Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Terror Suspect Fled Germany for Middle East, Officials Say

German officials continue to search offices and apartments while questioning witnesses and "contacts" in an effort to catch the second man suspected of being part of a bomb plot in late July.

German investigators have expanded their investigation into the plot to bomb two regional trains to five cities, searching apartments and offices in northwestern Germany and interviewing dozens of people including an alleged "contact" of the two suspects, German media reported.

According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, police on Tuesday searched the Cologne apartment of a man they believe was an accomplice of the suspect, Youssef Mohamad E. H., a 21-year-old Lebanese student who was arrested in Kiel on Saturday. The accomplice is allegedly Jihad Hamad, a 20-year-old Lebanese, who is still at large.

Officials searched a Lebanese car dealer in Essen, another business in Oberhausen and a grocery store in Gelsenkirchen. They also questioned a man thought to be a contact person for the suspects and searched his Kiel apartment.

At the same time, new details emerged about the movements of the two suspects immediately after they planted two bombs in suitcases on trains in Cologne bound for Dortmund and Koblenz on July 31.

That night, the two reportedly flew to Istanbul, according to Süddeutsche Zeitung. Hamad supposedly continued on to the Middle East. But Youssef Mohamad E. H. returned to Germany. Why he did so remained unclear.

New details emerge

With the help of Lebanese intelligence, which picked up a call Youssef Mohamad E. H. made to his family in Lebanon after seeing his image broadcast on German television, police were able to catch him. Surveillance cameras from the Cologne train station had captured the two men on film.

German Prosecutor General Monika Harms said Tuesday police had discovered the identity of the second man, Hamad, three weeks ago but failed to locate him. The head of the Federal Crime Office, Jörg Ziercke, had said late Monday that he was confident the second bomb suspect would be captured, adding that police had garnered "a wealth of information" from Youssef Mohammed E.H.

Youssef Mohamad E. H. has lived in Germany since 2003. His alleged accomplice, investigators say, has been in Germany twice and had lived in the country since February.

Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel reported that some of Youssef Mohammed E. H.'s relatives had links to the banned Islamic extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir and that the 21-year-old was believed to have been radicalized by the organization, which strives to create an Islamic state. Investigators believe that the two may have made contact through that organization. The anti-Israeli organization has been banned in Germany since 2003.

Hamburg Islamic organization under scrutiny

The online version of newsweekly Der Spiegel said that the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the domestic intelligence service, was following a lead to a mosque in the northern city of Hamburg because Youssef Mohammed E.H. had a poster of the institution hanging in his dormitory in Kiel.

The Imam Ali Mosque is believed to be a meeting point for supporters of the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militia Hezbollah.

A spokesman for the mosque denied any contact with Youssef Mohammed E.H. "We do not know this person at all," he told AFP.

Der Spiegel said that investigators did not see a direct link between the bombing plot and the mosque but hoped to learn more about the suspects by probing its activities.

DW staff (jb)

Deutsche Welle 08/2006

German Prosecutors: Second Bomb Suspect Identified

Germany's federal prosecutors have identified a second man in connection with two bombs found on German trains in July. The suspect is reported to have escaped arrest and fled Germany.

The second of two men accused of carrying suitcase bombs on the German trains on July 31 has been identified, German Federal Prosecutor Monika Harms said Tuesday afternoon. She added that the man had fled Germany and that his apartment was still being searched by investigators.

After the arrest of Youssef Mohamad E. H., a 21-year-old Lebanese students, in Kiel on Saturday, the second suspect is reported to be Dschihad Hamad, German news magazine Stern reported Tuesday, citing unnamed security sources.

The 20-year-old Lebanese man avoided arrest early Tuesday morning and is no longer in Germany, according to Berlin's Morgenpost newspaper and WDR radio.

The man is reported to have lived in the western city of Cologne, where authorities said they believed the two suspects carried bombs on board trains headed to the Dortmund and Koblenz.

Investigators confident of quick arrest

After saying over the weekend that investigators knew relatively little about the second man suspected of planting a suitcase bomb on a German local train at the end of July, Jörg Ziercke, the head of the Federal Crime Office said Monday he was "very optimistic" police would bring the manhunt to a quick and successful end.

He told German pubic broadcaster ZDF that "an amplitude of leads" pointing to involved parties in Lebanon, Germany and other European countries had come in since the arrest of a 21-year-old Lebanese student in Kiel on Saturday.

The deciding tip leading to arrest of the Youssef Mohamad E. H. came from Lebanese intelligence officers after they listened in to a conversation the man had after seeing his face on television, according to the German prosecutor's office.

The cooperation with foreign intelligence services was a deciding factor in the arrest and put police on the trail of the second suspect, said Klaus Uwe Benneter, a Social Democratic Party member of the German parliament's committee for the interior.

No clue on suspects' motives

The danger of a terrorist attack remains until authorities are able to catch the second suspect, Ziercke said, adding that the other suspect or other accomplices could attempt to carry out the attacks that failed on July 31 because of a construction error.

The two suspects' motives for the attacks also remain a mystery, German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble told Germany's ARD broadcaster, adding that the threat of terrorist attacks in Germany "unfortunately remains very real."

Alleged involvement in terrorist organization

Youssef Mohamad E. H. was reported to be involved in an Islamic organization called Hisb ut-Tahrir al Islami, a group banned in Germany since 2003 for promoting anti-Semitic propaganda, and to have had several acquaintances with "problematic connections," according to unnamed security officials quoted in Der Tagesspiegel newspaper on Tuesday.

Experts believe that the 21-year-old was radicalized by this organization -- which wants to create an Islamic state -- or by sympathizers of the party within his family, according to the paper.

He is being held in Karlsruhe on charges of attempted murder, belonging to a terrorist organization and attempting to cause an explosion.

DW staff

Deutsche Welle 08/2006

Bomb Threat Reignites German Debate on Video Surveillance

Hardly anyone disputes the importance of video surveillance cameras in arresting one of the two railway bombers in the German town of Kiel. But increased reliance on big brother technology is not without its critics.

The use of video surveillance cameras to capture terrorists or crime suspects has been hardly disputed in Britain, where little over a year ago the deadly July 7 bombings led to the arrest of four Islamic radicals.

In Germany, where one of two suspected suitcase bombers was arrested in the northern city of Kiel on Saturday, there is a greater resistance to closed circuit television (CCTV) for historical reasons. The country's data and privacy protection laws also restrict the use of surveillance technology. But that may be changing now.

The homemade bombs were found on two separate trains in the western cities of Koblenz and Dortmund on July 31 but failed to detonate. The second suspect, whose grainy image was also captured by the German railway's film footage, is still at large.

Arrest not possible without cameras

On Monday morning, Deputy Interior Minister August Hanning told German public broadcaster ARD that without video surveillance, the arrest of the 21-year-old Lebanese student in Kiel, who is believed to be connected to a wider Islamic terrorist network, would not have been possible.

Chancellor Angela Merkel also said that video surveillance was an important tool for catching criminals.

"Certainly no one in our nation can claim, that the use of video cameras, which identified one of the perpetrators, is not an important thing," she said at a Berlin press conference on Monday.

The German railways Deutsche Bahn (DB) plans to step up the use of CCTV as part of its overall heightened security measures.

"However, technology is only part of the picture," said Jens Puls, head of the railway's security forces. "We place great value on the alertness and professionalism of our staff on the trains, the stations, and the cleaning and security personnel -- and we plan on adding more personnel on board."

Rail security measures different from airports

Unlike the well established electronic surveillance procedures for screening passengers and baggage at airports, policing the trains and railway stations presents massive challenges.

"We are talking about a whole other dimension when it comes to rail travel," said DB's deputy spokesman, Volker Knauer. "On a daily basis, passengers make five million trips on the railways -- some long distance travel, but largely commuter rides within Germany's borders. We operate 33,000 passenger trains daily. Compare 1.8 billion trips made on our railroad network on an annual basis with only 50 million passenger flights on Lufthansa worldwide in a year. So we don't have the means to screen baggage the same way the airlines do."

Need for alert and experienced personnel

Bernd Carstensen, a spokesman for the German Association of Criminal Investigators (BdK), emphasized the limits of video cameras in preventing crimes and terrorist acts.

"Video surveillance, used retroactively after the act, has been enormously useful," he said. "But what is even more important, is not just what the camera reveals, but experienced security personnel being able to evaluate a potentially dangerous situation on the spot."

Problems of too much reliance on video cameras

But the use of video surveillance also has unintended negative consequences, leading to less crime reporting in general, according to Leon Hempel, a social scientist at Berlin's Technical University, who has done studies on video surveillance.

"The sole focus on a technological fix in fighting terrorism or crime is dangerous," he said. "The unintended consequences of CCTV is that the public feels that the camera is doing the job of recording crime, so why bother to pay attention or report anything suspicious. It leads to a diffusion of civic responsibility."

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a former federal justice minister and one of Germany's most outspoken critics of trampling civil liberties in the name of national security, was even harsher in her criticism of the potential overuse of video cameras.

"There are cameras in the main railway stations, and they have been used to positive effect," said the parliamentarian, who is a member of Germany's free-market liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP). "The issue cannot be equipping an additional 5,700 regional stations with cameras. The necessary precautions in large measure are already in place. One needs to find the right balance between personal freedoms and security measures, and we have that in Germany."

Diana Fong

Deutsche Welle 08/2006