So far in this mega-election year in Germany, it has been easy to forget that there is a general election campaign just around the corner. In addition to numerous state elections, voters will be asked to head to the polls in September in a vote that will determine whether Chancellor Angela Merkel will be able to keep her job or not. But neither she nor her opponent from the Social Democrats, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, have taken many steps down the campaign trail.
According to German security officials, though, Islamist terrorists may already be developing a plan of attack for 2009. And Germany may be high up on the target list.
"The Islamists apparently want to influence Germany's election year 2009," said August Henning, a senior deputy in the Interior Ministry, in the tabloid Bild am Sonntag. In other comments to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Hanning said that Germany "has moved well up the list of terrorist target countries."
Hanning isn't the only one who is concerned. Jörg Ziercke, who heads up the Federal Criminal Police Office, said over the weekend that "we have observed meaningful parallels to the situation in Spain." He was referring to the March 11, 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid that killed 191 people just days before general elections there.
Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble spoke of a "new quality" of the terrorist threat to Germany, though he also pointed out that Germany has long been on the target list and has been explicitly threatened before.
The country's security community is reacting to two Islamist videos that have recently cropped up in the Internet directly threatening Germany with terror attacks. Officials say that a speaker in one of the videos is a Moroccan-born immigrant who lived in Bonn. According to Ziercke, the man, identified as Bekkay Harrach, spent time in an al-Qaida training camp.
Ziercke says there is no concrete evidence that a terror attack in Germany is imminent. But the mounting threats have security personnel in Germany worried.
Of particular note are demands in the videos -- made in the German language -- that Germany pull its troops out of Afghanistan. The 2004 attacks in Madrid occurred just days before elections that year and some think the bombings were timed to ensure that then Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar was voted out of office. Aznar had sent Spanish troops to Iraq, but they were quickly withdrawn once his replacement, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, took over.
Security officials in Germany are particularly concerned about the possibility of " home-grown terrorists." The country is home to a number of Muslims, some of them German converts, and experts estimate that many of them -- Heinz Fromm of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the country's domestic intelligence agency, spoke of a "high, three digit number" -- may be prone to violence.