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German Press Review: Islamic Terrorism Arrives in Europe

German editorials on Tuesday continued to weigh in on the political implications of last week's bombings in Madrid and the re-election of Russian President Vladmir Putin.

With their attacks on the commuter trains in Madrid, al Qaeda has become a factor in European elections, Die Tagespost in Würzburg wrote. It was hardly a coincidence that the bombings took place just days ahead of the Spanish elections, it said, citing as proof the video tapes found near the Madrid mosque in which the attacks were linked to the Spanish collaboration with the U.S. in the war against Iraq. But the victims of al Qaeda’s terror are innocent civilians and that makes the bombings so threatening for European countries, the paper opined.

The Handelsblatt in Düsseldorf took the opposite view. Those who now claim that Islamic terrorists have brought about political change in Spain are wrong, it wrote. Incumbent governments usually benefit from extreme situations, the paper said, so what has prompted the change in this case was that former Spanish President José Aznar led the country into war against the will of the majority in the country. After the attacks, added the business daily, he has tried to reap benefits by deceiving the public about the true identity of the terrorists. The daily concluded Spanish voters had to settle a score with Aznar and he had to pay.

Has Al Qaeda determined the outcome of the Spanish elections? This question was also raised by the Berliner Zeitung. But some Germans now reverse this question, the paper observed, arguing that since Germany opposed the war in Iraq, it is now safe – or at least safer than Madrid, London or Rome. But it was conviction, not fear of terrorist attacks which prompted Germany to oppose a military invasion, the daily reminded.

The massacre in Madrid turns internal security into a key issue in the minds of Europeans, according to the Bonner Generalanzeiger. More than ever, Europeans will now pay close attention to ensure that a growing EU doesn’t automatically mean easier access into Europe for radical Islamic groups. The paper therefore sees the EU steering towards a major political test. When EU’s interior ministers gather for a crisis meeting on Friday, the only answer they can provide, the daily believes, is to increase security at the EU's external borders.

Other German papers still commented on the weekend’s landslide win of President Vladimir Putin in Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reached the peak of his power, Die Rheinpfalz in Ludwigshafen said. But the question now is: How is he going to use it? Will he do what he promised: to restore democracy, the rule of law, and a civil society? Or will he strengthen the Russian state? It might be the latter, the paper speculated judging from Putin’s behavior during his first term in office when he behaved like a modern Tsar rather than a true Democrat.

The Nordkurier in Neubrandenburg wrote that it is quite unfortunate that Putin didn’t find time to restore such things as a multi-party system, a civil society or other democratic achievements before the elections. But the paper believes that Western countries’ faint-hearted criticism of Putin as well as the outcome of the election show that there is no real alternative to the now 51-year old Russian President.

When Putin came into office five years ago, he was considered a Sphinx because no one knew what to make of him, wrote the Frankfurter Neue Presse. On the one hand a half-democratic President, on the other officer of the country’s secret service. But Russians trust him like a benign Tsar. And maybe he is to be trusted, the daily wrote and added, but what if a malignant Tsar is to follow?