A 15-year-old German girl of Moroccan descent stabbed and seriously wounded a police officer in Hanover. The stabbing appears to be the first lone-wolf terrorist attack in Germany inspired by the Islamic State.
The incident occurred at the main train station in Hanover on the afternoon of February 26, when two police officers noticed that the girl — identified only as Safia S. — was observing and following them.
The officers approached the girl, who was wearing an Islamic headscarf, and asked her to present her identification papers. After handing over her ID, she stabbed one of the officers in the neck with a six-centimeter kitchen knife.
According to police, the attack happened so quickly that the 34-year-old officer, who was rushed to the hospital, was unable to defend himself. After her arrest, police found that Safia was also carrying a second, larger knife.
"The perpetrator did not display any emotion," a police spokesperson said. "Her only concern was for her headscarf. She was concerned that her headscarf be put back on properly after she was arrested. Whether the police officer survived, she did not care."
On March 3, Hanover Public Prosecutor Thomas Klinge revealed that Safia had travelled to the Turkish-Syrian border in November 2015 to join the Islamic State, but that her mother had persuaded her to return to Germany on January 28.
According to police, the stabbing was premeditated: unable to join the Islamic State in Syria, Safia had determined to carry out an attack against the police in Germany.
Safia is being charged with attempted murder. She is also being charged with a terrorism offense. According to prosecutors, by travelling to Turkey to join the Islamic State, the girl violated Section 89a of the German Criminal Code, "Preparation of a serious violent offense endangering the state."
The newspaper, Die Welt, reported that Safia had been part of the local Salafist scene since 2008 — she was only seven years old at the time. She had appeared in Islamist propaganda videos alongside Pierre Vogel, a convert to Islam and one of the best-known Salafist preachers in Germany. In those videos, Vogel praised Safia for wearing a headscarf to school and for being able to recite verses from the Koran.
Safia's brother, Saleh, is reportedly being held in a jail in Turkey, where he was arrested for trying to join the Islamic State.
Until now, the only other successful Islamist attack in Germany took place at Frankfurt Airport in March 2011, when Arid Uka, an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo, shot and killed two United States airmen and seriously wounded two others. Uka was later sentenced to life in prison.
On February 4, 2016, German police arrested four members of an ISIS cell allegedly planning jihadist attacks in Berlin. In coordinated raids, more than 450 police searched homes and businesses linked to the cell in Berlin, Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia.
The ringleader — a 35-year-old Algerian who was staying at a refugee shelter with his wife and two children in Attendorn — arrived in Germany in the fall of 2015. Posing as an asylum seeker from Syria, the Algerian, identified only as Farid A., is said to have received military training with the Islamic State in Syria.
Also arrested were: a 49-year-old Algerian living in Berlin under a fake French identity; a 30-year-old Algerian living in Berlin with a valid residence permit; and a 26-year-old Algerian, allegedly with ties to Islamists in Belgium, who is living in a refugee shelter in Hanover.
The men allegedly were planning to attack Checkpoint Charlie, the iconic Cold War crossing point between East and West Berlin. They also allegedly were planning to attack the Alexanderplatz, a large public square and transportation hub in the center of Berlin.
On February 8, German police arrested an alleged ISIS commander who was living at a refugee shelter in the small town of Sankt Johann. The 32-year-old jihadist, known only as Bassam and posing as a Syrian asylum seeker, had entered Germany in the fall of 2015. German intelligence authorities were unaware of the man's true identity until the German newsmagazine, Der Spiegel, interviewed him after receiving a tip from other Syrians at the shelter. Bassam said the accusations against him are false: "I want to learn German and work as a cook," he said.
In a February 5 interview with ZDF television, Hans-Georg Maaßen, the head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV), warned that the Islamic State was deliberately planting jihadists among the refugees flowing into Europe. "The terror risk is very high," he said.
On February 4, the Berliner Zeitung quoted Maaßen as saying that the BfV had received more than 100 warnings that there were Islamic State fighters among the refugees currently living in Germany. Some of the jihadists are known to have entered Germany using fake or stolen passports.
Maaßen also revealed that the BfV knows of 230 attempts by Salafists to canvass German refugee shelters in search of new recruits. In a recent interview with the Berlin newspaper, Der Tagesspiegel, Maaßen said that the number of Salafists in Germany has now risen to 7,900. This is up from 7,000 in 2014; 5,500 in 2013; 4,500 in 2012, and 3,800 in 2011.
Although Salafists make up only a small fraction of the estimated six million Muslims living in Germany today, intelligence officials warn that most of those attracted to Salafi ideology are impressionable young Muslims who, at a moment's notice, are willing to carry out terrorist acts in the name of Islam.
In an annual report, the BfV described Salafism as the "most dynamic Islamist movement in Germany." It added:
"The absolutist nature of Salafism contradicts significant parts of the German constitutional order. Specifically, Salafism rejects the democratic principles of separation of state and religion, popular sovereignty, religious and sexual self-determination, gender equality and the fundamental right to physical integrity."
In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Maaßen warned: "Salafists want to establish an Islamic state in Germany."
On February 16, more than 200 German police raided the homes of 44 Salafists in the northern city state of Bremen. The Interior Minister of Bremen, Ulrich Mäurer, said he had ordered the closure of the Islamic Association of Bremen (Islamischen Fördervereins Bremen) for the alleged recruiting of jihadists for the Islamic State:
"It is rather apocalyptic that we have people living in the middle of our city who are prepared, from one day to the next, to participate massively in the terror of the Islamic State."
In December 2014, authorities in Bremen shut down another Salafist group, the Culture and Family Association (Kultur- und Familieverein, KUF), after some of its members joined the Islamic State.
More than 800 German residents — 60% of whom are German passport holders — have joined the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, according to Die Welt, based on the most recent data compiled by the Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt, BKA). Of these, roughly one-third have returned to Germany. Around 130 others have been killed on the battlefield, including at least a dozen suicide bombers.
In a February 19 interview with the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, the head of Europol, Rob Wainwright, said that up to 5,000 European jihadists have returned to the continent after obtaining combat experience on the battlefields of the Middle East. He added that further jihadist attacks in Europe were to be expected:
"Europe is now facing the greatest terrorist threat in more than ten years. We expect that ISIS or other Islamist groups will carry out an attack somewhere in Europe, with the aim of achieving high losses among the civilian population. In addition, there is the threat posed by lone-wolf attackers. The growing number of foreign fighters presents the member states of the EU with completely new challenges."
A recent poll conducted by YouGov for the news agency, Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA), found that 66% of Germans expect the Islamic State to carry out a jihadist attack on German soil in 2016. Only 17% of those surveyed believe there will be no attack; 17% said they did not have an opinion.
Speaking at a gathering of international police in Berlin on February 25, Hans-Georg Maaßen, the spy chief, warned that Germany is not an island: "We have to assume that we will become the target of jihadist attacks, and we need to be prepared."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter. His first book, Global Fire, will be out in 2016.