German Mood Is Shaken as Attacks Show Vulnerability to ISIS

BERLIN — After a week bookended by terrorist attacks, Germans are now clear that they, too, are targets of the Islamic State, leaving them longing for the sense of order that is their pride and bedrock of success.

The attacks started with an ax-wielding teenager on a train on July 18 and ended with a backpack bomber on the terrace of a wine bar on Sunday. In between — unrelated to Islamist terrorism, but no less unsettling — an Iranian-German carried out a mass shooting in a Munich shopping mall, and a recently arrived 21-year-old Syrian refugee killed his girlfriend outside a kebab shop, according to the authorities.

The arrival of such violence in normally placid Germany has added to an anxiety-provoking summer for Europe.

Germans were already feeling a loss of control and grappling with the cultural clashes, like sexual assaults that opened the year in Cologne, ushered in by a chaotic storm of migration last year.

Still, before this week, many were inclined to put faith in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s exhortation that “we can do this” when it came to integrating the nearly one million migrants and refugees to whom she had opened the country’s doors.

It is not clear that is the case any longer.

“It all appeared to be going pretty well for Merkel, but the situation has changed dramatically in 10 days between the Nice attack and Sunday’s suicide bomber in Ansbach,” the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote, referring to a rampage that killed 84 in Nice, France. “The chancellor must once again fear that she will be punished by voters.”

Sensing Germans’ insecurity, Ms. Merkel has shifted to a more forceful tone. “We will resolve this and do everything possible to protect the safety and freedom of all people in Germany,” she said on Saturday.

But the statement — coming more than 17 hours after President Obama had offered his condolences for the Munich attack — did little, it seemed, to blunt a wave of criticism that she and her administration had failed to get a handle on the refugee situation and the potential problems it had invited into the country.
Week of Violence Rattles Germany

In a span of six days in July, four high-profile attacks occurred in Germany, putting the nation on edge. Ten people were killed and more than 40 wounded in Würzburg, Munich, Reutlingen and Ansbach.

On social media, the hashtag #Merkelschweigt, or “Merkel stays silent,” quickly resurfaced — it was first used to denounce her belated reaction to the authorities’ treatment of refugees on the Hungarian-Serbian border last summer.

The recent attacks (and Ms. Merkel’s seeming absence; she has been on vacation) have left Germans questioning the state’s ability to protect them and whether their generosity to the refugees has been misplaced.

The perpetrators of the two attacks that appeared linked to or inspired by the Islamic State had entered Germany as migrants and had been living off the benefits funded by German taxpayers, the authorities said.

“What has been shaken is the attitude about refugees,” Volker Stanzel, a senior adviser at the European Council on Foreign Relations, noted in an assessment of the security situation in Germany. “You have a nest of violence in these refugee camps in large parts of public perception. Now suddenly they seem like an imminent danger.”

Ms. Merkel told Parliament in September, as thousands of Germans thronged to train and bus stations bearing gifts and food for thousands of weary immigrants, that the country could benefit from the influx of humanity, “if we do this well.”

By “this,” she meant the process of integration the country has in the meantime set down in law. But from the outset, security officials warned that they had no way of knowing who had entered the country.

The border police, overwhelmed by the sheer number of arrivals, could not properly screen the migrants, and many came without passports or official documents.

Officials have had a hard time deporting those who have failed to qualify for asylum once they are here, under a system that allows those whose applications are rejected to appeal in court.

Consequently, someone like the 17-year-old refugee who carried out the train attack near Würzburg, which left five people wounded, was able to lie about his identity, the authorities now say, and remain in the country. His name has not been made public.
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Similarly, Mohammad Daleel, the 27-year-old Syrian who carried out the suicide bombing in Ansbach that wounded 15, had his application for asylum rejected twice, but was not deported.

“Somehow, it’s just not funny anymore,” said Roland Hofherr, 48, a mechanic, who was in the cobblestone square that had been packed with 2,000 concertgoers the night Mr. Daleel’s bomb went off. “First Paris, then Nice, and it feels far away, but this happened right here.”

He blamed politicians for failing to deport migrants with a criminal record or who had been denied asylum. “I feel for these people, who come from Syria, but we can’t let just anyone stay here.”

Such sentiments have fueled support for anti-immigrant parties, like Alternative for Germany. After a strong showing in state elections in the spring, the party has hovered around 20 percent in recent polls before an election on Sept. 4 in Ms. Merkel’s home state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

“The general political climate in Germany does not look better after the horror series in Bavaria,” wrote the Neue Westfälische newspaper in an editorial on Tuesday, which went on to voice concern that the attacks would strengthen Alternative for Germany, known by its German initials, AfD.

“It can already be assumed that through the series of imported hate, more people will flock to the AfD and the chancellor’s phrase, ‘We can do this,’ will blow up in her face,” the paper wrote.

Horst Seehofer, the Bavarian governor and head of the Bavarian sister party of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats, had criticized the chancellor’s immigration policy for months, calling for caps on the number of migrants taken in and more stringent enforcement of deportation laws. Last month, the two reached an agreement at a summit meeting of their parties in Potsdam.

This week, that agreement appeared on the verge of crumbling. At a meeting of members of his Christian Social Union’s state lawmakers on Tuesday, Mr. Seehofer pledged to do everything possible to ensure the safety of people in Bavaria, even at the cost of unity within the conservative bloc.

“Levelheadedness is important, but it does not supersede the need for protection of the state,” he said, in a nod to urgings by the chancellor and her interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, to remain calm. “I am now no longer willing, simply in the name of keeping the peace, to not handle things as they must be handled in a country governed by the rule of the law.”