2006-09-08 Kyle James
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Germany‘s Open Door Begins to Close

For Germans, many of whom have generally had fond feelings for the United States, the news on TV on Sept. 11 was devastating.

Police searched for the plot suspects using posters like this onePolice searched for the plot suspects using posters like this one
Then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder quickly held a press conference, promising "unconditional solidarity" with Washington. And according to Hans-Joachim Gießmann with the Institute of Peace and Security Studies in Hamburg, there was an outpouring of support just after the attacks.

"There was a lot of solidarity among Germans shortly after the incidents, but also a lot of fear about what kind of threat and how to react."

But soon serious doubts surfaced in Germany about US tactics in the fight against this new threat.

"Once the US decided to launch the war on terror, there was a lot of skepticism whether this was the right decision."

When the US led a coalition into Iraq in 2003, that skepticism turned into vocal opposition, from both the German people and the government. US-German relations plunged to their lowest point since the end of World War II. But despite its disagreement with the US, Berlin itself was not very clear on how it planned on facing this new threat. Klaus Jansen is the president of Germany's criminal investigators' union.

We tried to tackle the new problem of fighting fundamentalist Islamic terrorism with the old tools with we have from cold war. I think the five years showed that this is not a nice concept to have. We have to develop new tools and new approaches to infiltrate al Qaeda.

Police raid in the house of a suspectPolice raid in the house of a suspect
But that's been controversial in itself. Some anti-terror measures put in place in countries such as the UK have met with stiff opposition in Germany, such as wide-scale use of surveillance cameras or a central databank for terrorist suspects. Germany's Nazi history and members of the country's highest court have made it difficult for the government to acquire new investigative powers, according to terrorism expert Elmar Thevessen.

"They also made the hurdles for some of the other measures taken with regard to observing people but also with regards to looking into suspects' lives.

Thevessen says Germany's strong privacy laws are just one of the reasons terrorists have found the country an appealing place. The Sept. 11 attacks were carried out by a group of Islamic fundamentalists who lived in Hamburg in the years before 2001. Thevessen says German asylum rules have made it easier for people from Islamic countries to settle here while keeping their sometimes radical political views.

And the Number 2 reason is that Germany has many universities which offer programs which have a very good reputation and there are many people from Arab and Asian countries who are looking to come to Germany to get their education here. And the strange things is they might not have been extremists in their home country, but when they come to Germany and live in the west, there is an increased danger that they feel attracted to extremist ideologies. "

Police searching trainsPolice searching trains
"That appears to have been the case in the recent failed plot to bomb German trains. It involved students in Germany of Lebanese descent. Experts say it might be harder these days in Germany for a highly organized group like the terror cell behind Sept 11 to remain undetected. But smaller groups like the Lebanese students or radicalized individuals are a new kind of terror threat on German soil. It's one that Klaus Jansen of the criminal investigators' union said Germans are just now coming to terms with. He says for years many felt immune to attacks at home, even after attacks in Spain and the UK. But with the bombs placed on the German Bundesbahn train system, that feeling of security has slipped away. "

"I really got the impression now terrorism is here. My 13-year-old daughter asked me, daddy, I heard the news, can I use the Deutsche Bundesbahn to go to school anymore? And so terrorism really sunk into my family and that's a very disappointing feeling. I think personally I'm disappointed with the way we tried to NOT cope with that problem."

But after the failed bomb plot, Germany appears to be stepping up its efforts. Last week, the county's interior ministers did come to a compromise agreement on creating a suspect databank. Current Chancellor Angela Merkel's relationship with George W. Bush is much better than that of her predecessor, so she will likely work more closely with the US on anti-terror measures. Still, that brings with it risks. Berlin is preparing to send troops to Lebanon as part of a UN peacekeeping force. Five years after Sept 11, that could put Germany more than even right in the middle of terrorists' sights. For Deutsche Welle Radio, I'm KJ in Berlin.

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civil liberties, germany, politics, terrorism

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