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EU Takes Precautions

DW staff (jp)September 6, 2007

After German security officials successfully foiled a plot to attack US installations in the country, the EU has rekindled debate on which counter-terrorism measures are most effective.

A man photographs canisters of hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide was meant to be used for bombs by the men arrested in GermanyImage: AP

The same day that German authorities foiled a "massive" attack with the arrest of three Islamic extremists allegedly planning to bomb US military facilities in Germany, EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini in Brussels unveiled a new package of proposals to tackle terrorism.

"All sources indicate that the threat of new terrorist attacks continues to be high," Frattini said. "There is no room for complacency or letting our guard down."

Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Frattini stressed that it was crucial to "strike the right balance between the fundamental right to security of citizens, which is first, right to life, and the other fundamental rights of individuals, including privacy and procedural rights."

The proposals include the creation of an "explosives database" at Europol; an EU-wide rapid alert system on lost and stolen explosives and a bloc-wide air passengers name recording system similar to the US database on European air passengers.

"The time has come to change focus and devote resources to the security of the Union," the commissioner said. "The Union is at least as much a potential target of a terrorist attack as the United States."

Criminalizing Internet misuse

A user at a computer
The Internet facilitates the emergence of terrorist networksImage: AP

A further proposal foresees making any posting of bomb-making information on the Internet a criminal offense.

The Net "is being misused by terrorists," Frattini said. "We all know that terrorists enjoy the benefits of the Internet just as much, or even more so, as ordinary citizens -- for instance to plan their attacks or to disseminate messages of concrete incitement to commit terror attacks."

His call for stronger cooperation among EU states in combating terrorism and religious extremism met with broad agreement among MEPs, but there were differences on what exactly the measures should be, with many concerned about the balance between security legislation and civil liberties.

Ban on carry-on liquids on planes to stay

The same day, Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot rejected calls from the European Parliament to drop rigid rules on liquids being taken aboard European flights, citing the arrests in Germany as proof that terrorism is an ongoing threat, said AFP.

"The Commission is conscious of the inconvenience caused to passengers and airports by (this) rule ... but as events of the last few months in Britain and the last few days in Denmark and Germany show, the threat of terrorism in Europe remains a reality," Barrot said in a statement.

Lawmakers in Strasbourg earlier on Wednesday had called for the liquid aboard planes rule to be abrogated, arguing that the rules caused "substantial inconvenience and disruption" to passengers and airport operators while doing little to improve security.

Despite winning broad cross-party support, the resolution was dismissed by Barrot.

"Terrorists have not stopped looking for new ways and new techniques to put their destructive plans to work," he said. "Faced with such threats, Europe owes it to itself not to show signs of weakness."

Criticism was also rife in Strasbourg over the EU's failure to fill the bloc's anti-terrorism post, vacant since March. The position was created after the attack on Madrid commuter trains killed 191 people in March 2004, but the chair has been empty after previous anti-terrorism coordinator Gijs de Vries resigned six month ago.

Terror Dragnet in the Internet

Wolfgang Schäuble
Schäuble's draconian plans are controversialImage: AP

Back in Germany, Wednesday's arrests reignited a lingering political debate about the use of online searches.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble of the Christian Democrats wants German intelligence services to use online connections to snoop on computer hard disks, on the grounds that the Office of Criminal Investigation can use hacking to track down terrorists.

His calls have broad political backing within his own party, but so far, have been rejected by Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries as well other members of the Social Democrats. Many now feel that the CDU is exploiting this week's arrests to push through their proposals, when in fact, the success of the operation proved that existing surveillance measures are adequate.

"The success of the investigating bodies shows that terrorist activities can be squashed in the early stages, without the need for measures such as those proposed by Schäuble," said Peter Struck, Social Democratic Party parliamentary leader.