Terror ″Getting Closer″ to Germany | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 12.03.2004
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Terror "Getting Closer" to Germany

German politicians have called for increased security at the nation's train stations in the wake of Thursday's attacks in Madrid. Government officials meanwhile rejected this, saying enough security was already in place.


Posting "a police officer behind every citizen" is not an option say government officials.

Train stations should start screening passengers to avoid attacks, leading members of Bavaria's Christian Social Union (CSU) suggested on Friday. "We need to introduce security checks similar to those at airports," Norbert Geis, the CSU's interior affairs expert, told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper. He added that Germany's Federal Border Guard, which also patrols train stations, should have more people out monitoring the country's extensive rail network.

Bavarian Interior Minister Günther Beckstein (CSU) agreed and reiterated the opposition's calls to allow the deployment of German soldiers inside the country during security alerts. While police officers could focus on passenger controls, soldiers could take over other duties such as guarding buildings, Beckstein said.

The government has rejected this idea, which would require a constitutional amendment, saying that Germany's police force is capable of handling any security threats. The only area where Germany's military could help out is an attack from the air, according to Federal Interior Minister Otto Schily. A law to allow such a deployment is currently going through parliament.

Targeting train tracks

Railway security is a major topic in Europe following the attacks in Madrid and bomb threats against the French railways a week ago. In June 2003, police defused a bomb packed in a suitcase left at the Dresden train station.

Terror experts say the attacks and threats show how dependent industrialized countries are on their infrastructure as well as a growing tendency of terrorist groups in going after such targets.

"They no longer go after just military sites, but soft targets that are easier to destroy and have a greater psychological effect on the population," said Frank Umbach, domestic affairs specialist at the German Council on Foreign Relations in a DW-WORLD interview.

Protecting German railways

While Schily added that Basque terror organization ETA was still the most likely suspect in Thursday's attack in Madrid, Beckstein countered that a possible al Qaeda involvement in Thursday's bombings would have serious consequences for the security situation in Germany.

Porträt: Osama Bin Laden

Osama Bin Laden

High-ranking members of the terrorist organization have described Germany as a country that combats Islam, Beckstein said. "That's why we have to be prepared for al Qaeda possibly taking aim at us as well," he told Deutschlandfunk radio.

The government should take the Madrid attacks as a renewed impulse to improve both camera surveillance and increase security manpower at train stations, says Umbach. But the Berlin analyst says he and other terror specialists remain doubtful that any action will be taken.

"Many of us experts say quite cynically that there will have to be a few more attacks before anything is done," Umbach said.

"At the moment, everything seems so far away from Germany," said Umbach. "But (the bombings prove) it is getting closer."

Government: No major changes planned

Government officials maintain that while passenger controls at train stations could happen in the future, it is impossible to guarantee absolute safety. "We can't post a police officer behind every single citizen," Dieter Wiefelspütz, an interior affairs expert for the Social Democrats, told public broadcaster RBB.

Some opposition members also said they didn't support expanding the military's role. "I'm for sticking to the rules of the constitutional states despite the worst terrorist threat," Volker Rühe, former German defense minister and CDU politician, told ZDF television. "That also means strictly separating police and military duties."

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