Why has Germany not seen as many Islamist terror attacks as France, Italy or the UK?



The German intelligence agencies often complain, that they are ill-equipped to deal with terror attacks efficiently because they lack the legal authority to use certain surveillance methods.

For example, they would like to have data retention like France and demand to be able to spy on people who they suspect of links terrorism, with a "Staatstrojaner" (state spy trojan) without having to consult a court first.

Germany is supposedly more vulnerable to terrorism than countries like France and the UK because of the ban of these surveillance methods. Yet Germany has seen far fewer terror attacks than e.g. France or the UK.

What are the reasons that in Germany fewer attacks happen, despite the country having more restricted intelligence agencies?


Posted 2020-08-20T11:29:09.007


14My guess is that it would probably be more meaningful to ask why Italy and the UK had such high rates, since Germany seems right in line with there rest of the EU with those countries being the outliers – divibisan – 2020-08-20T14:05:29.580

16Is it appropriate to ask to remove the 'Islamist' from this question? as it has nothing to do with the statement 'ill-equipped to deal with terror' and it seems needlessly polarizing to single out a religious group like this.Terror/terrorist attacks are not limited to any religion, and in fact, according to Wikipedia, in Germany Right-Wing terrorist attacks are far more frequent. – Durielblood – 2020-08-21T08:50:50.770

While any and all individual events are devastating for those involved, we are talking about a small number of said events. Perhaps, too small to be statistically meaningful – Strawberry – 2020-08-21T11:03:22.143

5The provided link does not help in showing Germany sees significantly fewer Islamist terror attacks. I would suggest changing the wording of the question or providing an actual source. I fail to see why Islamist terror attacks should be treated differently anyway, since the question seems to focus on intelligence services working to prevent any terrorist attacks. – oerkelens – 2020-08-21T13:51:46.403


I suggest reading this Europol report. It make very clear that islamist attacks represent a minor fraction of the total number of attacks in Europe. For example Italy had 28 attacks in 2019 but they were all right/left/anarchist attacks, no islamism involved...

– baccandr – 2020-08-21T14:11:26.973

1Sorry I misread the Europol report, Italy in 2019 had 2 jihadist attacks over a total of 28 (see annex 2), in any case this is still a minor fraction. – baccandr – 2020-08-21T14:18:29.570

8Page 84 in the Europol report linked by @baccandr definitively shows that Germany did not have fewer Islamist terror attacks than Italy or the UK, in 2019, thus disproving the premise of this question. – Federico Poloni – 2020-08-21T19:36:04.013

@Durielblood Some time ago, Germany had quite a lot left extremist terrorism, so it makes sense to separate it. – Volker Siegel – 2020-08-23T15:34:45.280

I wonder if all the people taking offense at the Islamist penchant of this question and talking up right wing extremism are reconsidering, following the recent murders in France. The core problem with conflating right wing terrorism in Europe with Islamic terrorism is that the body count of the 2nd is much greater than the 1st, at least in the last 20 years. In the US, that may very well be reversed however, not defending either brand of homicidal maniacs.

– Italian Philosophers 4 Monica – 2020-10-29T17:34:14.447

AP Explains: Why France sparks such anger in Muslim world Nov. 1 2020. – Keith McClary – 2020-11-01T16:59:57.507



  • German police claim to have averted nine attacks in three years. That has to be set in relation to the population. But combined with low absolute numbers, one would expect a high year-to-year variance. Compare shoplifting or speeding offenses, where the numbers are large enough to give smooth trends.
  • According to news reports, many leads come from allied intelligence agencies who have fewer compunction about surveillance in Germany than the German agencies. (Read: the NSA reads communications in Germany and tells Germany about some of the results.) So even if some people would like expanded powers for German agencies, this is partial compensation for the lack.
  • It appears that there is a tendency to label attackers with both mental health problems and self-professed islamist sentiments as mental health cases rather than terrorist cases. That could lead to a systematic, decades-old undercount of terror attacks. It is probably even more significant for right-wing terror than for islamist terror.


Posted 2020-08-20T11:29:09.007

Reputation: 49 884

1On what basis do you assert that the NSA surveillance is heavier in Germany than in other EU countries? I ran the DW article through Google Translate but it doesn't seem to support that. – Brian Z – 2020-08-20T16:16:48.287

1@BrianZ, not "heavier than in the rest of the EU" but "replacing what the Germans are not allowed to do themselves." Edited. – o.m. – 2020-08-20T16:55:29.363

1Thanks for the clarification but I'm still not sure I understand that second bullet point. Perhaps you can spell out more explicitly what is different there in comparison to other EU countries and what that has to do with the number of reported cases of terrorism. – Brian Z – 2020-08-20T17:22:09.103

3@BrianZ I think the idea is that while the German agencies aren't allowed to use certain surveillance methods they indirectly still use them as they rely on hints given by foreign intelligence agencies which employ the very methods the Germans can't. So the ban of these methods doesn't actually ban them. – None – 2020-08-20T17:47:48.600

@TheoreticalMinimum That does seem to fit what is written in the answer, but I don't see the relevance without knowing how that compares to other EU countries and how it impacts reported incidents of terrorism. – Brian Z – 2020-08-20T18:11:11.583

@BrianZ, German agencies are less crippled than one might think by German privacy laws because they get some of the relevant take from US agencies. They need surveillance powers and programs less urgently as long as that stays true. – o.m. – 2020-08-20T18:37:20.707

2@o.m. Makes sense, your latest edit helps, but how does this compare to other countries? Doesn't the UK have fairly strong counter-terrorism intelligence and close cooperation with the US, and yet still experience the highest number of attacks? (To be clear, as I keep pushing on this one point, I should say I think this is a helpful answer overall.) – Brian Z – 2020-08-20T18:44:41.167

1The attacks on Schäuble and Lafontaine are 30 years old and have nothing to do with islamic terrorism at all. – Polygnome – 2020-08-20T21:18:31.373

2@Polygnome, as I mentioned, they show a pattern of labeling attacks by mentally disturbed persons as not terrorist, and the recent example shows how this pattern goes on. If you look for mental health reasons first, you find more of them. – o.m. – 2020-08-21T04:15:01.733

Frankly, I don't understand how that answers the question why there is a lower incidence of terror attacks in Germany. – henning -- reinstate Monica – 2020-08-22T12:48:09.107

1@henning--reinstateMonica, by counting events as non-terrorist crime which might have been labeled terrorist crime elsewhere. – o.m. – 2020-08-22T16:30:37.363

@NotThatGuy, I clarified rather than removing it. – o.m. – 2020-08-23T04:54:01.193

I am confused. The article you linked to as proof of a pattern of labeling attacks by mentally disturbed persons as not terrorist, consistently labels the attack as an act of Islamic terror, so what is the point of your argument? Also, the woman who attacked Lafontaine believed he was running a "killing factory" underneath the Earth's crust, and the man who attacked Schäuble believed he was using mind control rays; neither of them seemed to have any plans of actually causing terror which is kind of the definition of terrorism. – Jörg W Mittag – 2020-08-23T16:32:48.183

@JörgWMittag, you are talking about the link in the first sub-bullet of the third bullet point, yes? The attack has been labeled as islamist, yet the terrorist has been sent to a closed psychatric ward. And the article points out how the suspect had been found not guilty by reason of insanity in 2018, and sent to a psychatric ward. A different legal system might have reacted with detention in a jail. – o.m. – 2020-08-23T16:57:37.413

@JörgWMittag, as quoted by the BZ, the Innensenator said aus islamistischer Motivation, gepaart mit psychischen Motiven des Täters -- islamist motivation, paired with mental health aspects of the perpetrator. – o.m. – 2020-08-24T05:24:51.570


I don't think this question is usefully answerable:

(It's an excellent question, but there are too many variables and not enough cases to look at to really know what works and what doesn't in preventing terrorism).

Different European countries traditionally had (up to about 10 years ago, before massive refugee arrivals) different sources of Muslim immigrants.

Germany's immigrant base was largely Turkish who don't have much in common with other Muslims. France and the UK's Muslim immigrants were largely drawn through past colonial relationships.

"Muslims" are not a homogeneous group, just like saying "Europeans" unhelpfully lumps together Spaniards, French and Norwegians. Might very well be that the (very small) proportion of Muslims seduced by extremism varies by country of origin.

Note: I don't mean to imply that the OP said otherwise, just that this is going to be a highly important variable because each country's Muslim community is going to be different.

So now we start with a very small base of countries, a low number of attacks, not all of which get counted the same way in all countries.

Mix in different contextual variables:

  • origin of Muslim immigrants/citizens or even converts. What I really mean by this, rather than immigration status, is what the link to Islam consists of for a group. People who know Islam through contact with a tradition of peaceful and tolerant Islam, like say Indonesia, Malaysia or Tunisia will have an entirely different perspective from those influenced by harsher interpretations. And even that is subject to variation: AFAIK the Iranian diaspora has rarely been involved in terrorism, despite Iran's toxic tendencies.

  • absolute quantity of Muslims. Terrorism is the exception, not the rule and if you have more people you'll have more chance of some of them making the wrong choices. 5 attacks from 5 million people sounds worse than 2 from 500K, unless you look carefully at the numbers. Keep in mind that some countries forbid tracking ethnic/religious affiliation. *

  • Tolerance vs intolerance of the non-Muslim majority in the host country and impact on job prospects for the immigrants (I suspect better economic prospects are a large part of why the US Muslim population has largely kept out of terrorism.). Are Muslims accepted and treated well or are they largely 2nd class citizens? Are visible minorities treated well or are they given grounds to resent their country?

  • incarceration policies (a lot of French terrorists "learn the trade" in jail). Be interesting to compare with countries like Norway that spend a lot of money on rehabilitation.

  • policing and surveillance methodologies (as asked in this question). What proportion of policemen are Muslim? Are they trusted by the Muslim community?

  • Availability, or not, of regular mosques to worship in (France never funded any in the 80s/90s and left them to be funded by Saudi Arabia). Contrast that with recent German policy.

  • (copied from Frank from Frankfurt). Perception, by members of the community, of the relationship between their host country and Islam. For example, Algeria ran elections in 92 which Muslim parties largely won. These were cancelled by the military junta, with tacit French support and understanding. Starting in 93, there was an extremely bloody civil war. And in 95 saw a series of bomb attacks in France, with the perpetrators blaming France for backing the Algerian dictators. Had there been proportionally more Muslims without links to Algeria, this would likely have been less of a motivation and there would have been fewer attacks.

There's no real way to tease out the contribution of which factor contributed what to the outcome, assuming we could even define that outcome (as o.m. pointed out). Therefore it is going to be very hard to provide a clear answer to this question.

* Back in ISIS Caliphate days, it was interesting to see which country sent proportionally the most of its immigrants to Syria.

Is it wrong to talk about Islamic terrorism?:

There are several weaknesses with the Islamic-Terrorism-is-just-terrorism claim made in several comments and answers.

It is not:

  • Preventing the attacks necessitates police with specialized linguistic skills, which are not required as much with other crimes, or other brands of terrorism, like right wing terrorism.

  • Much more so than traditional domestic terrorists, Jihad-motivated terrorists have an explicit extra-territorial component: instigators and enablers are often based abroad and suppression requires coordination between national security forces and sometimes even military assets to strike at targets like ISIS or Al-Qaeda training camps.

  • Removing the motivation for those attacks could very well start with outreach to and engagement with the much larger peaceful Muslim religious community. I can't see any logic under which outreach should be contemplated with right wing extremists.

  • Last but not least, while people can cite statistics concerning the number of terrorist incidents involving right wing loonies, in Europe, the actual body count from Jihad-inspired acts has been much higher over the last 2 decades. IF this question had been about terrorism in the US, then, yes, this simple metric would be flipped around: with the exception of 9/11, white supremacists and other extreme right wackos have killed more people there.

Italian Philosophers 4 Monica

Posted 2020-08-20T11:29:09.007

Reputation: 17 615

2Muslims" are not a homogeneous group, just like saying "Europeans" unhelpfully lumps together Spaniards, French and Norwegians. With respect, the OP made no generalizations about muslims or Europeans. At whom is this remark directed? – chasly - supports Monica – 2020-08-20T22:08:25.750

1There is a massive unexamined assumption in the way you (and, to be fair, many media sources) discuss terrorism, it's not the notion that it result solely of some endogenous processes inside the Muslim population, somehow flowing from some external source. – Relaxed – 2020-08-20T23:04:00.080


In fact, radical or violent Islamists are drawn from... the whole population. In France, I have seen (generally from hard-to-check intelligence sources) estimates of up to 40% of converts among women fined for wearing face coverings or people leaving to Syria to join Daech. Even those people who have some family link to a majority Muslim country have by far not all been raised religiously. Among major attacks in France since 2015, only one was perpetrated by someone who wasn't born in France or Belgium.

– Relaxed – 2020-08-20T23:14:32.697

1@chasly-reinstateMonica my answer started out as a comment that the Muslim communities themselves might the cause of divergences in outcome and I was pointing out that you could generalize too much about people that only share a common religion. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica – 2020-08-20T23:25:47.070


@ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Neither did I claim you said anything about it nor focus mainly on that in my comments. My point is much broader. What's striking in your answer is how much attention you devote to some external origins, for example the “sources of Muslim immigrants” when neither the country of origin, cultural background nor even being immigrants is the common denominator between these terrorists. Why lead with that or even mention it at all?

– Relaxed – 2020-08-21T01:51:52.673

For arguments like these, it makes no sense to compare European Muslim immigrants with their American counterparts. When talking about a large amount of immigrants, coming in from poorer countries in the south mainly for economic reasons a comparison with Latino's would be more accurate. Americans love to point out that "their" Muslims have better prospects and face less discrimination, but I would argue the same goes for European Latino's. Also, the US has it's own brand of home grown Islam (think Mohammed Ali) which is more or less alien to the average European Muslim. – Douwe – 2020-08-21T13:37:23.777

Also, there definitely have been attacks by radicalized Muslims on US soil, it's just that they (I'm sorry for the cynicism here, but it is what it is) don't get as much attention because they only make a small percentage of active shooters. The US has multiple "Bataclans" a year perpetrated by people of various backgrounds, diluting the impact. – Douwe – 2020-08-21T13:45:59.160

@Douwe I agree, which is why I qualified with largely. My larger point is that the Middle Eastern Muslim population in the US is in a country with a rather adversarial relationship with Islam and the Middle East. Along with a large proportion of rather militant Christians, who love to quote the Koran out of context but certainly have forgotten all about Lot's wife in the Old Testament. So you'd expect more people to "crack" and become radicalized, especially in a country so prolific with mass murder via guns. Despite current POTUS, I believe the melting pot just works better there. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica – 2020-08-21T17:25:23.303

1I'm thrilled to see an answer on politics.se that calls for methodological skepticism and modesty instead of promoting some half-plausible hypothesis without much evidence, as we see too often. Well done! – henning -- reinstate Monica – 2020-08-22T08:54:07.733

"a tradition of peaceful and tolerant Islam, like say Indonesia, Malaysia or Tunisia" The dominant forms of Islam in those countries is hardly tolerant. "which country sent proportionally the most of its immigrants to Syria." Huh? Were Western countries sending their immigrants to Syria? Other than deportations? – Acccumulation – 2020-08-22T19:00:17.653

2@Relaxed Your comments are incoherent. For instance, you said there is an assumption, then proceeded to say that what the assumption is not, but not what the assumption is. – Acccumulation – 2020-08-22T19:02:14.523

1@Acccumulation I parsed "which country sent immigrants to Syria" as "from which country people were leaving for Syria". I only remember countries desperately trying to stop people; I think Italian was using "sent" passively. – Grault – 2020-08-23T01:46:42.687

@Accumulation Huh? It's possible I missed a negation somewhere, it's just a bunch of comments but I explained at length what the assumption I objected was. To recap: The assumption (never stated but it permeates the reasoning, even after ItalianPhilosophers edited his/her anwser to fix the most revealing mistakes, without actually adressing the underlying point) is that radicalization is a process happening within migrant communities and reflecting some properties of their ancestral country's culture. – Relaxed – 2020-08-23T21:07:13.467

A naive version of this argument is that this property is simply being a Muslim country, that Islam intrinsically generates terrorists. When that fails empirically, a sophisticated way to rescue the argument is to try to dissect the specificities of different streams of Islam or the country people emigrated from. Meanwhile, as ItalianPhilsophers acknowledged, the actual terrorists are not particularly connected to their parents' religion or culture and many in fact come from entirely different backgrounds. – Relaxed – 2020-08-23T21:10:23.763

1The problem is that s/he never draws any consequences from this constellation of facts. Instead, we get things like “origin of Muslim immigrants/citizens or even converts”, which is very hard to parse and bending over backwards to focus on origins when the most salient (not merely contextual) fact is in fact that all these people grew up in the suburbs of French cities and do not share any other origin. – Relaxed – 2020-08-23T21:13:55.257

@ItalianPhilosophers4Monica “All high deaths terrorist attack perpetrated by people claiming to act on behalf of Islam”, of course, why would you even suggest that's disputed? I can agree with most of what you just wrote even if I find the debate superficial and tedious. The point, however is that the ideology, ways to understand Islam and sometimes the very belief in Islam of the perpetrators developed locally, not primarily as a function of the specific country (some of) their parents came from. – Relaxed – 2020-08-24T08:09:55.383

That's quite a simple point, so why is your answer discussing only the origins of the perpetrators and each of your comments beating a different straw man instead of addressing that core issue? Beyond that, I don't know that I can write a better answer, I just pointed some obvious flaws in yours and got dragged in this discussion because you seem or claim not to grasp the point I was making. – Relaxed – 2020-08-24T08:10:26.487

Incidentally, you do mention some important facts: what happens in French jails, various aspects of French policy, the connection with the Algerian civil war but those are not merely disconnected contextual factors interacting with a particular community proneness to terrorism. – Relaxed – 2020-08-24T08:29:39.417

To take a specific example: you mentioned Tunisia as a country with a tradition of peaceful and tolerant Islam. The perpetrator of the 2016 Nice attack was Tunisian, the only one from all the French attacks we discussed who was not a French citizen. He was, as often the case, not noted for being religious at all and to the extent that he was influenced by anybody else, it would be by social media groups. So why would you expect his being Tunisian to explain anything or account for the differences between France and Germany? – Relaxed – 2020-08-24T08:30:55.473


Terror vs. Islamist Terror

The cited source provides a statistic of terrorist attacks and not of Islamist terrorist attacks. Not all attacks were commited by Islamists. For example, Italy has frequently suffered terrorist attacks by anarchists, the extreme political left and also the Mafia.

I haven't found any explanation for the high number of terrorist attacks in Italy in 2019. However, I have found the following: In 2019 there were 118 terrorist attacks in the EU, including failed attempts or those prevented by the police. Among these only 21 were attributed to Jihadist terrorism (source (in Italian)).

Thus, the assumption by the OP is invalid. It's the location of these 21 attacks which matters. Did Germany experience less attacks than others? Is a statistic based on 21 observations still significant? My guess: one would have to include attacks from more than one year.


As stated by Italian philosopers 4 Monica in his answer: The country of origin of the Muslim population is different. The Muslim population in Germany has mostly immigrated to Germany under gastarbeiter status from Turkey, to a lesser extent from Maghreb countries. The most recent wave of immigrants has arrived from Syria fleeing from war. Neither the Turkish immigrants nor the Syrians, who are more secular and grateful to have found a secure refuge in Germany, are as easily radicalized to an extent to commit a terrorist attack.

German Role in the Middle East

Usually Islamist terror is reduced to pure religious fanatism. However, many terrorists claim to (also) have political motivations.

The United Kingdom and France, as well as Italy (Libya) and Spain (Northern Morocco), had been colonial powers in the Arab-speaking world. They dominated and exerted direct control over much of the Middle East and Northern Africa leading to resentment from the Arab population. In particular, the secret Sykes-Picot-agreement between the UK and France persists as a major historical grievance. The creation of Israel (though opposed by the UK) is another one.

Germany was largely absent or had even been standing on the other side. During the First World War Germany was allied with the Ottoman Empire and fighting both France and the UK. In the Second World War many Egyptians were seeing Rommel's North Africa Corps as potential liberators from the British. Germany was hoping for a Muslim uprising against the British across much of its Empire.

Furthermore, many political extremists in the Middle East admire Hitler and wish to emulate the Holocaust. It doesn't seem to matter that Germany insists on Israel's right to exist and is a major arms supplier to Israel.

German role since 1991:

  • First Gulf War: Germany didn't send any soldiers (and wasn't expected to do so). However, it paid a lot of money for the liberation of Kuwait. This is relevant as the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia caused Osama bin Laden to turn against the USA.
  • Afghanistan: Germany participated as much as any other NATO member after the American invasion. In the first few years the situation was relatively calm in the (non-Pashtun) part of the country, where German forces were operating. Reconstruction seemed to be on a good way. Later the Taliban gained in influence, though, and the situation became "less peaceful".
  • Second Gulf War: Germany and France publicly opposed the war.
  • Libya: Germany didn't support a foreign intervention to remove Gadhafi desired by France's Nicolas Sarkozy - who is said to have received money from him for his re-election -, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi - who had honored him by letting him erect a huge tent in the center of Rome for his visit -, the UK and to a lesser extent the USA


Posted 2020-08-20T11:29:09.007


2Also, in a lot of places the German military helped clean up minefields. – Simon Richter – 2020-08-22T18:22:31.913