Should the German intelligence services only bug a terror suspect's telephone when an attack is planned on German soil? A threat of terrorism anywhere in the world suffices, ruled a Leipzig Court.
Terror investigations can't be limited by national borders, investigators said
The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig ruled Thursday, Jan. 24, that the German Intelligence Agency (BND) can bug the telephones of suspected terrorists even when there is no immediate threat to Germany. The possibility that "sleepers" in Germany are involved in plans for international attacks is sufficient grounds for strategic monitoring, the court decided.
According to the Parliamentary Control Committee (PKG), the BND employed strategic monitoring tactics some 24,400 times, with 21 cases considered relevant to the intelligence services.
No national restraints
Intelligence can tap phone lines when an international terrorist threat is looming
The case had been brought by a man currently serving time in a Cologne jail for terrorist activities. In October 2005, a Düsseldorf court sentenced him to eight years behind bars for his involvement in the Al-Tawhid organization. The evidence against him was based on a telephone conversation in which he was heard to offer his services as a suicide bomber.
The complainant argued that the intelligence services' tapping of his telephones in October and November 2001 was illegal, with his lawyer arguing that indications of planned international terrorist activity was inadequate grounds for supervision.
"This is absurd," said a representative from the BND. "In this era of international terrorism, investigators cannot be restricted by national borders."
Also on Thursday, a court in Schleswig-Holstein sentenced a German of Moroccan origin to jail for setting up an Al-Qaeda cell in Sudan, Africa, with people he met on the Internet.
Redouane E.H., a 38-year-old mobile-phone and Internet shop manager based in Kiel, will serve five years and nine months for smuggling fighters into Iraq and funding Al-Qaeda.
Most of the evidence in the case against E.H. came from Internet chat logs. The judge said it was the first time evidence had been obtained from phone calls via the Internet and used to convict someone in a German court.
The Internet facilitates the spread of terrorist networks
E.H. has been on trial since July, accused of uploading to the Internet messages of support for Osama Bin Laden and details on how to construct bombs. He also raised 5,000 euros ($7,400) to support a jihad or holy war, before his arrest in July 2006.
He took part in a training camp in Algeria in December 2005 before embarking on the Iraqi smuggling operation and finally the move into Sudan to aid al Qaeda of Mesopotamia.
The man originally came to the University of Kiel to study philosophy, and said that he became a radical Muslim after the death of his brother in 2003.
"From today's perspective, I realize it was bizarre lunacy," he told the court as the trial drew to a close. "I just don't understand how I ever got involved in it."
E.H. was convicted under an extra-territorial law that makes it a crime for someone in Germany to establish or belong to a terrorist organization anywhere in the world.