The Christmas market truck attack in Berlin overshadowed another case in Germany – the thwarted nail bomb plot in Ludwigshafen. Yet it marks the alarming trend of an increasingly young face of terrorism in Europe.
The 12-year-old boy behind the plot in western Germany unveiled intended to detonate a home-made explosive device filled with nails at a Christmas market, according to German media. He was described as being of Iraqi origin, radicalized and planning to join the terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) sometime in the future.
The alleged failed bomb blast in Ludwigshafen is believed to be the youngest person in Europe detained on suspicion of terrorism since IS rose to prominence in the Middle East. The case however is far from being isolated.
Earlier in December, two teenagers aged 15 and 17 were arrested in the southern German state of Baden-Wurttemberg. They reportedly planned Islamism-motivated gun attacks in several locations near Frankfurt and were in the process of procuring firearms for them.
The issue of youth radicalization is serious in Germany. A September report by the Interior Ministry to the Parliament said German law enforcement identified over 340 cases of radical preachers making contacts with refugees in Germany. The ministry said unaccompanied children were especially susceptible to the radical messages.
Minors now comprise 7 percent of all German jihadists who left for Syria and Iraq, says a report jointly prepared by the Hessian Information and Competence Centre against Extremism (HKE), the German Federal Criminal Police, and the Domestic Intelligence Service (BfV), Die Welt reported in November.
Other Western countries have the same problem. French authorities in September arrested three teens suspected of links to jihadists and planning attacks in the country. All of them were 15, including one who had a birthday just days before his arrest.
In Austria, four suspected would-be terrorists as young as 16 inspired by IS were arrested in May. The police said the teens were planning attacks in Antwerp and were involved in recruiting on behalf of the terrorist group.
On the opposite side of Earth in Australia, two 16-year-old boys were arrested in October on suspicion of planning IS-inspired knife attacks.
In countries closer to IS strongholds in Syria and Iraq the situation is worse. In August, a Kurdish wedding ceremony was targeted by a child aged 12 to 14 years, according to the investigators. The bombing claimed over 50 lives.
The same week a boy of the same age went on a suicide mission in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, but was apprehended by the security forces.
IS is well-known for using underage boys and girls as both soldiers and suicide bombers. Dubbed ‘cubs of caliphate’ these radicalized children are increasingly becoming victims of the terrorist organization.