July 22 shootings in Germany: The implications of a possible new Munich attack – by Maria Alvanou

July 22 was already a black day for Europe. It was in 2011 when Breivik assumed his deadly activity in Norway, showing to Europeans that terrorism activity today is not an Islamist privilege. Although current international security seems to focus in addressing global jihadi campaigns, there are other sources of threat, equally dangerous, that require attention. Five years later, July 22 is once again a black day for Europeans. Not long after Nice, we are shocked again due to death and injury from attacks that have taken place in Munich.

Information is still fresh and we do not know full details about the whole operational planning. We do know that shooting took place at the “Olympia” shopping mall and an individual of Iranian-German identity whose body was found later is considered to be the perpetrator. At the beginning german authorities were very careful about their public announcements. One cannot yet totally exclude even “ordinary criminal activity”, but the timing and the operation allow the assumption of an extremist activity. German officials handle the event with the severity and character of a terror one and Munich Police from the very early stage urged through social network publications for no speculation comments that could interfere with the research.

Should the shooting events prove to be indeed of terrorist nature we can already underline the following:

  1. There were comments made by many against French and Belgian authorities for alleged unacceptable gaps in security, making comparison with the successes of German security. There was the argument that such attacks could not have happened in Germany. The opinion that any state has the perfect security is naïve. Suicide attacks, knife attacks, machine gun raiding, all can fall into the category of operations easy to be staged and hard to be foiled. And people with psychological problems snapping are also a problem one cannot easily foresee. German counter terrorism authorities are indeed highly qualified, but no police, anti-terrorism squad, intelligence authority can guarantee full protection from terror and extremist hits.
  2. The complexity of the terror situation in Europe can be seen from what media and analysts were commenting as the news broke about the attack. Due to recent attacks, operatives of the Islamist terrorist network were highly suspected. On the other hand some spoke about the strong possibility of perpetrators coming from the far-right/neo-Nazi groups. Though lately we have experienced activity under the umbrella of the Islamist network, the option of the far-right/neo-Nazi movement could indeed not be overlooked and generally it must not be ruled out when attacks occur. The previous hits in Paris, Brussels and Nice could be used as an excuse for a “revenge attack” and xenophobic, racist actions by the “true Europeans” and “patriots”. After all, Germany is a country where far right/ neo-Nazi groups have a strong presence and trouble for years now security officials. The Döner Killings” that came out to be NSU murders are indicative of the problem and of how law enforcement has to investigate all aspects from a security point of view. Not only this, but even if attacks are work of far-right/neo-Nazi operatives, at the end of the day the Islamist network could again profit from them. Such tragedies feed propaganda and help in polarizing and gathering members, supporters, sympathizers. Especially if Muslims are specifically targeted, then further attacks by jihadists can be promoted and justified as part of “defense” of Muslim population in Europe. So in every case it must be clear that in the current threat situation any type of attack serves the vicious circle of violence.
  3. Shopping malls are an excellent- unfortunately- target for terror attacks. Indicatively we can think of the Mumbai attack in 2008 or the Nairobi attack in 2013, where we saw complicated operations with devastating results. We can also consider more simple attacks like at the Tel Aviv Dizengoff Center in 1996 or the Jerusalem Mahane Yehuda Market (which is not a shopping mall but a whole street market) in 1997 and 2002 that had also deadly results. Shopping is part of the everyday life and shopping malls in most modern countries are an “all inclusive” location where people shop, dine, go to the movies, date, have fun, relax. So we are talking about places where lots of people frequent and controlling all of them is very difficult. In Israel, for example, one can see indeed guards in the entrances of shopping malls checking all the bags of individuals trying to enter. Attacks still can take place in the waiting line for the check. Many will propose now strict measures and policies as the response to the shootings. It is a standard reaction and once again the known dilemma “freedom or security” will be put under discussion. Citizens – according to the level of their fear, their ideology, their democratic reflexes – will position themselves to the question of the relationship between liberties and security and governments will adopt accordingly their respective policies. In any case it should not be forgotten that the fight against terrorism should not become a fight against our way of life.
  4. The alleged perpetrator appears to have committed suicide after his actions. This does not match the usual operational characteristics of jihadist action. Suicide operations- or even very high risk missions- are completely different and they are conceived in Islamist ideology as “martyrdom”, not as suicide. The suicide attacker dies upon his act following the so called “Samson model” and death is methodologically necessary for the killing of others. A suicide of the perpetrator after the attack reminds us more of the shootings that we see in the United States. Of course in terrorism there are no concrete red lines. Definitions as well as notions serve the operational interests of the groups and these can change. So we cannot exclude a fatwa or an extremist religious interpretation of such suicides legitimizing them as accepted forms of martyrdom, if this is serving a new methodology that delivers results. Additionally, there is footage in the media of a dialogue between the alleged attacker and another person, where the first seems to speak in a delirious state and refer in derogatory manner against Turks in Germany. We do not know yet many things about the authenticity of the video and whether indeed the attacker is the one filmed. If the video is indeed of the perpetrator prior the attack, there are three things we should pay attention to: First, was the perpetrator under the influence of drugs or other substances (alcohol etc)? Can his behavior give us tips for possible psychological problems (that of course need to be verified after extensive research)? Secondly, can his actions can be interpreted as those of an immigrant attacking other groups of immigrant descent, as a way to show that he is not one of them (he should be considered “German”) or that “good immigrants” oppose “bad ones”? Such a reaction and activity is not something bizarre in human psychology. People who feel segregated and discriminated can show contempt and even violent behavior against their “own kind”, trying to distinguish themselves and show that they belong rightly to the other side. A third point is about whether the perpetrator’s actions were a personal decision, plan and operation, or they are linked to any group or extremist network. In the second case the degree and form of support by the external factor must be examined.

Munich is no stranger to terror attacks. The notorious terror operation during the 1972 Olympic Games will always be remembered as a massacre and it will stay linked to the history of the city for ever. The July 22 2016 attack comes in a time when terrorism has been knocking constantly the door of Europe. We wait to see whether this new hit is a terror one and its exact character. One thing is for sure: this shooting showed the inherent vulnerabilities of the security system even in a well prepared European country and it wakes up once more Europeans citizens to the threat of terror, puzzling them about the extend measures should go in order to protect them. It is time to think and feel “ich bin ein Münchener“ and the implications of such a statement regarding how we respond to terror.