On Tuesday morning the radical jihadist organization Isis claimed responsibility for an attack on German soil for the first time, calling an adolescent who attacked people in a train in Bavaria one of their “soldiers.”.
Hours before, authorities had found a homemade Isis flag in the bedroom of the 17-year-old Afghan refugee who attacked passengers with an axe, badly injuring four of them.
“It should come as no surprise that Isis have taken 'credit' for this attack,” said Dr. David Arn, Isis expert at LMU.
“This is exactly the same thing as happened after attacks in Nice and in Orlando.”
In all these incidents the evidence suggests that single individuals, so-called 'lone wolves', planned the attacks alone and acted alone and “then used the jihadi ideology as an excuse for their actions,” Arn said.
But he also cautioned that it was too early to tell exactly what had happened in Würzburg, with investigations only just getting underway.
On Tuesday Bavarian interior minister Joachim Herrmann said there is “no indication” of a link between the teenager and Isis.
In one sense, this means that the lone wolf attackers belong to “the phenomenon of Isis”, the Middle East expert said, pointing out that at the end of 2014 the jihadi organization called on its sympathizers to attack countries – including Germany – involved in the coalition against its stronghold in Syria and Iraq.
But that does not mean that Isis were involved in the actual planning of this attack, he added.
Germany remains lower down the list of countries targeted by Isis than France, said Arn, pointing out that this type of attack is clearly different to the orchestrated assaults witnessed in Brussels and Paris over the last nine months.
“That Isis have not targeted Germany with a coordinated attack shows it is less of a target,” he explained.
But he added that it was significant that this was the first attack Isis had taken responsibility for in Germany.
In a similar incident in May, an apparently mentally unstable man attacked four people at a commuter stop outside Munich with a knife, fatally wounding one. Like in Würzburg, eyewitnesses there reported that the man had cried “Allahu Akbar”.
But on that occasion Isis did not describe the man as their “soldier.”
Arn supposes that Isis judged on that occasion that there was not enough evidence which could support the link to their group, saying he “lacked the necessary paraphernalia”.
The existence of the Isis flag at the home of the Würzburg attacker adds weight to their claim, but the fact the teenager arrived in Germany from Afghanistan is clearly also something they are seeking to exploit.
“It is extremely sensitive that he is from Afghanistan,” said Arn, pointing out that right-wing groups in Germany will use the attack to push their claims that the government’s open refugee policy is putting German lives in danger.
Isis are well aware of this and seek to exploit it to create a split in European societies, he explained, saying that this is part of a strategy developed in 2015 called “extinguishing the grey zone”.
“By this they mean eradicating the ‘grey area’ in which Muslim can live in 'the land of the unbelievers.'
“They want to create a situation where the security measures against refugees become so restrictive that it becomes impossible for them to live in Europe anymore, or alternatively that an Islamic state is created in Europe as well.”