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Germany On Guard for Terrorism Linked to Mideast

DW staff (sp)August 8, 2006

German politicians have warned that the Middle East crisis could inflame the Muslim community in Germany and increase the risk of militant Islamist attacks.

Demonstrators in Berlin voice their protest to Israeli attacks in Lebanon and GazaImage: AP

Islamist terror remains the biggest security threat to Germany and Western Europe, Bavarian Interior Minister Günther Beckstein said Monday.

"Security and military measures have not managed to put Islamist terrorist networks out of business," Beckstein said while presenting the twice-yearly security report put out by Bavaria's domestic intelligence agency.

Trümmer in Beirut
Politicians are worried the conflict could inflame passions among Muslims in EuropeImage: AP

Beckstein said the current conflict between Israel and Hezbollah guerillas had no impact on the security of the state of Bavaria, but added that the crisis could inflame people who reject the basic principle of freedom in the first place.

His fears were echoed by Gernot Erler, Germany's deputy foreign minister, who said he was worried about the country's Arab community reacting emotionally to events in the Middle East, where Israeli forces are bombing Lebanon in retaliation for the seizure of two Israeli soldiers by the group and the firing of rockets at northern Israel. The month-old conflict has killed more than a 1,000 people so far.

"I share the huge concern that if we don't manage to come to a solution (to the conflict), we're going to face a wave of radicalization," Erler said in a radio interview.

No concrete threat

Last month, German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble also warned of a hardening of radical tendencies in Germany in light of the conflict.

"The longer the conflict continues, the greater becomes the danger of terror actions in other countries. That applies to Germany too," Schäuble told German daily Bild. German security services are "intensively" observing an estimated 900 Hezbollah supporters in the country, as well as some 300 supporters of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, he added.

Nach Terroranschlag in London Doppeldeckerbus
Islamist terrorists attacked London's public transport system last yearImage: AP

German officials have said they have not detected any concrete threat but are concerned about how the situation may develop.

A German counter-terrorism official told the Reuters news agency recently that the perceived threat was not limited to Hezbollah, a militant Shiite group, but could also come from other radicals keen to exploit the heightened tension.

"It may be a motivating factor for both Hezbollah supporters in Europe and the general jihadi scene, which -- while it is usually quite distinct from Hezbollah, and they don't actually like each other very much -- might just try to get mileage out of this and exploit the general outrage of the Arab street," he said.

"Threat remains high"

Western European leaders have been on edge ever since individual militants and al Qaeda leaders have cited what they see as oppression of Muslims in the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Afghanistan as justification for previous attacks on the West, including last year's London bombings, the attacks on Madrid in 2004 and the suicide hijackings in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

Beckstein pointed out on Monday that though there had been no terrorist attacks in Europe this year, Bavaria and the rest of Germany may not just provide safe harbor for terrorists but could also be potential targets.

Feuerwehr sucht in Trümmern
Terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks lived in HamburgImage: AP

"The threat remains unchanged and high," Beckstein said.

The minister warned in particular about the threat of homegrown terrorist networks providing a "reservoir of potential suicide bombers."

Germany has tightened its anti-terrorism laws and boosted surveillance of militant Islamists since the Sept. 11 attacks, in which three of the suicide pilots were Arab students who had been living in Hamburg.

"Islamist terror doesn't stop at national borders"

Germany has not suffered terrorist attacks in recent years, but authorities said they have thwarted a number of plots and arrested suspects, including people they accuse of recruiting suicide bombers to carry out attacks in Iraq.

The head of Germany's Federal Intelligence Service (BND), Ernst Uhrlau, said recently that the thwarted attack against then Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi in Berlin in December 2004 showed that "in the moment where a target in Germany shows up, Islamist terrorists try to strike here too."

Speaking in an interview with German daily Die Welt, Uhrlau said Germany couldn't afford to let down its guard when it came to the threat of terrorism.

"The fact that Germany didn't take part in the war against Iraq plays no role," Uhrlau said. "Islamist terror networks don't stop at national borders."