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“Consistent border protection has helped prevent terrorist attacks” – Interview with Georg Spöttle, Security Policy Expert

Zsófia Nagy-Vargha 2020.11.15.

After the terrorist attack in Vienna, the Hungarian Anti-Terrorism Unit (TEK) immediately provided administrative assistance and worked together with the police and the military on securing the border. However, according to Georg Spöttle, security policy expert at Nézőpont Intsitute, the terror threat is not higher in Hungary than before the Vienna attack. Spöttle, who is also an ex-member of an anti-terrorist unit, emphasized: “The ideology of ISIS lives on and it tries to spread terror in Europe. Things like the Mohammed cartoons come in handy for the Islamists.” According to him, it is possible that refugees who have legally come to Hungary sympathize with radical Islamists, but “they have no hinterland here.” INTERVIEW.

The original interview was published by our sister site, Ungarn Heute

Translation by Fanni Kaszás

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The terror threat level in Hungary has not increased,” according to the executive director of the Hungarian Center for Counter-Terrorism (TEK) after the terrorist attack in Vienna. But how much does the attack on Monday affect Hungarian counter-terrorism? Did the Austrians request help in any way? In such a case, does communication start automatically and do you need increased attention within Hungary after such an attack?

Partner services such as TEK and COBRA, and also the secret services of both countries have been working closely together for years.

The wave of migration in 2015 and the constant attempts by migrants and smugglers have shown that these challenges can only be fought together.

An example for this is the case from a few weeks ago where a German smuggler killed himself with a pistol and a hand grenade during a police check in Hungary. The five Syrians he wanted to bring to Austria fled. Three managed to flee across the border, where they were arrested by Austrian police officers. The joint investigations are still ongoing here, and the German authorities are also involved.

After the terrorist attack, TEK units immediately provided administrative assistance and worked with the police and the military services to secure the border. The situation was confusing and it was assumed that there were several attackers, and it had to be ensured that fugitive terrorists could not escape across the border into Hungary.

Fortunately, the threat in Hungary is not as high as in Austria, Germany or France, because we hardly have any immigrants from Islamic countries here.

It is possible that refugees who came to Hungary legally sympathize with radical Islam. But they have no “hinterland,” they won’t find any helpers here who can get weapons or explosives or offer a hiding place. They would be lost in Hungary.

The Austrian police, the COBRA (counter-terrorism unit), and the rescue units finished their tasks with incredible speed. To what extent is Hungary prepared for such an event?

The TEK, the police, and the civil protection services regularly organize counter-terrorism and disaster exercises in which the emergency situations are simulated. The units are also supported by air rescue services. The exercises simulate cases where there are several dozen injuries and fatalities. The participants have been practicing with each other for years, so it is guaranteed that in the event of an emergency, action would be taken quickly and professionally.

The Hungarian government is consistently continuing its policy against migration. Does this make the threat smaller or larger? Could it be that this is precisely why the country could come under fire?

It cannot be ruled out. The majority of migrants literally hates Hungary because we keep the borders closed and they cannot go any further.

But it is precisely this consistent border protection and this migration policy that have so far helped ensure that we have not had a single terrorist attack and thus hardly any crimes committed by migrants.

Unfortunately, it just came to light that an Afghan national who lived here as a recognized refugee has committed a serious sexual offense. After he committed the crime, he fled to Austria, but was arrested on a train shortly after.

Migration Crisis 2015-2020: Converging Positions?
Migration Crisis 2015-2020: Converging Positions?

“The mistake in terms of security was not to take in those people who were standing on our doorstep. No, the mistake was to not have paid attention from the very beginning, to have not created conditions that enable people to stay in their home country” – said German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently in Davos […]Continue reading

Do you think it is possible that there are also people in Hungary who are under special surveillance by the secret service because they are in contact with ISIS?

As an ex-member of an anti-terrorist unit, I think we cannot exclude any possibilities.

But I know a lot of Muslims who live here. They came to Hungary as students, got married here, and their children often have Hungarian names. These people have integrated here and work as doctors or have businesses.

The number of Muslims, however, amounts to a few hundred in Hungary. A mass number is more problematic. Where there are many millions, there is of course a greater tendency for some to become radicalized. The work of the secret services therefore is much easier here in Hungary.

The Austrian Minister of the Interior has admitted that before the attack, several errors had occurred in the state system. It was known that the terrorist intended to buy ammunition in Slovakia, and that he had contact with radical Islamists in Vienna who in turn are under surveillance by counter-terrorism. Could it be said that the attack could have been prevented?

In the past, the secret services in Austria and Germany prevented several terrorist attacks. They all work very, very well. Thousands of pieces of information come in every day, as there are many radicals and terror threats in Austria. Unfortunately, it happens that such important information is lost. It shouldn’t be the case, but it happens. It happened now, and it cost lives. One can and must learn from their mistakes.

Given the severity of the attack, what is the rule for the future? How long will Austria be on standby? Can one expect, for example, that the armed forces currently called on in Vienna will be reinforced for a longer period of time?

The standby remains because the danger has not been averted. There are still enough radicals living in Vienna and throughout Austria. The only solution would be to expel these people, or even revoke their Austrian citizenship if necessary.

Can one tighten up the European counter-terrorism and/or secret service? Is it even necessary?

Just in France alone, around a million radical Muslims live, most of them young people.

It is impossible to keep an eye on everyone, either electronically or with agents. Hiring more employees and improving technical conditions cost money, but it is strongly recommended.

The attacks of the past few weeks have shown that there are still loopholes.

Could a collective punishment – for example punishing the perpetrator’s family as a deterrent – be a possibility? If not, which strategy could work for the European states?

Collective deportation could be a conceivable choice; it often happened that the perpetrator radicalized himself within the family.

Could zero tolerance be the solution? Should they be excluded from society at the slightest sign of radicalization?

That is the only way in my opinion.

Anyone who feels comfortable in radical mosques or Koran schools and chats with Islamists or visits the websites of terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State or downloads instructions for the production of explosives, must be deported.

We can’t tolerate people lying to us. At the hearing, they say that they fled terrorism and war and weeks later they become criminals or are targeted by the secret services.

Can we expect that the wave of terrorist attacks will continue in Europe after the Vienna and French attacks?

The question is not if, but when. It will happen again and again.

Which countries could be affected?

All countries in Europe, as well as the USA.

Why and against what is the Islamic State fighting in Europe?

IS, or as they call themselves, the Caliphate, wants to establish a state of God, similar to the Taliban in Afghanistan back then. At times they succeeded. For years they occupied an area in Syria and parts of Iraq that were as large as England. They wanted all Christians and the few Jews living in the area to convert to Islam. Those who refused, were killed. Shiite Muslims were also seen as enemies.

The US, the Russians and the Iranians have ended the reign of terror. Many Islamists have fled, and many of them came to Europe. But the ideology of IS lives on and they are trying to spread terror here.

Therefore, things like the Mohammed cartoons come in handy for Islamists. They swear revenge and mobilize radical young people across Europe. IS is currently very active. They operate websites in almost every language in order to address young people worldwide. As the attacks in Nice, Berlin, and Vienna show, this strategy is successful.

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featured photo: via Georg Spöttle