Germany Warns Fall of Kobani Could Trigger More Unrest on Its Streets

BERLIN—Germany’s equivalent of the FBI has warned local police forces that the fall of Syrian border town Kobani could trigger more clashes between Kurds and Islamists on German streets after violent confrontations in two cities this week fanned fears the conflict in Syria is spilling over to home.

Several regional police officials told The Wall Street Journal they had received a written warning this week from the Federal Criminal Police Office, or BKA, to prepare for more violence between communities with links to the conflict region should the mainly Kurdish town in northern Syria fall into the hands of Islamic State fighters.

On Thursday, a small group of Kurdish protesters occupied the headquarters of Bavaria’s ruling party in Munich to demonstrate against Islamic State’s siege in Syria. Local police deployed around 30 officers to the building after protesters refused to leave, police spokesman Sven Müller said. The incident followed violent clashes between hundreds of Kurds and Islamic State sympathizers in central and northern Germany this week.

While Ms. Merkel’s government is supplying Kurdish Peshmerga fighters with weapons and ammunition in the fight against IS, it has ruled out participating in U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. Numbering just under three million, Turks make up Germany’s largest ethnic minority, with one fifth to one quarter of these hailing from the Kurdish-populated regions of Turkey.

Politicians and security officials here have expressed growing concern that the conflict in Syria was fueling radicalization among Islamists and some Kurds at home, increasing not only the likelihood of a terrorist attack on German soil but also of inter-community violence.

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency estimates more than 400 German nationals and residents have traveled to Syria to fight and around 130 have since returned. In its latest annual report, published in June, it put the number of potential supporters of radical Islam in Germany at over 43,000.

Stephan Mayer, the conservative parliamentary group’s spokesman for domestic affairs, said on Thursday the authorities “won’t tolerate our streets turning into an arena for religious wars” between Kurds and Sunni Islamists. Fellow conservative lawmaker Thomas Strobl pledged zero tolerance for “proxy wars on German streets” and called for “fast criminal proceedings against those who have attacked police officers”.

Andreas Schöpflin, a spokesman for the police in Hamburg, said the authorities anticipate more unrest surrounding Friday prayers after police in the port city deployed nearly 1,300 officers to a pro-Kurdistan demonstration on Wednesday, where they confiscated weapons including a firearm, knives, and baseball bats.

On Tuesday, police used batons and pepper spray to break up fighting between what the authorities said were Kurdish and Chechen groups in Celle, a town of 69,000 in central Germany. An interior ministry spokeswoman said there have been over 400 demonstrations related to the situation in Syria and Iraq, most of them peaceful, “in recent days.”

German news magazine Der Spiegel reported online late Wednesday that the BKA issued a written warning to law enforcement agencies over the threat of more Kobani-related violence.

A spokesman for the Celle police department confirmed it had received the correspondence from the BKA and said further demonstrations “are possible.” Hamburg police also confirmed it received the warning, while Düsseldorf police said the BKA has issued several reports on the matter recently. A spokeswoman for the BKA declined to comment.

The BKA cautioned that images and reports of a potential seizure of Kobani “with conceivable massacres of the population” could act as emotional triggers for Kurds living in Germany, according to Der Spiegel.

Christoph Gilles, a spokesman for the police in the West German city of Cologne, where demonstrations have been peaceful so far, told The Wall Street Journal that “if Kobani falls, the Kurdish scene in Cologne could get a boost.”

The authorities suspect some anti-Islamic State groups are tied to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, Munich police spokesman Sven Müller said. The European Union classifies the PKK as a terrorist group and it is banned in Germany. The country experienced a wave of PKK-related violence in the 1990s, such as the storming of the Turkish consulate in Munich.

Germany has been home to Turkish migrants since the 1960s, and the Turkish population now numbers just under three million. Germany’s umbrella organization of Kurdish associations estimates there are around a million immigrants from Kurdish regions of Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey living in Germany.

Berlin tends to shy away from involvement in international conflicts, fearing a backlash at home, and the move to supply arms to Kurds prompted much debate in a country with a strongly pacifist electorate.

Kristian Brakel, a Middle East expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations, said that by reacting slowly to the crisis in Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, Germany failed to consider “that not doing anything can have a blowback”.

(Photo: Kurdish protesters face German riot police as they march in solidarity with the people of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, in Hamburg, October 8. Reuters)