New York Times Article on ISIS infiltrating Europe through the migrant wave.
BERLIN — An Algerian couple, suspected of planning a terrorist attack in Berlin and arrested on suspicion of belonging to the Islamic State, entered Germany late last year and applied for asylum as Syrian refugees — part of a pattern of terrorism suspects entering Europe under the guise of fleeing war, the German authorities said Friday.
The police in Berlin published a photo they said was of the husband, showing a bearded man with his face blacked out, pointing a pistol at the camera, with two Kalashnikov rifles propped up beside him on a sofa strewn with other weapons. The photo was believed to have been taken in Syria, where German media reports said the man had received terrorist training with the Islamic State.
The man, not named by the police but identified by the media as Farid A., 34, and his wife, 27, had been sought on an international warrant initiated by the Algerian authorities. They were under surveillance at their refugee shelter in the town of Attendorn, about an hour’s drive northeast of Cologne, and were arrested in coordinated raids in three states on Thursday. They were suspected of plotting an attack in Berlin, the police said Friday in a statement.
As many as one million asylum seekers entered Germany last year. An initial warm welcome, particularly for Syrians, soured after the terrorist attacks in and around Paris in November, which killed 130 people, and the police found documents suggesting that some assailants had entered Europe posing as refugees.
Hundreds of assaults and robberies during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne, attributed to young men of Arab or North African backgrounds, further heightened fears over the consequences of the migrant influx.
On Friday, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, Hans-Georg Maassen, said the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, was using the wave of newcomers to infiltrate Europe.
The authorities in Europe have “seen repeatedly that terrorists are being smuggled in, camouflaged as refugees,” Mr. Maassen said on ZDF public television. “That is a fact that security authorities must always seek to recognize and identify.”
The Berlin police said on Friday that they had first received a tip in December from Mr. Maassen’s agency, the Office for Protection of the Constitution, that a terrorist plot might be brewing. On Jan. 10, the agency gave an unspecified tip that involved suspected supporters ofISIS possibly involved in planning an attack in Berlin, a police statement said.
The tip “was taken very seriously” and intensive surveillance began, the police said. “That procedure established that the affected persons were behaving very noticeably and in a conspirative way.”
Considering the danger of a possible attack, the police weighed the chances that the suspects would detect the surveillance against the prospect of obtaining more information and decided to go “into the open,” the statement said. About 300 of the 450 police officers involved in Thursday’s raids were deployed in Berlin, where four homes and two businesses were searched. The other raids were in Attendorn and in Hanover.
In Berlin, the police arrested an Algerian, 49, who they said had lived in the German capital since 2000 under various identities. He left in 2013 and returned a year later with fake French identity papers, the statement said. He had been sought on charges of falsifying documents, and remained in custody on Friday, as did the Algerian couple.
The police said they had so far not found any evidence of a concrete target in Berlin for a terrorist attack. No arms or explosives were found in Thursday’s raids, but the police said they had seized a large number of computers, documents and cellphones.
Another 30-year-old man was investigated in Berlin and a 25-year-old man at a refugee shelter in Hanover, the police said, but they were not detained. Both were also Algerian citizens.
The 30-year-old came to Germany in 2004 and currently had a valid residence permit, the police statement said. It said without further detail that the 25-year-old had had “proven contact” with Belgium, where several of the Paris terrorist assailants also had ties. German media, citing unidentified security sources, said the younger man had recently visited Molenbeek, the suburb of Brussels where several Paris assailants lived or visited.
The police statement said that all five people connected with Thursday’s raids had been offered to be formally questioned, “and this offer was partly accepted,” suggesting that one or more of those held might give more information about the alleged plan for an attack.
Asked how much Germany should fear a terrorist attack, Mr. Maassen suggested that was the wrong question.
“The expression ‘fear’ is the wrong one here,” he said. “We are in a situation which is serious, and we have a high risk that there can be a terrorist attack.”
But, he added, security services and the police are on high alert. “Our goal is to minimize the risk,” he said.