Saturday, August 12, 2006

Foiled British Attack Triggers Security Debate in Germany

The foiled plot to blow up planes flying from Britain to the US has reignited a security debate in Germany with politicians split on tightening counter-terrorism laws.

A day after news emerged that British police had stopped a potentially massive terrorist strike, Germany was debating the security lessons to be drawn from the bomb scare. Politicians from the ruling conservative Christian Democratic Party (CDU) called for a rethink of Germany's security concept.

"We have to ask ourselves whether we would have been as successful with our security measures," Wolfgang Bosbach, deputy parliamentary group leader of the CDU, told reporters.

"We have to determine whether, in a similar situation, we would have discovered the explosive material in baggage checks," Bosbach said, referring to reports that terrorists planned to smuggle liquid explosives in hand luggage on flights from Britain to the US.

Bavaria's Interior Minister Günther Beckstein of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party of the CDU, said Germany had to be prepared for an abstract and heightened terror threat.

"We are also in the sights of the terrorists," Beckstein said.

Conservatives demand central anti-terror register

Conservative politicians are also in favor of introducing a Germany-wide anti-terrorism register, which has been a bone of contention for months between the government and the federal states.

The planned register would not just contain a database of suspects and groups, but would also list names and details of foundations and companies with possible links to the Islamist scene. The idea is that all security, intelligence and counter-crime agencies both at the state and federal level would have access to the register.

On Friday, Beckstein said that the events in Britain showed that Germany needed a closer networking of its myriad security agencies if quick decisions needed to be taken in an emergency. Cooperation between the various agencies is too slow and bureaucratic at present, Beckstein said.

"A Germany-wide anti-terrorism register is urgently needed," Beckstein said, adding that security loopholes in German counter-terrorism laws also needed to be closed.

Hartmut Koschyk, CSU domestic security expert, said the government needed to agree on a legal framework that would allow the army to counter terrorist attacks in the air and on water.

He also demanded that the states be more careful about selecting people for naturalization.

"There are extremists who deliberately seek the protection of German citizenship," he said.

Opposition: security worries exaggerated

Opposition politicians strongly object to the proposals, saying the conservatives' security concerns are overblown.

Fritz Kuhn, parliamentary leader of the Green party said it was important that there is good cooperation between the police and intelligence agencies, but said he was against the idea of a national anti-terror register that would enable the police to automatically access all intelligence information.

Kuhn added that the current practice of information-sharing was "completely sufficient."

"It's important that we first see what exactly happened in England," Kuhn said. "The decisive thing is that security checks at airports have to be improved."

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a former justice minister and member of the opposition free-market liberal FDP also called for a more level-headed discussion.

"The citizens shouldn't be made uneasy without a well-founded reason," Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said, adding that she didn't think Germany was facing an increased terrorist threat.

DW staff (sp)

Deutsche Welle 08/2006

Friday, August 11, 2006

Technorati Profile

Europe on High Alert After British Terror Scare

The thwarting of an attack in Britain to blow up aircraft in mid-flight has underlined the need for Europe to stay both tough and vigilant when it comes to fighting terrorism, according to security experts in Germany.

The thought of having narrowly avoided a potentially major terrorist attack sent jitters through western Europe Thursday as British authorities said they had foiled assaults on a "number of aircraft." Police arrested 21 people in the UK as the incident once again raised questions about the level of threat Europe faces from terrorism since the September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.

"This is certainly not just a British problem, but affects all Europeans who are grappling with the problem of homegrown terrorism," said Berndt Georg Thamm, an expert on terrorism.

Not the only attack foiled?

"Reality has caught up with us after the World Cup," said Klaus Jansen, head of the German Detective's Association (BDK). "Whether it's the two bombs found in Dortmund and Koblenz on the rail network (earlier this month) or the current attack in England, it shows that there's a constant latent threat," Janssen said. "We can't afford to lower our guard."

Others point out that the current incident is by no means an isolated one.

"The media always seizes on the attacks that have already happened -- Sept. 11, Madrid, London," said David Schiller, a terrorism expert. "But let's not forget that, every year since Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists have planned at least one attack or series of attacks in Europe per year which have been foiled. These things don't make it into the press."

The handiwork of al Qaeda?

Though Britain hasn't released details on the identity of those arrested, experts say the nature of the alleged plot suggests a connection to al Qaeda.

"In the last two months al Qaeda promised that it would avenge Iraq and Afghanistan by attacking British and American aviation assets -- I see a direct link with that," terrorism expert Paul Beaver told news agency Reuters.

All signs pointed to al Qaeda planning a strike to coincide with the upcoming fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Schiller said. "The organization is known for its penchant for symbolism and date-specific campaigns," he said. "And al Qaeda is also known to target economic infrastructure, whether it's tourism or aviation."

Thamm also saw a link between the foiled plot and al Qaeda, and he stressed that Germany wasn't immune to attacks.

"It would be fatal for Germany to think we are in a special position because we didn't participate in the war against Iraq," Thamm said, pointing out that Germany had 2,800 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. "Black, red, gold really isn't a bullet-proof vest anymore."

Hand luggage a "weak link"

Airports around Europe have beefed up security after reports that the bombers were planning to smuggle liquid explosives in hand luggage with battery triggers possibly stored in laptops or calculators.

Experts say the tactic is sophisticated, though the idea isn't entirely new. In Dec. 2001, so-called "shoe bomber" Richard Reid was overpowered after trying to set light to a fuse connected to explosives in his shoes before boarding an American Airlines flight in Paris.

"Though there are loopholes in the entire machinery fighting terrorism, hand luggage does remain a weak link," Schiller said, adding that technologies to better scrutinize carry-on luggage, such as sniffing out explosives, still remain in the pipeline.

"Let's face it -- we will not manage to prevent all attacks. Intelligence gathering and security measures can at the most work as the last firewall."

Getting close to the masterminds

At the same time, experts say that British officials' thwarting of the alleged terrorist plot could boost the fight against terror.

"With security officials preventing the attack well in time, there is a good chance that enough proof can be furnished during a legal trial -- which is the right way to go about preventing a major crime," said Jansen. "We have to try to get as close as possible to the masterminds behind the attack."

Sonia Phalnikar

Deutsche Welle 08/2006

Britain: Main Players in Foiled Plane Attacks Accounted For

British Home Secretary John Reid said Thursday police were confident "the main players have been accounted for" in an alleged plot to blow up several US-bound aircraft. The country is on maximum terror alert.

A total of 21 people were arrested in pre-dawn raids both in the London area and Birmingham Thursday over the alleged plot, which a senior police officer said was "an attempt to commit mass murder on an unimaginable scale."

Home Secretary Reid said the plot was "very significant" and designed to "bring down a number of aircraft through mid-flight explosions, causing a considerable loss of life."

"Whilst the police are confident that the main players have been accounted for, neither they nor the government are in any way complacent," Reid told a press conference, explaining the decision to raise Britain's security threat level to "critical," the highest level.

Reports in the British media said the plot involved liquid chemical explosives which were to be smuggled aboard in hand baggage, though police have not yet confirmed these reports.

Major disruption at airports

Security was ordered to be tightened at British airports, where departing passengers were not allowed hand baggage except for articles placed in transparent bags. There were also restrictions on fluids. Those travelling with an infant were required, for example, to taste the contents of bottles of baby milk.

Long and chaotic lines formed at British airports, including Heathrow and Stansted, as well as Manchester in northern England.

British Airways cancelled all its short-haul inbound and outbound flights from Heathrow to destinations at home and across Europe until 1400 GMT.

Reacting to news of the foiled plot, German officials also upped security procedures at German airports. Thousands of passengers were stranded due to cancelled or delayed flights. German carrier Lufthansa cancelled all flights into Heathrow on Thursday until 5:00 p.m. local time. Three Lufthansa flights that were en route to Heathrow when the news of the plot broke turned around and flew back to Germany.

German politician calls for more security

In Berlin, the Christian Democrats' deputy parliamentary group leader, Wolfgang Bosbach, spoke of a worrying threat.

"The events in London show that we have to increase our security procedures," Bosbach told Reuters. "We have to determine whether, in a similar situation, we would have discovered the explosive material in baggage checks."

The Social Democrats' interior expert, Dieter Wiefelspütz, however, warned against a frantic debate about security.

"As long as the events in London are still under investigation, we shouldn't start talking about further consequences," he told the Netzeitung.

Months-long operation

The British plot was uncovered after a joint operation by Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch and the security services that lasted several months, London's Metropolitan Police said.

The heightened security alert comes 13 months after four British Islamist suicide bombers killed 52 people and injured about 700 on London's transport network.

Last month, al Qaeda called on Muslims to fight those who backed Israel's attacks on Lebanon and warned of more attacks unless US and British forces pulled out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Independent terrorism expert Paul Beaver said that the nature of the suspected plot suggested a connection to al Qaeda.

"In the last two months al Qaeda promised that it would avenge Iraq and Afghanistan by attacking British and American aviation assets -- I see a direct link with that," he said.

Deutsche Welle 08/2006

Kidnapped German 'Alive and Well' in Nigeria

The employer of a German oil worker taken hostage last week in Nigeria said Thursday they have been in contact with the kidnappers and are confident that the incident will end with the man's safe release.

The kidnapped German contractor, whose identity has not been officially released, is "doing well" considering the circumstances, according to Herbert Bodner, chairman of Germany's Bilfinger Berger construction company, which employed the kidnapped man for the last 18 years.

Without giving additional details, Bodner said the company had been in contact with the kidnappers multiple times and that everything had been done to ensure the man's safe release.

Originally from the Bavarian city of Würzburg, the hostage said he was "alive and well," but wanted to go home, according to an e-mail released to the media on Wednesday.

"So far I have been treated well by my captors," the German man, a contractor for the Bilfinger Berger construction company. "They have provided me with mosquito nets. They have also provided me with medicines and even brought me a packet of my favorite cigarette."

The German Foreign Ministry would not confirm knowledge of the photo or the man's identity, but said its crisis response team has been in contact with the Nigerian authorities with the goal of achieving "the quickest release possible," according to a spokesman on Wednesday.

The militants holding him after his kidnapping a week ago from Port Harcourt demanded the release of two ethnic Ijaw leaders being held prisoner as well as added jobs and investment in the Niger Delta region by the German captive's employer.

"We are still waiting for our demands to be met," the kidnappers said in a previous statement.

Mujahid Dokubo Asari, one of the men the previously unknown Movement for the Niger Delta People (MONDP) wants released, appealed for the German hostage to be set free.

"Asari wishes to appeal to the kidnappers to release unconditionally their hostage as he has no hand in his travails," according to a statement issued by Allen Onyema, one of Asari's associates.

Onyema added that although Asari appreciated the concern of the militants for his plight, he would prefer a peaceful means to resolve the crisis, Onyema added.

Five additional Europeans kidnapped

The past seven months have seen a wave of kidnappings and attacks on oil facilities and personnel by separatist agitators in the Niger Delta, home to Nigeria's multi-billion-dollar oil and gas wealth. Rebels have often demanded a larger share of the country's profits from natural resources be returned to the public.

Most recently, a Belgian and Moroccan were kidnapped Thursday, and two Norwegians and two Ukrainians were kidnapped at gunpoint from an oil services ship off the coast of Nigeria on Wednesday, and three Filipino workers were kidnapped last week in an incident separate from the German hostage taking.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest producer and the eighth largest in the world, accounting for a daily output of 2.6 million barrels, but unrest has cut a quarter of that figure in recent months.

DW staff (sms)

Deutsche Welle 08/2006

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Nigeria Steps up Efforts to Secure Release of Kidnapped German

Nigerian security agents stepped up efforts Saturday to secure the release of four foreign oil and gas workers, including a German, who were taken prisoner this week in the restive Niger Delta.

The German oil worker was kidnapped on Thursday in Port Harcourt while three Filipinos working on a multi-billion-dollar liquefied gas project were abducted Friday at nearby Bonny Island in Rivers State.

A leading separatist group involved in previous kidnappings denied involvement Saturday.

"We have launched a massive man-hunt for the captors and their victims with a view to effecting their release," state police spokeswoman Barasua Ireju told reporters.

She said security forces were hopeful the men would be released soon, declining to give details of the operation.

Unknown gunmen struck near the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) plant in southern Nigeria on Friday and kidnapped three Filipino men employed by Baker Overseas Technology Services, a contractor of the Nigerian firm.

Their whereabouts and the identities of their kidnappers were still unknown Saturday.

Small ransom could release German

There was no news either of the German oil worker who was abducted Thursday along with his Nigerian driver in Port Harcourt, operational centre of the Niger Delta region where several firms are based.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said it was not involved in either kidnapping.

In an e-mail statement to AFP a MEND spokesman said the German, an employee of oil service firm Bilfinger and Berger, "was taken by a band that usually involves in armed robberies in Port Harcourt."

"I'm sure he will be released shortly after a small ransom," the spokesman said.

Attacks on oil refineries increase

Since January, attacks on oil facilities and staff by militants have risen in the region, source of Nigeria's multi-billion-dollar oil and gas wealth.

The attacks were launched to press demands by local communities for a larger share in oil revenues and compensation for the destruction of the region as a result of oil exploration.

Some groups are seeking autonomy or independence for the Niger Delta.

More than 30 expatriate oil workers have been kidnapped in the past seven months but were released after spending days or sometimes weeks in captivity.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest producer, accounting for a daily output of 2.6 million barrels, but unrest has cut a quarter of that figure in recent months.

DW staff / AFP (nda)

Deutsche Welle 08/2006