Special police forces secure the perimeter of the district court in Dresden, eastern Germany, Monday, Oct. 10, 2016, after the 22-years-old Jaber Albakr was arrested in the eastern city of Leipzig. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jens Meyer
Despite terrorism claims, refugees are the eyes and ears for their own communities.
A group of Syrian refugees may have helped prevent a major terrorist attack from taking place in Germany, after they held down another refugee inside an apartment in Leipzig while waiting for local police to arrive.
Jaber al-Bakr, a 22-year-old Syrian national who was granted asylum status in Germany last year, was arrested on Sunday, following a two-day manhunt after police found “several hundred grams” of an explosive at an apartment in Chemnitz, enough to cause significant damage.
Al-Bakr asked other Syrians on an online forum for lodging near the Leipzig Central train station. “The Syrians took him home, where they constrained him and then called police,” CBS News reported. The German newspaper Bild reported that the refugees who housed him grew suspicious of him, posting a photo of him to Facebook to ask other Syrians whether he looked like the suspect wanted in the manhunt. Once confirmed, one man went to the local police while the other man kept Al-Bakr tied with electric cords and held him down in a headlock position. Al-Bakr offered one man 1,000 euros and US$200, but neither refugee took the offer.
“I fled from Syria over the Balkan Route,” one of the refugees told Bild, according to a Google translation. “I am so grateful to Germany, that it has taken us — it was very clear that we go to the police.”
Al-Bakr was among the more than 890,000 asylum seekers who were admitted into Germany last year. He was granted asylum in November 2015.
Yet because of Al-Bakr’s alleged ties to the Islamic State militant group, which has also claimed attacks in the western German state of Bavaria in July, some German lawmakers from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s own Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party have taken the opportunity to justify why they want a crackdown on Syrian refugees, a group often demonized as potential terrorists.
The talk surrounding refugees has been especially rancorous in the United States, where the current Republican presidential candidate has accused the federal government of allowing in Syrian refugees and Muslim immigrants without serious vetting. Those claims do not have any basis in reality. Refugees undergo a months-long vetting process from numerous organizations and federal agencies before they are allowed to step foot in the country. Immigrants from Muslim-majority countries also undergo stringent requirements before they can become U.S. citizens.
Like the recent event that took place in Germany, over the years, immigrants have actively reported suspicious activity to law enforcement authorities. In the most recent example, Harinder Singh Bains, a native from India who practices the Sikh faith, was the first to call police when he saw the primary suspect involved in the pressure cooker bombings in New York and New Jersey in September.
During the second presidential debate on Sunday, both the Republican and Democratic candidates called on Muslims to report threats that happen in their communities. While Republican candidate Donald Trump said Muslims have to “report the problems when they see them,” Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton called on them to “be part of our eyes and ears.” As a 2011University of North Carolina (UNC) study pointed out, 40 percent of tips regarding terrorism plots come from the Muslim-American community itself. Those tips include family members who report that suspects go missing abroad or community members who find suspicious activity, including violent social media postings.
Still, even beyond Muslims “spying” on each other, the New York Police Department routinely monitored Muslims between 2010 and 2015, though the surveillance of Muslim communities dates back to the post-September 11, 2001 attacks. The controversial surveillance program has not found much success, with the NYPD having never received a lead that led to a terrorism investigation.