Germany keeps Islamists under surveillance
31 March 2004 ,
31 March 2004
BERLIN – In the wake of the Madrid bombings and this week’s arrests in Britain, German investigators say there are plenty of potentially violent Islamists in the country who need to be kept under surveillance.
German domestic intelligence agencies normally provide public information on who they are watching, but they are unwilling to say much about what they know of Islamic extremists.
Extremists are reported to be particularly active in the Moslem communities of Berlin, Bonn and Munich as well as in the smaller cities of Aachen, Ulm, Hanover and Braunschweig.
It is assumed that certain mosques in these towns are closely watched, though anti-subversion police will not confirm this.
The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) estimates that around 30,000 Moslems in Germany are members of extremist groups.
Hartmut Koschyk, a politician in the Christian Social Union (CSU) who receives intelligence briefings, says 2,000 to 3,000 of them would be willing to use violence to achieve their ends.
The BfV's annual report uses the term "Arab mujahedin" for the loose network of militants who remain in contact with one another after fighting in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya, or paramilitary and ideological training in mujahedin camps.
The agency describes al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, as a cadre- based "core group" within this wider network, which also has connections to regional Islamist movements in North Africa, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.
Investigators have been acutely aware that Germany, with its tolerant lifestyle, could easily be used as a safe haven by Islamists practising terrorism elsewhere. Three of the four 11 September suicide pilots were Arab students from the port city of Hamburg.
The students did paramilitary training in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.
Another trial last year detailed how another group, in the Frankfurt metropolitan area, plotted to set off a bomb in Strasbourg, France but was thwarted by arrest.
Police say Islamists tend to see Germany as a resting area rather than as a prime target. Attacks in the host country would mean it was no longer a safe haven, but naturally Madrid-style attacks are perfectly possible in Germany.
Last week, intelligence agencies caught wind of an attempt to kill German President Johannes Rau during a visit to Djibouti, and Rau flew home. However agencies believe this was connected with conflicts in the Horn of Africa rather than with Germany itself.
Travel by persons suspected of terrorism is closely observed, especially visits to countries in which ringleaders of the Arab mujahedin are staying.
There has been controversy in Germany about whether to expel persons who have in any way supported terrorist organizations. The CSU and its sister Christian Democratic Union (CDU) say deportation should be the rule for any foreigner in an extremist group.
Interior Minister Otto Schily may possibly sympathize but the rest of the ruling Social Democrats and Greens have in the past seen this approach as illiberal and in conflict with basic human rights.
Subject: German News