False alarms are on the rise as wary travelers turn increasingly to police | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 05.01.2011
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False alarms are on the rise as wary travelers turn increasingly to police

Travelers have begun paying more attention to unattended packages and suspicious behavior. Their tips don't seem to have thwarted any terrorists in Germany, but they have led to an increased number of false bomb alarms.

Police guard the Reichstag

More anonymous tip-offs mean more work for the police

Police say the number of false bomb alarms reported at airport and train stations has increased across Germany, as travelers begin to pay more attention to unattended packages and suspicious behavior at on trains and airplanes

"Travelers have become more sensitive," said Jens Floeren, spokesman for the federal police in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere announced an increased estimate of the threat of terrorism in light of "concrete evidence" of a plot on German soil in mid-November. In the two weeks that followed, there were 60 false alarms in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia alone - a clear increase, Floeren said.

"People are constantly losing and forgetting their belongings in transit, but now these forgotten items have to be handled with a police response in light of the current situation," Floeren told Deutsche Welle.

On Monday, a high-speed train from Berlin to Amsterdam was evacuated and some 300 passengers were transferred onto buses after a female passenger on the train indicated "suspicious behavior" by another passenger. No package was found, and the suspect was never identified.

Awareness with a downside

Still, Germans have for the most part reacted calmly, said Rolf Tophoven, founder of the Institute for Terrorism Research and Security Policy in Essen.

Police at a train station

Train passengers are increasingly concerned about unattended luggage

"You wouldn't say that the public have had some sort of panic reaction, but you can see some specific sensibility of the people. They look for specific cases and trolleys at airports, unmanned trolleys at railway stations," Tophoven told Deutsche Welle.

The increased awareness was "a positive reaction," he added.

But heightened awareness has come with a downside, said Wolfgang Wieland, the Green party's security expert.

"Trains are being evacuated, because someone forgot a beauty case. You can't say, 'this is purely positive.' It's caused a lot of inconvenience and delays," Wieland said.

Weirdo or terrorist?

The problem is that many people have trouble distinguishing between a potential threat and a stranger, he said. The criteria are too vague.

"I can only recognize a suspicious person if he's actually doing something suspicious - like in the case of the shoe bomber or the underwear bomber. A person who just looks weird to me or comes from a foreign culture or is speaking a language I don't understand - that's not a suspicious person," Weiland said.

Author: Sarah Harman
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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