February 27, 2020

The far-right motivated Feb. 19 attack in Hanau, Germany, which killed nine people, has brought the threat from far-right terrorism in the country to the forefront of public consciousness. This threat has been on the rise throughout Germany for several years and is likely to continue through at least 2020. The German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV) reported a roughly 33 percent increase in the number of individuals involved in right-wing extremist networks from 2018 to 2019. Far-right inspired attacks in Germany in the medium term will likely be high profile, though low impact.


Far-right Extremism on The Rise

Demonstrators in Hanau, Germany march against recent attacks and the rise of far-right extremism in the country.

The attack in Hanau occurred five days after German police arrested 12 suspected far-right extremists, including a police officer who had previously been suspended from service for having links to extremist groups. The suspects had allegedly planned multiple attacks aimed at creating further divisions in German society. Nevertheless, security forces believe that the Hanau attacker acted alone out of ultra-right, racist motives. Police additionally stated that he had no prior criminal record or connections with far-right groups, but posted extremist content online. Two high-profile, far-right motivated attacks occurred in Germany in 2019. A lone assailant shot moderate politician Walter Luebcke dead at his home in Kassel June 2. Luebcke was targeted for his pro-immigration stance. Another lone attacker - motivated by racist and anti-Semitic beliefs - attempted to storm a synagogue in Halle Oct. 2; after failing to enter the building, he killed two passersby. The incidents indicate a threat from both organized groups and radicalized individuals, which will cause additional difficulties for law enforcement. Radicalized individuals acting alone are difficult to monitor and can conduct improvised attacks with very little planning or associated warning.

The threat from far-right extremism in Germany is likely higher than in the rest of Western Europe. WorldAware reduced its Country Security Assessment Rating (CSAR) terrorism ratings for the UK and certain other countries from 3 (Moderate) to 2 (Low). Moderate ratings indicate that threats are generally limited but dynamic incidents can occur and basic precautions may not entirely mitigate the impact, while low ratings indicate that threats typically occur only in specific areas, infrequently affect businesses, and are generally avoided by basic precautions. The threat for Germany remains unchanged at Moderate. This is largely due to the higher threat stemming from far-right militancy, which Interior Minister Horst Seehofer stated in September 2019 was on the rise and was at least equal to, if not greater, than the threat posed by Islamist terrorism. This latter threat has since diminished somewhat.


Likely Increased Regional Threat

The rise of the far-right extremism is not isolated to Germany. National security agencies and think tanks have reported an increase in related incidents throughout Western Europe. The 2019 Global Terrorism Index, an annual report detailing global terrorism data and trends by the Institute for Economics and Peace, reported a 320 percent increase in far-right terrorist incidents 2014-2018, largely in Western countries. Commander Richard Smith, head of the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command, has characterized far-right extremism as the fastest-growing terror threat within the UK’s borders, and the Norwegian police have issued a warning regarding possible far-right incidents in 2020.

The modus operandi of far-right extremists could differ from that of Islamist-related terrorism in the medium term. Far-right terrorists are currently less likely to target public venues such as transportation hubs, tourist areas, sporting events, and government buildings, and will instead likely choose certain areas, establishments, and religious objects where they could target individuals based on race, religion, politics, or lifestyle. Possible targets include mosques, synagogues, coffeehouses in predominantly immigrant neighborhoods, and gatherings of political activists who support open migration. Far-right militants in Western Europe have also previously targeted sites associated with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community. Despite the increased threat, most businesses and travelers in the region are unlikely to be directly impacted, though they will continue to suffer sporadic disruptions from associated security alerts and occasional counterterrorism operations.

The 2019 Global Terrorism Index reported a 320% increase in far-right terrorist incidents from 2014 to 2018.

The increasing threat from far-right terrorism in Germany has occurred in conjunction with the successes of right-wing nationalist Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AFD) party throughout Germany, and especially in the eastern parts of the country. Although the AFD has never called for or directly supported far-right terrorism and extremism, its relative electoral success has managed to normalize the discourse of anti-immigration and racism, making it more mainstream and acceptable, which will likely boost open support of the far-right agenda. Support for right-wing nationalist parties is typically increasing or stable in much of Western Europe, and this trend seems set to continue.

While far-right incidents are expected to increase, many state security agencies have been given additional resources and powers to combat the threat. It is unlikely that individual citizens in Western Europe will be affected by terrorist attacks. This likelihood is reduced even further by the fact that most far-right attacks are planned and carried out by individuals rather than by groups, which limits the potential wide-reaching impact. The main impact that most people will experience will likely be from additional counterterror measures aiming to curb right-wing extremist events, but this will be significantly less for individuals unrelated to likely targets. The threat can be mitigated, though not entirely eliminated, by heeding basic security precautions.


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