The World from Berlin: Terror Warnings 'Should Not Be Politically Abused'
Security in Germany has been ramped up following this week's terror warning from Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière. So too has the political rhetoric. German commentators say that politicians should be ashamed for trying to take advantage of heightened anxiety in the country.
Heavily armed police officers have suddenly appeared across Germany following warnings that a terror strike could be in the works.
Heavily armed police at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Increased security presence at airports across Germany. Bomb-sniffing dogs in the train stations. The signs that Germany has increased security in light of a recent warning that terrorists may be planning an attack on the country are everywhere.
And it could stay that way for some time. Rainer Wendt, head of a major German police union, told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung on Friday that the "state of emergency" is likely to be maintained until the end of the year. He also said that, with hundreds of traditional Christmas markets, which could be potential targets, set to open soon, police in many German cities have had their vacations cancelled.
"All security agencies are in agreement," Matthias Seeger, head of Germany's federal police force, told the mass-circulation tabloid Bild on Friday. "On a scale of one to 10, with one representing no danger and 10 standing for acute risk of attack, we are currently at nine."
The drastic intensification of security measures comes following German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière's statement on Wednesday in which he said that the German government had "concrete indications" that Islamists were planning an attack and that Germany could be a target.
De Maizière's statement came after weeks of media reports indicating that security experts in both Germany and abroad had been monitoring increased chatter among Islamists and an uptick in travel. There have also been reports that a cell made up of two Islamists from India and two more from Pakistan is believed to be in the country.
The warnings and increased security precautions have Germans on edge. In particular, though, government officials have shown nerves. Already this week, politicians from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and from the opposition Social Democrats have demanded that German laws be strengthened, including data storage laws.
And speaking to Berlin television station RBB on Wednesday evening, the interior minister of the city-state of Berlin, Ehrhart Körting, said: "If we see something in our neighborhood, if suddenly three rather strange-looking people move in who try to keep out of sight and who only speak Arabic or another foreign language that we don't understand, then I think one should make sure the authorities know what is going on."
Following massive critique and protests from Berlin's immigrant community, Körting said on Friday that his comments were "perhaps unfortunate."
German commentators take a look at the terror threat -- and the reaction thus far -- on Friday.
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"For anyone who had hoped to maintain calm in light of the allegedly heightened terror threat in Germany, there are apparently several others who are countering that effort."
"One German politician, however, cannot be blamed: Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière. During his term in office so far, he has acted with restraint, has not stoked fear unnecessarily and has avoided sounding alarmist. And he has declined to use the apparent threat to push through tougher laws. His behavior makes both him and the warning he delivered more credible."
"Politicians, security personnel and investigators must do everything in their power to prevent an attack. A public warning is part of that effort. Such warnings can work as signals to potential attackers -- at best they can delay or even prevent an attack. Such a warning should serve public safety -- and should not be politically abused."
The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes, in reference to Körting's comments and demands to intensify German law:
"The demands (to strengthen German law and keep an eye on your neighbors) are akin to robbing ourselves of that which terrorists would like to take from us. It's like destroying our free and democratic societies to prevent their destruction from terrorist bombs."
"Terrorists won't have won if they turn the world into a crime scene and a train station, Christmas market or subway into a battlefield. Rather, they will have triumphed if they occupy our heads, control our thoughts and write our laws. The security which we demand from the state is a valuable commodity, but it isn't the state's primary purpose. It is a condition for freedom: We need security in order to be able to live in freedom. But those who want to live in freedom must accept that freedom can never be had without a certain amount of risk."
Conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"Berlin's Interior Minister Körting provided an example on Wednesday for the kind of advice that is not helpful following a terror warning. He advised residents to notify officials if new neighbors were 'strange-looking,' if they 'tried to keep out of sight' or if they 'only speak Arabic or another foreign language that we don't understand.' Such neighbors certainly could not have been the terrorists behind the Sept. 11 attacks. They were very Western in appearance and spoke good English or German."
"Those German citizens known to have joined al-Qaida speak German without any accent at all -- indeed, some of them are ethnic Germans. Körting's warning would have made sense if there was concrete evidence of suspects who were dumb enough to behave the way he described. Without such evidence, however, his warning merely serves to increase xenophobia and to confuse people.... Anyone who takes Körting's advice seriously is likely to miss potential terrorists by watching the wrong neighbors."
-- Charles Hawley
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