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Combating terrorism

Heiner Kiesel / wsMarch 20, 2015

Following recent terrorist attacks in France and Denmark, Germany's interior ministry wants to set up a new elite unit which will be able to tackle similar emergency situations. The project is still at an early stage.

A symbolic image shows a special operations police unit entering a building.
Image: Imago/Jochen Tack

In principle, the German police force already has well-established and experienced units that are able to deal with terrorist attacks and hostage-takings: The Federal Police, answerable to the interior ministry, can deploy the GSG-9 (special operations and counter-terrorism unit). German state police authorities, by contrast, have their own SEKs, or special commando units.

As new threats emerge, however, the interior ministry appears to have plans regarding something new and powerful: an anti-terror unit which specializes in grappling with high-risk situations like the recent attacks in France and Denmark.

Thomas de Maiziere speaks in the German Bundestag
Interior minister Thomas de Maiziere wants to employ more police forces and is ready to spend 300 million eurosImage: picture-alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka

A spokeswoman for Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere recently confirmed that there were plans along those lines. "There are several considerations, but the process of decision-making still continues, which is why there is no decision yet," she said in Berlin, flatly refusing to reveal when any such decision would likely be made. Nor would she give hints at the content of those considerations. Instead, she simply admitted that media reports on the issue were "not incorrect."

Except that some apparently were, though. According to German broadcaster RBB, for instance, the new elite unit was to bridge the gap between the federal GSG-9 and riot police. In the ministry's view, the spokeswoman said, there was no such gap.

Speculation and support

The seeds for this culture of secrecy were sown right at the top of the ministry. A few days ago, Interior Minister de Maiziere pledged to create 750 new jobs in the area of combating terrorism and, distributed over a period of four years, allocate an additional budget of 300 million euros ($324 million) for police work. The new jobs were to be distributed across the Federal Police, Federal Criminal Police Agency (BKA) and the domestic intelligence service (Verfassungsschutz).

At this point, de Maiziere has not come forward with any further details regarding how those funds are to be used. As a result, security agencies, experts and politicians are openly discussing possible scenarios. The new, vague bits of information from the ministry will certainly not put a stop to the public guessing game.

A man shoots a gun
The GSG-9 was created after the 1972 Munich massacre and has been deployed 1,700 times in Germany and beyond

It is customary in Berlin's political scene that vague pieces of information trigger clear statements. The German police union GdP has come forward with its approval of the interior ministry's plans to set up a new police unit: "We welcome all considerations which will lead to the employment of additional police forces," a spokesman said, cautioning that, in that pursuit, the issuing of better equipment for already existing units must not be neglected.

Quoted in the "Der Tagesspiegel" daily, the chairman of a competitor organization, the "German Police Union" (DPolG) hoped that "an important security gap" could be closed.

In Bavaria, the state's interior minister, Joachim Herrmann (Christian Social Union), offered support for his colleague, de Maiziere: "Having learned our lesson from the horrible terrorist attacks in Paris, we are now facing the challenge of setting up an even more efficient police force in Germany," he told broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk.

What for?

Green party interior security spokeswoman Irene Mihalic, however, is less than ecstatic about a possible new, heavily-armed and multi-purpose unit.

"The anti-terrorist unit is, once again, an empty shell, with all the details missing," she said. She then asked why the government does not simply embark on an expansion of already existing structures. "Federal Police and BKA are the central pillars in the fight against terrorism," she said.

Ulla Jelpke, a Left politician
Ulla Jelpke is a staunch critic of de Maiziere's plansImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The interior affairs spokesman of Germany's opposition Left party, Ulla Jelpke, thinks along similar lines. "The intention of establishing massive police forces that are armed to the teeth is the government's reaction to a general climate of insecurity and fear," Jelpke said. The Left party politician added that it remained unclear how such a unit could be permanently employed, pointing out the fact that the federal government as well as the federal states already had a broad selection of special units, SEKs and mobile units at their disposal.

Where - and if - there is any need for a newly created anti-terror unit, and what, exactly, the federal interior minister is up to, Jelpke hopes to find out during the next session of the German parliament's home affairs committee.

Some concrete information forthcoming from de Maiziere would, indeed, be most welcome.