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Mass protests during Hamburg G20 summit likely to include violence; terrorism risk heightened, especially outside security zone

Published: 6/30/2017

The meeting of the world’s most influential leaders and their delegations at the G20 summit in Hamburg on 7 and 8 July is likely to attract at least 100,000 protestors.

IHS Markit perspective

Outlook and implications

  • The northern German city of Hamburg will host the G20 summit on 7 and 8 July and local authorities expect at least 100,000 protestors to stage rallies promoting anti-capitalist, anti-globalisation, pro-Kurdish, and other causes.
  • Violence is likely to break out during some of the authorised and also spontaneous rallies, with the highest risk stemming from anarchists and far-left militant activists targeting police and causing property damage in central Hamburg.
  • The G20 summit would also likely be a highly symbolic target for Islamist terrorist attacks carried out either by lone actors or small cells with ideological or direct links to non-state militant groups such as the Islamic State.
  • Police preparedness will be high, given that they have had time to get ready and due to the experience locally and nationally in dealing with militant protests and Germany’s overall high exposure to terrorism risks.


Protests and riots; Terrorism; Death and injury

Sectors or assets


IHS Markit assesses that there is a high risk of mass gatherings turning riotous during the upcoming G20 summit in central Hamburg. Local authorities currently expect around 100,000 peaceful protestors and roughly 8,000 autonomous activists prone to becoming violent and ready to use "black bloc" tactics during demonstrations. A broad array of anti-G20 campaign groups have organised 27 authorised rallies and other events in the lead-up to the summit and on 7 and 8 July. Spontaneous or unauthorised campaigning is also highly likely.

In addition, the G20 summit offers a highly symbolic target for an Islamist terrorist attack as the G20 largely represents an anti-Islamist worldview. Large gatherings outside the main security zones in central Hamburg would be likely targets for attackers intent on inflicting mass civilian casualties. The concentration of a high number of world leaders in one place significantly raises the symbolic nature of a nearby attack. The most likely scenario would be an Islamist attack carried out by a lone actor or small cell inspired but not necessarily directly linked to non-state armed groups such as the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda. Assaults with rudimentary weapons such as knives, vehicle-impact attacks, shootings, or a combination of these would be the most likely methods of attack. However, there is also a lower risk of perpetrators constructing and deploying high-capacity improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Since lone actors often launch attacks near their homes and as the high security presence may deter some from coming to Hamburg, the risk of an attack elsewhere in the country is also higher than usual.

Protest hotspots during the G20 meeting in Hamburg, July 2017

IHS Markit

Reflecting the local authorities’ security concerns, a 19,000-strong police force from across Germany, as well as from Austria and the Netherlands, will be deployed in Hamburg in the lead-up to the summit and on 7 and 8 July. This includes around 15,000 regular German police officers, 4,000 federal police officers, counter-terrorism police (SEK, MEK, BFE+ and GSG9), Austrian special forces (COBRA), and Dutch special forces operating in speed boats. Police will cordon off and guard a high-security zone around the two main summit venues: the congress and convention halls, Messehallen, located in the immediate northwest of the city centre; and the iconic philharmonic hall, Elbphilharmonie, which is located on the waterfront to the south of the city centre. The Messehallen summit venue is located only a few hundred metres from Hamburg’s historic alternative district, the Schanzenviertel, where the city’s traditionally strong base of far-left and autonomous activists have their squats, bars, and cultural venues. This increases the risk of violent acts in these areas.

In addition to security measures in Hamburg, the European Commission has also granted the establishment of controls along all of Germany’s external borders, with the Schengen Agreement being suspended in the lead-up to the summit in order for police to prevent suspected violent protesters or potential terrorists from reaching Hamburg.

Anarchists and anti-globalisation militants are likely to target police and property in central Hamburg

A large coalition of left-wing and environmentalist grassroots campaigners, political parties, labour unions, non-governmental organisations, and local residents’ associations – the Bündnis gegen das G20-Treffen in Hamburg (Alliance against the G20 Meeting in Hamburg) – has called for mass protests against the G20 and the policies of its participating nations and leaders, against the fact that the summit is being held in Hamburg, and against globalisation overall. Activities will include a counter-summit, likely peaceful rallies, envisaged protest camps in public parks, workshops, and street parties, as well as direct action events such as non-violent attempts to block the summit or the transportation of its delegates, and non-violent attempts to enter the security zones around the two main summit venues.

Militant autonomous activists – that is, anarchist and far-left anti-capitalist protesters – are mobilising under the "G20 Welcome to Hell" umbrella group for protests and direct action against the summit. These will include "black bloc" tactics such as concealing their identities with masks and similar black clothing and appearing in large groups, posing a severe risk of violent confrontations with police and vandalism of property in central Hamburg and the wider harbour area.

A third group, combining several Kurdish organisations and political parties, is calling for protests against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who will be in attendance. It is likely that up to 10,000 Kurdish, pro-Kurdish, and anti-Erdogan activists will join these protests. These, and demonstrations against US president Donald Trump or Russian president Vladimir Putin, are likely to be mainly peaceful. However, there is a risk of interference by violent activists.

Outlook and implications

Anarchists and far-left militant activists are likely to target police forces during rallies and there is a high risk that they will continue an ongoing campaign of low-capability attacks carried out with explicit reference to the G20. Such attacks are likely to include arson targeting police stations and vehicles, banks, retail premises, and assets perceived to be symbols of globalisation. In addition, there is a heightened risk of anarchists sabotaging infrastructure, which could potentially affect Hamburg’s airport, local and national railway lines, Hamburg’s harbour, or utilities such as power or the internet.

The declared police goal is to allow peaceful and authorised protests in designated areas, but to quell any violent incidents or riots as soon as they arise. This is likely to result in the "kettling" of protests that are in danger of turning violent or have actually turned violent, meaning a local confinement of protesters until they disperse by themselves. However, with regards to civil unrest, the scale of the expected protests is likely to be greater than on previous occasions, and the fact that the summit is being held in the centre of a large city exacerbates the challenges for police to control violent protests or prevent a terrorist attack. In cases where there are 10,000 or more participants in "black bloc" protests, who are actively seeking confrontations with the police or attempting to enter designated security zones, there is a risk that the police could be locally and temporarily overwhelmed by activists, which would increase the risk of injury for bystanders or police officers and nearby property being damaged.

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