Police data released last week shows that the incidence of politically-motivated violence in Germany fell slightly in 2016 compared with the year before. This is largely due to a drop in attacks linked to left-wing extremists.
But the frequency of right-wing violence increased by 14.3%, while there was a 73% increase in the number of cases linked to ‘foreign political motivations’ such as Islamism and the Turkish-Kurdish conflict. Most of these are physical assaults or, less commonly, murders of individuals. With 1,698 incidents, 2016 was the worst year in Germany for right-wing violence for at least ten years. This seems to be part of a wider trend in Western Europe. There was a 29.2% increase in the number of reported right-wing crimes in the UK from 2013 to 2015, and a 68.7% rise in the Netherlands over the same period, according to local police data. The growth in public support for nationalistic, racist or xenophobic politics appears to have emboldened right-wing extremists who are intent on violence.
We have not seen any clear indications that organised right-wing groups are coordinating attacks in Germany, or indeed elsewhere in Europe. Rather, it appears that individuals or small gangs are responsible for most incidents. This is probably one reason why such attacks have tended to be crude, small in scale, and targeted against an individual person or small group of ethnic or religious minorities. But in a sign of the intent among some far-right extremists to mount larger attacks, German police announced last week that they have arrested a soldier who was allegedly planning a firearms attack in Vienna, ‘possibly’ against refugees.
The 73% increase in frequency of what the German authorities describe as ‘foreign politically-motivated violence’ is another trend that is present in other Western European countries. Almost 45% of ‘foreign politically-motivated violence’ in Germany in 2016 was related to the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, with the rest linked to Islamism and a range of other foreign political disputes. And in recent months in Belgium and France, we have seen similar reports of fights and assaults in which the Turkish-Kurdish conflict has been the main motivation.
A ceasefire between the Turkish government and the PKK ended in 2015, and there has subsequently been an escalation in fighting between the two sides. We suspect that this, alongside Kurdish refugee flows, are exacerbating tensions between Turkish and Kurdish communities in Europe, and leading to more frequent acts of violence. Most incidents have been small and localised, such as fights and physical assaults. But in our analysis, there is some potential for incidents in Western European countries more akin to the terrorist tactics the PKK has used in Turkey. Given its large Turkish and Kurdish populations, Germany is the most probable location for such an attack.