-terror measures.
He told German news outlet Phönix the union wants police to have titanium helmets in every vehicle, vests capable of protecting against Kalashnikov fire, and armored vehicles ready for emergency situations.
Armin Schuster, a senior leader in Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, said that increasing the presence of police and security services “will be important for people’s sense of security.”
“In the long run, however, we have to ask ourselves whether we want to live with policemen and their machine guns,” he told Die Welt.
The leader of the Green party, Cem Özdemir, said that while there may be no absolute certainty of safety, that was “not an excuse to do nothing.”
At the same time, he warned that transforming society into one ruled by high security was “certainly not the answer.”
The terror threat has shifted the political landscape in Germany toward the far right for the first time since the end of World War II, with the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) leveraging a stance against immigrants and Islam to become the nation’s third largest party.
Chancellor Angela Merkel attempted to position herself as protector of both German values and domestic security – but did not rescind on her refugee and migrant policy despite admitting the need for further tightened controls.
The day after the attack, investigators found notes left behind across various locations in Bielefeld, Berlin, containing inflammatory phrases such as “Kill the heathen where you find them” (an exhortation from the Qur’an) and “Berlin was only the beginning.”