New Weapon in Germany′s Fight against Terror | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 26.04.2002
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New Weapon in Germany's Fight against Terror

A new legislation empowers German authorities to pursue and prosecute members of foreign terror organisations living in Germany. The new law is seen as a vital instrument in the fight against terror.


Cracking down on members of foreign terror groups living in Germany

Members of foreign terrorist organisations such as Al-Qaida living in Germany might think twice before using Germany as a base for launching operations in future.

New legislation approved by the German Parliament on Friday lays down that members and supporters of foreign terror groups living in Germany can now be prosecuted and punished.

The law is expected to take effect in summer.

The new penal code paragraph 129b drastically sharpens the existing one, which allowed German security forces to only go after members of domestic terror organisations.

Islamic terrorism on the rise in Germany

The legislation comes a day after Germany issued arrest warrants for eight members of a little known Palestinian Islamic extremist group, Al-Tawhid, suspected of forming a terrorist organisation.

Islamic terrorism has become an increasing concern in Germany after several hijackers of the planes that were flown into the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001 were found to have studied and lived in Germany.

Earlier this month Europe’s first Al-Qaida trial – five Algerian men accused of planning a bomb attack in Strasbourg – opened in Frankfurt.

New law gives wide-sweeping powers

Members of the governing coalition Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green Party welcomed the incorporation of paragraph 129b in the country’s penal code as a necessary instrument in the fight against extremist organisations.

The parliamentary state secretary in the Justice Ministry, Eckhart Pick of the SPD said that the recent attack on the island of Djerba in Tunisia, in which 11 German tourists were killed, clearly showed that criminal and terrorist organisations do not limit themselves to one country. "That’s why we cannot fight terrorism only within our national boundaries", he said in Parliament.

Distinction between terror group and freedom movement

An important clause in the new legislation also maintains that the law can be applied unrestrictedly only to organisations within the European Union.

The German Federal Justice Ministry has to give the go-ahead before authorities can prosecute all other non-European criminal and terrorist organisations.

In addition, activists of foreign terror groups can only be punished for criminal and violent activities within Germany, when German citizens carry out criminal activities or when the victims of the attacks are Germans. Even in this case, the Federal Justice Ministry is required to authorise the criminal prosecution.

The German government hopes the clauses will prevent freedom movements from being lumped under the term "terrorist group".

The speaker of the Greens, Volker Beck said in Parliament that in this way the new law fights terrorism but at the same time does not hinder freedom movements violently fighting autocratic regimes.

New law easing curbs on domestic groups?

But not everyone is happy with the new legislation.

The opposition parties the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU) have strongly criticised the new legislation. "We consider the dilution of the fight against terrorist organisations as completely unacceptable", said CDU Parliamentary member Thomas Strobl.

His colleague Wolfgang von Stetten also blamed the governing coalition of simultaneously easing criminal prosecution procedures for domestic terrorist and criminal organisations.

The present changes to the penal code no longer recognises the general advertising and lobbying for terrorist and criminal organisations as punishable, but rather only the targeted advertising and lobbying for members and supporters.

In other words, lobbying for simple sympathy such as for a radical Palestinian organisation is not punishable.

The present amendments to the penal code were part of the anti-terror package that Germany drew up last October.

But the enactment of the law has faltered so far because of the difficult distinction between terror groups and freedom movements.

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