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?

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    My 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
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 14:05
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    Is 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. Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 8:50
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    The 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
    Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 13:51
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    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
    Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 14:11
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    Page 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. Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 19:36

3 Answers 3


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.

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    Muslims" 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? Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 22:08
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    There 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
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 23:04
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    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
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 23:14
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    @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
    Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 1:51
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    @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. Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 19:02
  • 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.
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    On 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
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 16:16
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    @BrianZ, not "heavier than in the rest of the EU" but "replacing what the Germans are not allowed to do themselves." Edited.
    – o.m.
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 16:55
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    @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.
    – user32268
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 17:47
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    @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
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 18:44
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    @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.
    Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 4:15

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
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    Also, in a lot of places the German military helped clean up minefields. Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 18:22

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