Monday, February 20, 2006

The End of Germany's "Iraq Bonus"

As European embassies and flags burn in the Middle East, the already frayed nerves of German security services are being stretched taut. And with the World Cup starting in four months, there's no relief in sight.

Rage in the Middle East prompted by cartoons in the European press, German hostages in Iraq, terrorist attacks in Afghanistan: those who thought Germany's opposition to the Iraq war would spare them such reports have been proved wrong in recent weeks.

"People forget that since 9/11 more Germans have been killed by terrorism than during the entire (Red Army Faction) era," said Klaus Jansen, head of Germany's criminal investigators union. "We act as though it didn’t happen, because these attacks took place abroad."

Now, many Germans fear attacks closer to home. In the run-up to the World Cup beginning June 9, German security services have been working overtime keeping tabs on possible troublemakers and sifting through intelligence warnings on terrorist attacks. Recent events have only heightened concerns.

A thorn in the side of fundamentalists

Last week, protestors threw stones at Germany's embassy in Teheran and burned a German flag in the streets. Some contend the protests over cartoons in Berlin's Tagesspiegel showing the Iranian soccer team wearing bomb vests have been instrumentalized by the government as a protest against Europe and America's hard line against their nuclear program. But taken with Germany's troop commitment in Afghanistan and involvement in training programs for Iraqi police, German law enforcement officials say they are on a heightened state of alert.

"You clearly have to see that our involvement in the international fight against terrorism makes us a potential target for attackers," said Jörg Ziecke (photo), the head of Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office at a recent conference. "We’ve been training Afghan and Iraqi police for quite some time now. These training activities have been very successful, and are certainly a thorn in the side of fundamentalists."

But Germany, like the rest of Europe, is still having trouble coordinating its national policing efforts. The announcement at the European Police Conference last week to set up a joint terrorism defense center that would put members of Germany's different security agencies under one roof comes late. And it is only as good as the amount of cooperation police are willing to provide one another.

Plea for a fundamentalist databank

"Nearly every terrorist attack we've had in Europe, we've had relevant information ahead of time," said Jansen. "We simply need stronger cooperation on a national level."

Jansen has been advocating creation of a nationwide fundamentalist database, an idea that has yet to win over Germany's notoriously tough data protectionists. Should it come into existence before the World Cup, Germany would be that much better prepared for potential horror scenarios, says Jansen.

No terrorism weather report

The country's law enforcement community seems confident that every precaution is being taken. At the moment, German police are conducting 194 investigations into suspects with radical Islamic backgrounds, said officials at the conference. But, they repeated, there has been no indication that anything is being planned.

The claim, warns Jansen, should be no reason for relief.

"There is no terrorism weather report," he said. "The message that we have no information that an attack is going to happen is correct, but it means nothing."

Deutsche Welle 02/2006


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