German officials disputed one another Monday over the import of a suicide attack near a rock music festival, with the interior minister of Bavaria calling it an “Islamist suicide attack,” while federal officials tried to lessen the public’s fear of refugees.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed only the bomber, and police found a video on his phone in which he pledges himself to the group.
But officials downplayed the likelihood of a plot directed from outside the country, pointing out that the 27-year-old Syrian refugee had tried to kill himself twice before in Germany in the past year, and that he had been placed under psychiatric care. The Interior Ministry said he was under a deportation order that would have gone go into effect Wednesday, after which he would have had four weeks to leave the country.
On Sunday at 10:10 p.m., his third suicide try succeeded when he detonated a backpack bomb as he was trying to get into a music festival at Ansbach, a medieval town in the southern German state of Bavaria. He also wounded 12 people, three of whom were described as having “severe” injuries.
The death toll could have been worse. The refugee had been in line to enter the “Ansbach Open 2016” rock festival but had been denied entry because he didn’t have a ticket. There were an estimated 2,500 people inside the festival.
Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann said he considered the attempt, the third mass attack in Bavaria in a week, an “Islamist suicide attack,” and he warned that the influx of refugees includes people “who represent a real danger to the safety of our residents.”
“We cannot accept that,” he said, calling for a public debate over how to better protect the public and how to prevent asylum abuse.
“We have to demonstrate that everyone needs to accept the laws of this country,” he said.
But the German government instead countered that refugees aren’t to be feared.
“Most terrorists who have committed attacks in Europe over the last few months were not refugees. This finding coincides with recent studies that say that the danger of terrorism among refugees is neither larger nor smaller than among the rest of the population,” said Ulrike Demmer, the German government’s spokesman.
Interior Minister Thomas de Mazière added: “We mustn’t put refugees under general suspicion, even if there are investigations against some individuals. We are working on security checks before immigration.”
The top police official for Berlin offered a different view. Frank Henkel said it was impossible to ignore the role refugees had played in the recent attacks tied to terrorism.
“We should not fool ourselves,” he said. “We apparently imported a few completely brutalized people capable of barbaric crimes not customary in our country before.”
Germany has been wracked by debate over refugees since a surge of perhaps as many as 1 million migrants flooded into the country, largely from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The influx fueled an anti-immigrant political movement, and there are frequent attacks on migrants. On Saturday, shots were fired at a refugee center near Goerlitz in eastern Germany, and on Sunday morning police in Saxony found four “murder outlines” at area rail stations. The outlines of bodies in red bore the inscription “Migration Kills.”
The government has been pushing back against such sentiments. The BKA, the German equivalent of the FBI, recently published a report noting that “Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans are not overrepresented in the crime statistics.” The statistics indicated that crime by immigrants from January to March decreased by 18 percent and showed that crime rates among refugees were similar to those of the rest of the population.
In the Ansbach case, the bomber was clearly suicidal. German news reports said he’d arrived from Syria seeking asylum two years ago but had been rejected. There were no immediate indications as to why his asylum request had been rejected, though police had arrested him in the past on drug offenses.
He’d been ordered deported, effective July 27, and given four weeks to leave the country for Bulgaria.
In the past 18 months around Europe there have been numerous terror attacks – beginning with an attack on the offices of the Parisian satiric newspaper Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, continuing through the gun and suicide vest attacks on November 13 in Paris, then March 22 in Brussels, Belgium, at least seven attacks in Turkey and a truck attack in Nice, France, on Bastille Day. In all, these high-profile attacks in Europe have left more than 400 people dead.
In Germany refugees were involved in two of the attacks, both which resulted in only the attackers dying.
In the first case, a 17-year-old asylum seeker used a knife and hatchet last week to attack and wound four people on a train near Wurzburg, Germany. Police shot and killed him after the train was stopped and he lunged at officers. The Islamic State also claimed responsibility for that attack.
The Ansbach bomber succeeded in killing only himself with an explosive device that police said contained metal scraps and nails.
The deadliest attack in Germany was undertaken by a German-Iranian dual citizen whose act more closely resembled an American-style school shooting than an Islamist-inspired attack.
Ali David Sonboly, an 18-year-old high school student upset at perceived bullying and obsessed with mass murder, opened fire Friday at a mall and a McDonald’s in Munich, killing nine people, seven of whom were teenagers from immigrant homes, before killing himself.
Matthew Schofield: @mattschodcnews