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State Department Praises German Anti-Terror Efforts

May 2, 2003

In its latest report on the state of global terror, Washington praises Berlin for its successful initiatives in fighting Islamic extremists and investigating the roots of the 9/11 Hamburg terror cell.

Among Germany's successes in the war against terror this year was the conviction of Mounir El Motassadeq in Hamburg.Image: AP

Though many German politicians have lately suffered persona non grata status in Washington diplomatic circles, the country's leading law enforcement officials scored highly in the U.S. State Department's annual report on the battle against international terror -- getting positive marks for their investigative efforts, arrests and convictions of known terrorists.

The report, released earlier this week, describes Germany as "an active and critically important participant in the global coalition against terrorism" adding that its contributions have been "valuable" to fighting terrorists both in and outside of Germany.

Among the chief contributions cited by the report were Germany's deployment of troops for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan as well as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which followed it. More than 100 German special forces soldiers participated in the war in Afghanistan, and 50 troops trained in dealing with nuclear, biological and chemical weapon detection were dispatched to Kuwait in the run-up to the Iraq war. Close to 1,800 German troops participated in anti-terrorism activities in the Horn of Africa region and, most recently, Germany and Holland took over leadership of the ISAF force in February, increasing the number of German soldiers in Afghanistan to 2,500.

The report also focused on the contributions made by law enforcement officials in the fight against terror.

"Cooperation between (German Federal Interior) Minister Schily and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft as well as Homeland Defense Secretary Tom Ridge are very good," Interior Ministry spokesman Dirk Inger told DW-WORLD. "They have a very close relationship and work together very well." Inger, however, would not comment on the specifics of the report.

In the months following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, German authorities have arrested a handful of terror suspects with apparent roles in supporting the Hamburg terrorist cell responsible for planning and executing the deadly attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in Sept. 2001.

Agents from the German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) and America's FBI are among the 600 officers investigating the roots of the Hamburg al Qaeda cell. The investigative team, which is running 130 separate probes into Islamist terrorist activity, is the largest in Germany's history. The cooperation has also produced tangible results -- a handful of which were highlighted in the State Department report.

First 9/11 conviction

Following his arrest in November 2001, a Hamburg court convicted 29-year-old Moroccan student Mounir al Motassadeq in February on charges including accessory to murder in 3,045 cases in the U.S. attacks, membership in a terrorist organization, attempted murder and five cases of causing grievous bodily injury. It was the first major conviction of a Sept. 11-linked terrorist in the wake of the attacks.

German authorities, led by the agencies affiliated with the Federal Interior Ministry, made additional progress in stopping other suspected al Qaeda terrorists, the report noted. In April, police arrested five suspected members of the al Qaeda-linked al Tawhid organization, who are now awaiting indictment.

In addition Kay Nehm, Germany's chief federal prosecutor, told the newsmagazine Der Spiegel in February that the government is preparing to press charges against Morroccan-born Abdelghani Mzoudi for his alleged support of the Hamburg terror cell. In addition to maintaining what prosecutors described as a close friendship with Motassadeq, Mzoudi is also believed to have supplied Zakariya Essabar, a highly sought after suspected al Qaeda terrorist, with money to attend a flight school in the U.S. The State Department report cited Mzoudi's arrest last October as a positive development in the fight against terror.

Thwarted attack

The State Department report also cited the success of German police in thwarting a possible terrorist attack against a U.S. military base in Heidelberg last September on the eve of the anniversary of 9/11. Police there arrested a Turkish man and an American woman who were found with a large amount of bombmaking materials in their apartment.

The report also praised Germany for agreeing to provide the U.S. government with evidence in its trial against Zacarias Moussaoui, a French national who investigators believed intended to be the 19th hijacker in the plots against New York and Washington. The exchange of evidence relating to Moussaoui proved problematic initially due to Germany's strong opposition to the death penalty, which is enshrined in the country's laws relating to giving evidence or extraditing suspects to countries where they might face capital punishment.

In one of its few statements critical of German policy, the State Department noted: "Strong German opposition to the U.S. death penalty has complicated efforts to forge a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with the United States, but negotiations are continuing."

Strengthening security

The discovery that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were planned in their own backyard by a Hamburg cell of al Qaeda rattled Germany. German prosecutors and lawmakers moved quickly to strengthen national security laws, making it easier to act against extremist groups that had previously been able to operate under the country's liberal "religious privilege" clause.

The legislation, passed in January 2002, made it possible for the German government to ban organizations that use the cover of religion to pursue extremist goals, commit crimes or support violent or terrorist organizations in other countries. The law enabled the Interior Ministry to ban the extremist Islamic organization known as the Caliphate State -- whose spiritual leader Metin Kaplan is being held in a German prison awaiting extradition for murder charges in Turkey -- and al Aqsa, a fundraising arm of the Middle East terrorist group Hamas.

The Interior Ministry also undertook an extensive computer-aided profiling program that sought to identify possible sleeper terrorists by pooling data on, among others, Muslim male students between the ages of 18 and 40 from certain countries. The probe singled out 1,150 students for further investigation. Germany also proposed extending the initiative Europe wide, but critics in Germany and abroad have said such profiling efforts violate the right to privacy.