Terror Expert Neumann 'Even Germany Is Doing Too Little'

In an interview following the Brussels attacks, terrorism expert Peter Neumann discusses the growing threat in Europe. Data sharing between police and intelligence agencies must be vastly increased, he argues.

Terrorism Expert Peter Neumann: IS can draw on a four-digit number of potential fighters in Europe.

Terrorism Expert Peter Neumann: IS can draw on a four-digit number of potential fighters in Europe.

Interview By

SPIEGEL: We have now seen attacks on Charlie Hebdo, then again in Paris on Nov. 13 and this week in Brussels. Have we underestimated the Islamic State (IS) in Europe?

Neumann: We long assumed that, in the West, IS would focus on inspiring single, independent attackers, the so-called "lone wolves." As a result, many security services were taken by surprise that IS could organize relatively complex attacks so quickly and aggressively.

SPIEGEL: Were all security services wrong in their estimation of IS?

Neumann: A high-ranking official of an intelligence service told me that no one apart from the British had anticipated anything like what we have seen. The Americans were aware of course as well, but they always warn of so many scenarios that they at times aren't even taken seriously anymore.

SPIEGEL: Is the "lone wolf" theory -- the idea that an individual can be radicalized and act without instruction -- still accepted?

Neumann: No, but it was never really plausible that this was IS' sole strategy. In January 2015, IS put together teams in Syria which were then sent back to Europe and tasked with carrying out acts of violence. These developments simply went unnoticed.

SPIEGEL: Are there individuals in Germany who have returned from Syria with such missions?

Neumann: Of course.

SPIEGEL: What size are IS' reserves? How many suicide bombers are waiting for their call to action?

Neumann: There are around 5,000 to 6,000 Europeans who have traveled to IS in Syria or in Iraq. Around 15 percent of those are likely to have been killed; between 25 and 50 percent will already have returned. Not every returnee is willing to fight. But, to contrast the situation with al-Qaida, who 10 years ago had perhaps 200 fighters, the number of people they are potentially able to draw upon is a four-digit figure. There aren't just the returnees, but also the supporters in Europe who have never traveled to Syria -- such as the captured Salah Abdeslam.

SPIEGEL: The exchange of information about suspects at the European level is still lacking, despite the establishment of the European Counter Terrorism Center at Europol, the European police agency, and cooperation between intelligence services.

Neumann: Yes, we have no central database in which all the names of individuals likely to threaten public safety or formal suspects are listed. The Left Party in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, made a small information request last year, and it emerged that the database for foreign fighters contained around 2,000 names -- not even half the number of European jihadists who are fighting abroad. And only five countries provided data at all. Even the Interpol database of stolen and lost passports is rarely used by European countries. We're not talking about a technical problem here, but a political one. If we want the Schengen area to have open borders, then we need to cooperate within it. Even Germany is doing too little in this regard.

SPIEGEL: On top of this is the fact that police forces and security services have different ways of collecting and interpreting data.

Neumann: In part they're even forbidden from sharing data. In Germany, there is a data separation rule (a post-World War II law that stipulates the separation of the work done by police and intelligence services), which is historically justified. We have to accept though that the vast majority of information about jihadist terrorists is in the hands of the secret services. I think it's sensible that the police have greater access to this information. At the moment we have a situation in Europe where the intelligence services' anti-terror task forces are not working with Europol's anti-terror department. In light of the threat posed, this is absurd.

About Peter Neumann
    Peter Neumann, 41, is a professor for security studies at King's College in London. In his latest book published in Germany, "The New Jihadists," he warns that Europe is facing a wave of terrorism that will haunt us for decades to come.


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bicester55 03/26/2016
1. Our moral failure created the problem we now have with returnees
Rather than just monitoring these potential terrorists they should have all been locked up when they attempted to leave for Syria: A country which complicitly allows its citizens to go to Syria to murder, rape and destroy is responsible for their crimes. (Karazdic was blamed for similar failures.) We should be glad that Europe is now at least sharing the suffering its elite has allowed to be inflicted on Syria.
Inglenda2 03/26/2016
2. Law makers and forces too slow, media too fast?
To read that the Spiegel claims that - the exchange of information about suspects at the European level is still lacking – could be regarded as comical, were the reasons not so sad. Germany not only has politicians who disregard facts, if they do not fit in with party policies, the media is also inclined to ignore, or manipulate, the truth for similar reasons. Readers letters are not often published, if the contents do not agree with the line of thought required. Worst of all however, is the state owned Television, for example the WDR, for which we are all expected to pay. In the attempt to be the first with a story, little research is done before comments are made. Even when public viewers point out falsified, or incorrect information has been spread, seldom do the moderators have the honesty, or courage, to say sorry and correct the stories which have been broadcast.
jean-paul_kowaliski 03/26/2016
3. Security and defence
As long as the EU will depend on NATO for its security, it will remain a big soft belly. It has not true integrated intelligence and policing apparatus of its own nor military. Europe as a whole is just opened to plunder. Suffice it to listen to talks by such as George Friedman to understand the reasons and who profits from this state of affair.
augsburggermany 03/27/2016
Mr. Newman, I thoroughly enjoyed the portion of your interview with Der Spiegel which they published. I sincerely wish they had published much more or that the interview had lasted much longer because you seem to have great knowledge about the terror situation with respect to Europe in particular and the world in general. It sounds as if my country, America, is light years ahead of Europe as far as being prepared to fend off muslim terrorism. I would be interested to have your apparently experienced and or will educated opinion. I am a fairly conservative Republican in Colorado, USA and I and many of my cohorts often times complain vigorously that America is way too politically correct. It does indeed sound like Europe has us beat by light years. But maybe not, what are your thoughts?
spiegelerin 03/27/2016
5. My goodness, of course Germ. isn't doing enough!
Why Germ. believes itself so advanced over its Belgian neighbors I cannot fathom, when they don't have their own nationwide information sharing. Everything in separate computers because it doesn't matter if people register many times. It helps their greater cause to keep immigration numbers fuzzy, so it is no skin off their nose to spend tax payers money on the same immigrant multiple times, let alone track potential criminals. Criminality, out of control spending are just artifacts. The thing is to get everyone in to change what Europe looks like.
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