German police are on the trail of 350 individuals with possible ties to the self-styled "Islamic State," and 100 suspected Islamist cells, while politicians debate whether to revive a terrorism law ditched in 2002.
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that investigations were currently ongoing against 350 suspects in connection with the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" organization.
A separate report in Sunday's Welt am Sonntag paper said that a growing number, currently around 100, suspected terror cells were also under surveillance in Germany. According to the report, the groups usually involved between 10 and 80 people, from a spectrum including prayer groups, online propaganda writers, fundraisers and fighters returning from Syria.
Maas (in foreground) and Interior Minister de Maiziere appear to be on a security policy collision course
Maas, a Social Democrat, told Bild that the large numbers of ongoing investigations "show that our laws against terrorism are working." He said that there was no need to revise the German legal code. "Simply acting for action's sake does not stop any terrorists."
Are sympathizers criminals?
However, Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) have been pushing to reinstate a law which Germany scrapped in 2002, which had made it a crime to publicly voice sympathy or support for a terrorist organization.
The CDU's Peter Tauber told Bild that the high number of active investigations showed the need to bring back the old law. Scrapping it was "a huge mistake by 'Red-Green'," he said - referring to the party colors of political rivals the Social Democrats and the Greens, in power in a coalition in 2002 - "and the justice minister has learned nothing new in the mean time."
The terror sympathizers' law was first introduced in 1976, in response to domestic German terror group the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF). It was designed to outlaw not just the formation or direct support of a terrorist organization, but also public statements sympathizing with such groups. Spraying the common slogan of the time "RAF lebt" ("The RAF lives") on a wall, for example, would qualify as an act of terrorism. Very few people were convicted under the law, although it often served as a premise to launch formal investigations against suspects, especially from the German left. The Social Democrat-Green government led by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder removed paragraph 129a from German law again in 2002.
Meanwhile, news magazine Der Spiegel on Sunday also published early excerpts of a feature from this week's edition, saying that Christian Democrat Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere was working on another draft law that might rankle with the Social Democrats. Merkel's government is reportedly keen to set up a new law allowing the government to retain citizens' personal data. The last version was labeled unconstitutional and revoked by the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe in 2010; at the time, the court said that such measures could only be defended if they were the exception, not the norm.
While Interior Minisiter de Maiziere has supported the reintroduction of a data retention law, Justice Minister Maas has said such a law has no chance of clearing the judges in Karlsruhe.
msh/sb (AFP, dpa, Reuters)