The World from Berlin Germany Tells Al-Qaida 'You Have No Chance!'

Security has been stepped up across Germany after Wednesday's warning of an imminent terrorist attack. German media commentators encourage the populace to stay calm and continue with their daily lives as normal. Changing their behavior would amount to giving in to the terrorists, they argue.

An armed Federal Police officer patrols at Cologne's airport on Wednesday as part of stepped-up security precautions.
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An armed Federal Police officer patrols at Cologne's airport on Wednesday as part of stepped-up security precautions.


Unlike his predecessors Otto Schily and Wolfgang Schäuble, the current German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière is considered restrained when it comes to his statements on terrorism. That is all the more reason why his warning on Wednesday that Germany may be the target of a terror attack in the near future has received so much attention.

At a hastily convened press conference, de Maizière told reporters that security officials both in Germany and abroad have information that an attack might be in the works for the end of November. For the first time, he said, there are "concrete investigative leads."

De Maizière called on Germans to be vigilant but not to panic. "We will show strength and will not allow ourselves to be intimidated," he said. "We will not allow international terrorism to limit our lifestyles nor our culture of freedom."

Security precautions have been stepped up across Germany as a result of the warning. Armed police are patrolling at airports and train stations, and border controls have been tightened.

The interior ministers of the country's 16 states will be discussing how to proceed at a conference on Thursday. Karl Peter Bruch, the interior minister of the state of Rheinland-Palatinate, said Thursday that Germany's major cities were particularly at risk, saying there were "concrete indications" relating to Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and the Ruhr conurbation.

Police under Strain

Meanwhile Germany's two main police unions have warned that the security forces are already massively overworked. The Federal Police, which is responsible for anti-terror operations and border security, already does not have enough officers to carry out its normal daily work, said Josef Scheuring from the Union of Police (GdP) on Thursday. The additional duties as a result of the terror warning means even more strain on the force's resources, he said.

Rainer Wendt, the head of the German Police Union (DPolG), made similar comments to the German news station N-TV. "The security forces are already under a great deal of strain," he said. "There are not many reserves left."

The head of the GdP, Konrad Freiberg, also warned of a lack of security precautions. The population was not sufficiently prepared for the consequences of an attack, he told the newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt. "If an attack happens, it is also important to know how to deal with it and manage the situation."

Data Debate

As part of the debate on how Germany can best protect itself, politicians from Germany's two main parties, the center-right Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats, have called for the reintroduction of telecommunications data retention. Under a law which came into force in 2008, the government could store data relating to telephone calls, e-mails and Internet usage for up to six months for possible use by law enforcement. That law was, however, overturned by a ruling by Germany's Constitutional Court in March of this year. Since then, telecommunications data has not been stored.

"Anyone who still argues against data retention has not understood the current threat level," said Hans-Peter Uhl, an expert on domestic affairs for the Christian Democrats, in remarks to the Financial Times Deutschland.

Suspicious Package Found at Airport

Also on Thursday, it was revealed that a suspicious item of luggage had been discovered on Wednesday while a Munich-bound plane was being loaded in Namibia. The Federal Criminal Police Office in Berlin said in a statement that the package contained batteries connected to an ignition device and a clock. It was not immediately clear if the device was capable of exploding, the police said.

The airline, Air Berlin, contradicted the police's assertion that the package was intended for Germany. A spokesperson said that the item had been found in a hall at Windhoek airport where luggage for the Air Berlin flight was being processed, but that it was an "undeclared" object that was not addressed to a specific destination.

According to information obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE, there are indications that the package could have been a test device designed to check airport security.

Commenting on the new terror warning in their Thursday editions, Germany's main newspapers reiterate de Maizière's exhortations for ordinary Germans to keep calm and carry on, with one newspaper suggesting that Germans seek inspiration in London's famous "Blitz spirit" during World War II.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"An interior minister cannot please everybody. If he issues too many warnings, he is accused of being alarmist. If he is sober and restrained, people say he is lulling the public into a false sense of security. It is obvious that Thomas de Maizière talks about the threat of Islamist terrorism in a different manner to his predecessors such as Otto Schily of the Social Democrats, who introduced a raft of anti-terror legislation."

"And now this. Until now, de Maizière has been known for his restrained communications style, which means that his latest comments have received all the more attention. Each of his phrases (from his statement on Wednesday) is being pored over and analyzed, which is understandable given that the danger could affect anyone, anywhere."

"Every individual, irrespective of the degree to which they -- rightly -- trust in the state (to protect them), can respond to terror, not only by being vigilant but continuing to live their life as they please. The minister said there was no reason for hysteria. That also applies even in the event of an emergency."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"What should citizens do (in response to the terror alert)? Should they not fly any more and not go to the opera or the movies? Should they avoid public transportation, Christmas markets and busy supermarkets? That would be the hysteria that the interior minister warned against. The terrorists will have already half won if they succeed in paralyzing public life."

"What should the state do? It can show strength. A democracy is strong if it can defend its principles with a cool head and calm courage. A state is strong if it realizes that human and civil rights are the best guarantee of homeland security. An interior minister is strong if he promises citizens every possible vigilance and keeps that promise. … But being vigilant does not mean immediately drafting a new anti-terror law at breakneck speed, as has so often been the case in the past."

"Germany's homeland security is at stake. But homeland security also requires the guarantee that the principles that are intended to protect democracy also apply when that democracy is being defended. Homeland security requires inner resolve and an unwavering confidence in the fundamental rights laid down in the constitution -- even in times of terror."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"Islamists sometimes accuse Western societies of being too complacent and ill-equipped to deal with existential crises. Supposedly they are wimpy, unable to fight and lacking in pride. One of the most compelling features of our civilization is the fact that such accusations are not true. Again and again, Western societies have overcome severe crises without throwing their democratic nature out of the window and taking refuge under supposedly strong leaders with dictatorial powers. When London was being bombed by Germany during World War II, its society remained as free as ever, yet still managed to mobilize amazing strength. The same applied in New York in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks."

"There is no evidence that the Germans, who also reacted calmly to the financial crisis, will now be tempted to panic and overreact. There are situations in which keeping calm is actually a civic duty that has nothing to do with apathy. The population should react with a relaxed vigilance. The increased police presence will give them the sense that they are being protected. It is not a sign of indifference but of strength when life continues as normal even in dangerous situations. In democracies, heroism and everyday life can go hand in hand. The murderous nihilism of the fanatics is no match for such strength."

The mass-circulation daily Bild writes:

"As of yesterday, the ugly face of Islamist terror has become a bit clearer for us in Germany, in the form of a threat. But we shouldn't allow ourselves to be led astray. If, out of fear of attacks, we no longer go to Christmas markets and avoid large-scale events, then the devil's spawn from the terror camps in Afghanistan will have achieved their goal."

"We are supposed to be afraid of them? We are supposed to change our lifestyle, because they can't deal with the way the world is? We cannot allow that to happen! The police and security agencies have to support us in that effort and send the following message to the terrorists: You have no chance!"

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"It is debatable how useful terror warnings are. Anyone who hears that something might happen, but doesn't receive the slightest information as to the what, when, where or how (of the planned attack), tends to feel more unsettled than on guard. … Why then is the interior minister, who has previously showed no tendency to adopt the strong-arm anti-terror rhetoric of his predecessors, warning the population about an attack that could even happen this month? When the authorities have specific information about a terrorist attack, only one thing is worse than warning the public -- not warning them. Even if citizens cannot respond to the warning in their everyday behavior, they at least want to be sure that the authorities recognize the danger and are reacting accordingly."

"All the tightening of security measures which are now being carried out across the country could ultimately turn out to be futile. But if a bomb goes off after the population has been warned, the interior minister can explain it by referring to the impossibility of absolute security. If a bomb explodes without warning, the minister does not need to give any explanations. Instead, he need do nothing more than hand in his resignation -- because he would be seen as having failed."

-- David Gordon Smith

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