In the run-up to Christmas and after the recent attack in Paris, the issue of internal security and the threat of jihadist attacks is back on the agenda, with authorities on high alert.

Last Saturday, police in Göppingen, a city of 60,000 people east of Stuttgart, evacuated the central outdoor Christmas market after receiving a phone call from an unknown person threatening an attack. Strong police forces immediately cordoned off the area, while a police helicopter was also involved in the operation, but nothing suspicious was found. Police are now looking for the perpetrator of the call. In recent weeks dozens of similar calls have led to the evacuation of schools and synagogues across Germany. In many cases the pranksters have been identified and arrested and face heavy penalties, not only criminal, but also financial. In the case of the Christmas market, the perpetrator may be asked to cover the costs of the police operation, but also the lost profits of the businessmen.

According to a report by the first channel of the German public television ARD, there is “great nervousness” in the police headquarters and in the secret services, as after the attack of Hamas in Israel on September 7 it is found further radicalization of already radicalized Islamists in Germany. Even people who had no previous ties to Hamas “feel that the events push them and inspire them to fight,” the same report said. Security authorities are particularly concerned because both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are taking advantage of developments in the Middle East to mobilize their followers and call them to carry out attacks. “The goal of Israel’s destruction is common, and global attention in the event of any action is now much more certain than it was a few months ago,” it said.

From October until last week four people were arrested in Germany, 15, 16, 20 and 29 years old, on suspicion of planning attacks on Christmas markets. The authorities found them exchanging relevant messages through a forum of radicalized Islamists.

But the Islamist scene is becoming increasingly unpredictable, security officials warn, explaining that there are no longer just organizations such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, but also many of their offshoots and many individuals willing to use some form of violence. . The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution last week issued an unusually stark warning, speaking of a “real and higher risk than in some time” and of a risk to “soft” targets such as public gatherings. In recent days, the German media have been reporting on increased security measures at open-air markets, even in small provincial towns.

The president of the Police Association (GdP) Jochen Kopelke suggested monitoring the markets with security cameras, which until now has only been done in special cases due to privacy restrictions. He stresses that an increased physical presence of police in markets requires extensive shift changes and cancellation of scheduled leave, which cannot be easily implemented everywhere.

ARD also points out that many of those arrested on suspicion of planning attacks, although they serve their full sentences, are released after attending a de-radicalisation programme. The Anti-Crime Agency (BKA) estimates in its latest report that there are around 480 people in Germany who are classified as an “Islamist threat” and are estimated to be ready at any time to attempt violent attacks. However, half of them are currently free. Indicative of the high level of risk is the number of investigations conducted by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office: from the beginning of this year to the end of September, more than 356 such investigations have been ordered, twice as many as in the corresponding period of 2022.