By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
Between July and August 2016 – in the midst of the summer holiday season – Europe was hit by several cruel terrorist attacks, which have transformed its political and psychological environment. Some of the attacks were direct IS inspired terrorist attacks, carried out by young fanaticized ISIS members, other attacks were carried out by persons with a psychiatric record, “running amok”, as was the case in Munich on July 22nd when an 18 year old person ran amok in the Olympia Shopping Center of Munich shooting dead 9 people and killing himself.
Via Facebook the young assassin had previously invited young people to come to a meeting point at the Olympia shopping center. For several hours the city was thrown into an acute emergency situation, involving a huge police mobilization. For several hours it was not clear whether there were several perpetrators carrying out at different sites of the city a terrorist attack or whether they dealt with a lone amok running assassin. What contributed to panic and confusion were the so called “social networks” which twittered pieces of “information” – some of them being helpful since they offered people that had to escape direct help; on the other side these same networks spread chaos and confusion by distributing false pieces of information to the police. The consequence was that for hours the police which followed the hints was engaged in a frenzy effort to find the supposed other terrorists in the city of Munich, as result of which panic was spread among citizens.
The Munich attack was carried out by a German- Iranian teenager, who had been on psychiatric treatment for quite a while. Preceding the Munich attack was on July 14th a barbarous attack in Nice (Southern France), where a 31 year old Tunisian drove with his truck into a huge crowd, that was celebrating the French Bastille day, killing on the spot 84 people and wounding 200. In the apartment of the French- Tunisian, the police found weapons and written material which revealed that the assassin had followed the instructions of IS. Four days later, on July 17th, on a regional train in the German city Würzburg (Bavaria), a 17 years old IS terrorist carried out a random attack against train passengers, being equipped with an axe and a knife. Four members of a family from Hong Kong were severely wounded, aside many others. The assassin was shot dead after having threatened during his escape to kill a policeman. It was a 17 year old Afghani refugee, who shortly before his attack had been in contact with a person in the Mideast suspected to belong to the IS, as Spiegel reported (31/ 2016). A video was found at his living place in which before carrying out the attack, he confessed to be the perpetrator of the axe and knife attack.
On July 24th, a 22 year old Syrian Daleel with a self- made bomb tried to enter an Open Air Music festival in a small town Ansbach (Bavaria); having been refused by the security at the entrance, he shortly after that detonated his bomb in front of a winery, wounding 12 people and killing himself. According to his electronic communication (Handy and Computer) a day after the attack, the IS hailed Daleel as one of their soldiers, as Spiegel reported. He had been in communication with a person in the Mideast via chat, who had instructed Daleel how to behave with the German security checks. For two years this Syrian refugee had lived in Ansbach, he had the status of a “tolerated refugee” who was supposed to be “deported” to Bulgaria from which he had originally come, but given his “mental psychological problems” his deportation had been postponed.
The attacks have provoked a major debate within police and security circles in Germany as well as in France concerning the “new modus operandi” of IS terrorists, who seem to use mentally instable single individuals and deploy them as “lone wolf jihadists”. The effect that this has is that it contributes to an even wider confusion and fear among the population, while creating mistrust and destroying the social fiber of society. The other aspect of the debate is focusing on the question how to handle the refugees in general; many urge that lessons must be drawn from the last year, where alone 1,2 Mio refugees came to Germany, among them obviously several under- cover terrorists. Many commentators even have gone as far as putting the entire German and EU refugee policy into question.
Brutal assassination in Catholic Church in Normandy
Yet all these events in Germany and Nice were surpassed by an even more vicious attack that occurred on July 26th in France. During an early morning mass in the Catholic Church of the small town St. Etienne de Rouvray (Normandy), two young assassins from the IS, which were of Algerian -French origin, brutally killed the 85 year old Priest Jacques Hamel, cutting his throat like its done with a sacrificial lamb; attending the early morning mass were three other people, including a nun who later described to the media the horror scene that she had witnessed.
The barbarity of the murder was, as the eye witness described, underlined by the fact that the two assassins danced around the altar chanting Alu Akhbar, while demanding from the priest to kneel down in front of them. He resisted upon which they cut his throat with a knife, while filming the entire scene. The terrorists sent the Video to the IS which later hailed the murder.
The two assassins then tried to take the three people attending the mass hostage and while fleeing into the Church yard they were overwhelmed by the Police and shot. The incredible thing about the murder in St. Etienne de Rouvray was that one of the assassins – 19 year old Adel Kermich (French-Algerian) – had been during the last year under “custody by the French police” wearing an electronic bracelet, having been known to the French police as one who had tried to join the IS in Syria in 2015. The French priest Hamel was known for being an open minded priest who constantly had looked for dialogue with the Muslims in his parish.
Socio-political effect of the assassination wave
Within days the European environment has become transformed: While the French government has imposed an emergency state for the next 6 months, announcing at the same time that a National Guard comprising 86.000 reservists will be deployed, in order to help the French police, the German government has switched onto an “emergency mode” and formed a crisis staff in order to follow each day very closely what is happening. At the same time an open debate is conducted in German security circles about the need to deploy the German Bundeswehr (Army) in case of a major terrorist attack.
As result of the ongoing police investigation it comes out that in many cases we deal with young assassins, refugees and teenagers of immigrant (i.e. Syrian, Tunisian, Moroccan, Afghani, Algerian) background, very similar to the pattern of the November terrorist attacks (2015) in France and Belgium; teenagers who were born and grew up in the respective European host countries, some having tried to join the IS in Syria during the last two years. In other cases we just deal with mentally sick people, who either had for years spent their free time watching “ego shooting video games“, as was the case with the Munich teenager, who furthermore for more than a year had meticulously planned the attack by reading all available books on previous cases of young pupils running amok in German Schools, and who bought his weapon -a Glock 17 pistol- via Internet, the criminal “Darknet”.
We can’t fight Islam in order to fight terrorism
An important message was also given by Pope Francis in reaction to the recent terrorist wave. On his way to the World Youth Festival in Cracow (Poland) Pope Francis was informed about the brutal murder of Father Hamel and he condemned in the strongest terms the attack on the Catholic Church in northern France. Given the “horrendous violence” that had taken place in the church, a sacred place which serves as environment for the faithful and in which the love of God is announced, as Vatican spokesman Father Lombardi stated, the Pope “expressed pain and horror about this absurd and senseless violence”, while strongly condemning every form of hatred and he called to pray for those who were affected by it.
In a press conference that was given by the Pontiff during his return from the World Youth festival the Pope was asked by a French journalist about the murder against Father Hamel and why it is that he never spoke about Islam but only about terrorism. In his answer the Pope stated that he doesn’t like to speak about Islamic violence. Whenever he read the newspapers, he said, he saw that there is also violence perpetrated by baptized Catholics. If one spoke about Islamic violence one should also speak about catholic violence. “I think that in almost all religions there is a small group of fundamentalists. But to equalize Islam with violence is wrong. The Muslims want peace as the discussion with the Imam of the Al- Azhar University (Cairo) had demonstrated.” The pope further underlined that he does not think that Islam is terrorist, but that indeed the ISIS is a fundamentalist group. Asked about countermeasures, he answered that terrorism is everywhere and grows, if instead of man money is the center of attention.
In an address to the polish Bishops conference, Pope Francis identified some of the cultural /religious problems which also the recent terrorist attacks have brought to the fore. He expressed deep concern about the “secularization of society”; the biggest danger would stem from “de-Christianization” i.e. a life without Christ. In reference to the concept of mercy and the question how mercy could be best realized in times of social problems and terrorism, the Pontiff emphasized emphatically that the World is facing a “Third World war”. Money and exploitation are in the center of human actions and while wealth is concentrated in the hands of a very small elite, the majority of humanity suffers from exploitation, youth unemployment and corruption. Pope Francis qualified the problem we have to face today as “religious analphabetism” which should be defeated with the language of the “human mind”, the language of the heart and by the actions of man. Concerning the problem of migration the Pope reminded that his father had immigrated to Argentina and that even if times have changed it remains a fact that most refugees flee today from wars, exploitation and famine which are caused by corruption and ideologies. Each country, he demanded, should in a Christian and generous way, according to its possibilities act in respect to the refugees.
Wiesbaden August 6 2016