German Papers Terrorists with German Visas

A group of four would-be terrorists were convicted of belonging to a group associated with al-Qaida in a German court on Wednesday. That's the good news. The bad news is that they were all given German residency permits after having supplied authorities with false names and personal details.


A court drawing of star witness Shadi Abdellah testifying in the case against the four al-Tawhid members in Düsseldorf.
AP

A court drawing of star witness Shadi Abdellah testifying in the case against the four al-Tawhid members in Düsseldorf.

Once again, the terror spotlight is shining on Germany. On Wednesday in Düsseldorf, four Arabs were convicted of plotting terror attacks in Germany and three of them -- Mohamed Abu Dhess, Ashraf al-Dagma and Ismail Shalabi all from Jordan -- were found to be members of a terrorist organization called al-Tawhid, a radical Palestinian network connected to al-Qaida and headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The fourth, Djamel Mustafa from Algeria, was jailed for supporting a terrorist group.

The group stands accused of planning to attack Berlin's Jewish Museum as well as a Jewish-owned bar in Düsseldorf and much of the evidence was provided by a star witness who provided the court with evidence of the close contacts between the group and Zarqawi. The judge, for his part, used the reading of the verdict as an opportunity to criticize Germany's application of its own immigration law. "Both al-Tawhid cases need not have happened if immigration law had been conscientiously applied," presiding judge Ottmar Breidling said. He emphasized that Shadi Abdellah -- the star witness who himself has been convicted of playing a role in the planned attacks -- and Abu Dhess had been able to acquire German residency permits by providing false names and personal details. German commentators on Thursday take a look.

The conservative daily Die Welt is uncomfortable with the close call the case represents for Germany. The logical lessons to be drawn, the paper argues, is that laws such as those allowing the police to tap telephone lines need to be widened. But that's not all. "Even more pressing than the creation of tougher laws is the review of the work done by the authorities responsible for foreigners in the country." Indeed, it seems that the would-be terrorists benefited from lax application of Germany's immigration standards. "It would be fatal," the paper concludes, "to return to the day-to-day practice. The problems in the civil service need to be fixed."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung seems unsure what to make of Wednesday's verdict. For one thing, the German public seems to have virtually ignored the case even though it was revealed that plans for the attacks were much further along than first thought. "Is it a sign of complacency, that … attention paid to terrorism was absent in exactly that moment when the danger of terrorism in Germany was at its greatest?" the paper asks. But then, the paper moves on to the judge's comments about the perceived failures of the immigration authorities. While the paper isn't sure a judge should use his position to attack the civil service, it does agree that new laws aren't necessarily needed, just an adequate application of those already on the books.

Financial daily Handelsblatt echoes the other papers in calling for a closer look at the work of Germany's immigration authorities. But the most interesting part of its Thursday editorial is its thinly veiled criticism of the United States. "The verdict in the Düsseldorf terror trial may not be much of a victory in the war on terror. The courts alone cannot deliver such a victory. But it is at least a partial success. With the trial against the four members of the al-Tawhid group, it was demonstrated how a country based on the rule of law can and must combat terror."

The Middle East was also on the minds of German commentators once again on Thursday. Specifically, the growing pressure on Syria and President Bashar Assad following a United Nations report implicating the country's leadership in the Feb. 14 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri continues to make appearances on German editorial pages.

With the clear indication that higher-ups in the Syrian government, including Assad family members, were involved in the attack on Hariri, the Financial Times Deutschland sees the case as a unique opportunity for the UN. It could be a chance for the organization to create a clear policy in such cases. "If in the end, the case leads to the conviction of those responsible regardless of their positions in the government, the UN could be in the position of celebration a unique success." Such a success would demonstrate the UN's devotion to its own principles, the paper concludes.

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung, on the other hand, sees a unique opportunity for Assad if only he is willing to use it. The international pressure is huge, with the United States above all looking for Syria to finally end its support of Hizbollah and its meddling in Lebanon, and to secure its border with Iraq. But Assad, many believe, has -- since he took over from his father in 2000 -- been held hostage by Syrian power structures put in place by his father. It is exactly these power structures that are accused of having carried out the attack against Hariri. In other words, this could be the perfect opportunity for Assad to free himself. "The president can now attempt -- through cooperation with the (UN) -- to get rid of some of his internal enemies and to strengthen his own position."

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