Having opened the door to Islamic terrorism in her country, German Chancellor Angel Merkel now is desperately trying to contain the fallout.
On Thursday, the German chancellor spoke briefly with reporters about Monday’s attack on a Christmas market, acknowledging that her country is vulnerable.
“We have known for a long time … that we are a target for the Islamist terrorists.”
“We have known for a long time … that we are a target for the Islamist terrorists,” she said.
Merkel thanked the “highly professional” law enforcement investigators, who she said will “work at full speed” to apprehend the suspects of the truck attack that killed 12 people and wounded 48 on Monday.
Merkel, who faces the voters next year, has come under increasing pressure for her policy of inviting hundreds of thousands Syrian refugees into her country in 2015. Countries throughout Europe have been unsettled by a cultural clash, and some politicians in parties allied with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union have urged her to reverse course. Merkel’s party suffered a humiliating setback in regional elections over the summer.
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Merkel’s refugee policy made her TIME magazine’s “Person of the Year” in 2015. The magazine quoted her standing up to a woman who asked her in September 2015 what she planned to do to prevent “Islamization” of German society.
“Fear has never been a good adviser, neither in our personal lives nor in our society,” she said. “Cultures and societies that are shaped by fear will without doubt not get a grip on the future.”
Now Merkel faces criticism domestically and from right-wing parties across Europe.
It did not take this week’s attack to alert Merkel to the risk posed by radical Islamic terrorism. She called it a “major” threat in July.
“The terrorists want to make us lose sight of what is important to us, break down our cohesion and sense of community as well as inhibiting our way of life, our openness, and our willingness take in people who are in need,” she said then.
But she vowed not to be governed by that threat.
“They see hatred and fear between cultures and they see hatred and fear between religions,” she said. “We stand decisively against that.”
On Thursday, Merkel expressed confidence in the ultimate success of a continent-wide manhunt for Anis Amri, a Tunisian ex-convict wanted in connection with the attack. According to The New York Times, he had been denied asylum in Germany and was considered a security risk. American authorities had placed him on a “no-fly” list.
Merkel said Germany would work with other countries.
“We must work as fast as possible,” she said. “We have a seamless operation, and we also have that with the authorities of other countries. There have been several attacks in other countries as well and they are very much familiar with the challenges of terrorist attacks.”
Merkel praised the reaction of the German people.
“We have the values of our state, of the rule of law, democracy on our side, and this is why I’m sure we will have good connection within society — free, democratic life,” she said. “I must say, I’ve been very proud how calm the majority of people responded and I wish everyone best of success to all of them who work on it.”