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Germany’s terrorism threat level still low in spite of Berlin truck attack: Risk expert

Berlin truck attack: The next questions to be answered
Berlin truck attack: The next questions to be answered

Monday evening's attack on a Berlin Christmas market did not reveal any increased terrorist threat to Germany, according to a leading global risk consultancy.

Charles Hecker, senior partner at Control Risks told CNBC's Squawk Box on Wednesday that his firm is maintaining a low terrorist rating for the country in the wake of the attacks. This is partly because the tragic event looks unlikely to materially impact domestic businesses but also partly due to the Berlin attack appearing to be the act of a "lone wolf."

In Hecker's view, the driving of the truck through an unguarded marketplace was a simplistic operation, not one that revealed a high degree of coordination, technology or multiple angles or one that signified a qualitative change in terrorist capabilities in the country.

Security and rescue workers tend to the area after a lorry truck ploughed through a Christmas market on December 19, 2016 in Berlin, Germany.
Sean Gallup | Getty Images

As the search for details to help unravel the full story continues, Hecker points to discovering the identity of the individual behind the attacks as the next critical piece for the authorities, in order to determine elements such as whether the perpetrator was a recent arrival in the country and how they had been radicalized.

It would also be essential to understanding the extent of the terrorist's engagement with jihadist group, the so-called Islamic State (IS), which claimed responsibility for the attack on Tuesday.

Once deciphered, these factors would shape the agenda for both interpreting the security situation within Germany and better estimating the political fallout for Angela Merkel as she prepares to battle for a fourth term as Chancellor in next September's federal elections.

Should the perpetrator be shown to have been a beneficiary of Merkel's controversial 2015 open-door policy towards around a million refugees, the pressure on her would be significantly greater.

However, Hecker was keen to point out that large scale attacks enacted in the past 14 months in Paris and Brussels were carried out by first-generation citizens who had been raised within these cities, so observers must be careful not to jump to conclusions.

Furthermore, he pointed to Germany's relatively strong track record of integrating refugees into its social security system.

"Germany is a country with an enormous and very secure social security net and by and large the absorption of refugees into employment, into schools and into the German social fabric is going pretty well," the risk analyst noted.

"It's kind of along that Scandinavian model, that Denmark model for anti-radicalisation and for giving people jobs, a community and a position in a new life," he explained.

Hecker also refused to point to failed multi-culturalism as the key issue, saying the evolving situation in the Middle East is a more important factor.

"I think the problem is now, whether it is migrants or local folks, the gradual destruction of IS in Raqqa and northern Iraq is going to increase the dispersal of that threat all around Europe," he posited.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) attend 23rd World Energy Congress in Istanbul on October 10, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey.
Dmitry Azarov | Kommersant | Getty Images

Turning to the fatal shooting on Monday evening of Russia's ambassador to Turkey in the latter's capital city of Ankara, Hecker said he did not expect the event to derail the gradual rapprochement between Russia and Turkey.

While the two countries were at pains subsequent to the ambassador's murder to publicly declare their ongoing joint initiatives to battle terrorism, Hecker told CNBC that he believed this message only up to a point.

"After all they are on separate sides of the story in Syria and on Assad and so they are going to have to in the short to medium term deal with that as something that does drive a wedge between them in regional politics in the area," he highlighted.

Discussing drivers for their friendship, Hecker noted the attraction for Russia.

"Russia wants a southern oil and gas pipeline and it's going to have to go through Turkey. So they are going to have to learn to like each other no matter what happens in either of those two countries," he said.

Meanwhile, he explained that Turkey appreciated the ability to play eastern and western leaders off against one another so would tolerate just enough – but not too much – of Russia in its backyard.

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