Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is treading a fine line as it tries to warn travellers of threats without going over the top.
“The threat of terrorism in Germany remains high and further attacks are likely,” DFAT said in an advisory issued last Friday, 22 July 2016.
DFAT’s forecast proved uncannily accurate, possibly faster than it had expected. Germany has experienced four attacks in a single week – an axe assault, a shooting mass murder, a machete slaying and a suicide bombing. Three of those horrendous incidents happened since DFAT issued its warning on Friday. Three of the attacks were conducted by asylum seekers, while the fourth attacker was a German-Iranian youth.
DFAT’s advisory last Friday continued: “On 18 July 2016, a 17-year-old armed with an axe and knife injured up to five people on a train between the towns of Treuchtlingen and Würzburg. Police are investigating the attack, which was probably inspired by the Islamic State terrorist group.”
The attacker turned out to be a youth from Pakistan who had entered Germany posing as an Afghani asylum seeker and was living with a foster family. After the attack, the axeman got off the train at Heidingsfeld, probably intending to escape, but was shot dead by police who happened to be in the area on an unrelated matter.
A search of his room later revealed a handmade ISIS flag and a letter promising “revenge against the infidels.”
Three days after that, in Munich, a man armed with a Glock automatic pistol opened fire outside a McDonalds restaurant, killing nine people and injuring 27. DFAT issued an immediate warning and raised the advisory level for Munich to “exercise a high degree of caution”. The overall level for Germany remained (and still remains) at ‘exercise normal safety precautions’.
Once the incident was over, DFAT told travellers: “Given you’re no longer being asked to stay indoors, we’ve lowered the level for Munich to the pre-attack level of ‘exercise normal safety precautions’, in line with the level for all of Germany.”
The gunman was later identified by police as an 18-year-old born in Munich to Iranian parents.
The next two attacks in Germany, like the first, were carried out by asylum seekers who had entered the country via Germany’s open border policy. A 21-year-old Syrian refugee chopped a pregnant woman to death with a machete in a fast-food restaurant near Stuttgart, and on Sunday, a suicide bomber detonated his bomb outside a restaurant in Ansbach, Bavaria, where young people were queuing for a music festival.
Twelve people were injured in the bomb attack, which killed the bomber, a 27-year-old Syrian who had turned up in Germany in 2014 and whose asylum request had been rejected. Police later found Islamist videos on the bomber’s mobile phone.
DFAT’s advice to Australians in Germany is to exercise normal safety precautions. That is as it should be. Germany is a delightful and a welcoming place. DFAT has a responsibility to protect Australians abroad and must pass on any information received.
In this case, DFAT got it right, though there’s little travellers can do about impending attacks if they don’t know where, how or when.
In the longer term, the spate of murderous attacks throughout Europe may trigger an electoral backlash which sees border controls expand. Security may extend into many pleasant gatherings that Europeans have for centuries taken for granted.
Written by Peter Needham