February 5, 2016
Three Algerians suspected of seeking to carry out an attack in Berlin were arrested in the early hours of February 4, 2016. In German media, both the Alexanderplatz – a busy shopping, transportation and entertainment hub – and the iconic former border crossing Checkpoint Charlie were named as potential targets. Little was known about the substance of these plans and how close they came to being implemented. These events come after a string of foiled or suspected plots, most notably those targeting the Hannover football stadium in November and two Munich train stations on New Year’s Eve. Additionally, the ongoing Carnival celebrations in many cities especially along the Rhine mean that German security services have been on high alert.
Significantly, the leader of the group was a 35-year old man who had apparently entered the EU under the guise of refugee status and lived in a German shelter for asylum-seekers. Another group member had also sought to pass himself off as a Syrian refugee. This development is expected to contribute to an increasingly volatile public debate on the refugee issue. The president of the German domestic intelligence agency (Verfassungsschutz) asserted that the ‘Islamic State’ is increasingly using the refugee trek to get its fighters to Europe – not because this is the easiest way to reach the central and western parts of the continent but in order to discredit Arab and Muslim refugees more generally. Indeed, the suspected plot of Berlin will most likely increase the pressure especially on North African refugees, who have come under growing scrutiny since the sexual assaults of Cologne. Recent changes to asylum legislation are supposed to reduce the number of asylum seekers from Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, and to increase deportation rates.