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Europe

Germany Calls for Urgent European Summit on Terror

Germany's Interior Minister Otto Schily has called for a meeting of European Union ministers and security chiefs to convene as quickly as possible to discuss a possible new threat to EU countries from Islamic extremists.

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German Interior Minister Otto Schily called for an EU "common assessment" of a new terror threat.

After a meeting of Germany's "security cabinet" on Sunday, Interior Minister Otto Schily called for an emergency EU security conference to discuss ways to respond to what he called "a potentially new scale of terrorist threat" in the wake of the deadly Madrid bombings.

Schily told reports that Germany would put the motion to Ireland, which holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU, and ask that the meeting of European Union interior ministers and security chiefs convene within a week.

Schily said that growing indications that the attacks in Madrid were the work of Islamic militants showed that there was growing and wider threat to European Union nations and that interior ministers and security and police chiefs needed to draft a "common assessment" on how to cope with the ever-changing rules of engagement in the war against terror.

Some 200 people were killed and 1,500 wounded in the coordinated bombings on commuter trains in the Spanish capital on Thursday. Basque separatist movement ETA was first believed to be responsible for the attacks.

Al Qaeda claim seems credible

But a written statement released shortly after the bombings and a recently recovered video of a man speaking in Arabic, claiming that that attacks had been carried out in retaliation for Spain's support of Washington suggests that the claims of a group affiliated to al Qaeda may be more credible than first thought.

Any confirmation that al Qaeda was to blame rather than ETA would mean that the threat to other countries was heightened, Schily said. "If it is confirmed that the Madrid attacks have an Islamic background, then it means that Islamic terrorism in Europe has taken on a new quality." Although he insisted an ETA connection could not be ruled out, Schily said the theory that al Qaeda was responsible must be taken "very seriously."

"We need to have clear and comprehensive information" to draw up a "common assessment" of the threat and "coordinate how to respond", he added.

Arrest of suspects prompts meeting

Usually a secret body that includes Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and senior ministers, including Schily and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and the chiefs of the Federal Crime Agency and of the foreign and domestic intelligence services, the security cabinet was summoned to the Chancellor's offices after Spain made five arrests of non-Spaniards on Saturday evening.

The men, who Spanish police suspect have links to extremist Moroccan organizations, were arrested in connection with stolen telephony equipment that was found in a bag along with an explosive device that failed to go off by a train track in Madrid.

Schily told the press conference that Moroccan security officials were already in Spain. "We have certain background information which may allow conclusions to be drawn about a possible link with the attack in Casablanca," he said in reference to an attack on a Spanish restaurant last May which killed 45 people.

No new, specific threat to Germany

The interior minister was quick to assure the reporters that he saw no new specific threat to Germany, but pointed out that the country had been mentioned as a possible target in previous al Qaeda messages. As for new and tighter security measures, Schily reiterated his statements made at thew time of the bombings by saying that is was "illusory" to think that all possible targets could be protected. Airport style security at railway stations, for example, would bring the network to a standstill, he said.

The interior minister said he saw no reason for the moment to suspend the Schengen agreement, which allows travel throughout much of the EU without border checks. Nevertheless, security is to be increased, notably on trains and on borders with non-EU countries, he added.

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