Germany was shocked Wednesday by the news that a home-grown Islamist terror cell had been plotting to bomb US facilities and airports in the country. Now that the dust has begun to settle, the debate has begun on how to prevent future plots.
The three suspects, identified only as Fritz G., Daniel S. and Adem Y., were seized Tuesday in a raid on a holiday flat in Medebach-Oberschledorn in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. They had been under observation for months in the largest German police operation in 30 years. Police decided to act when the suspects began moving some of the chemicals which they were planning to use to make explosives.
For some, the most disturbing aspect of the case was the fact that two of the three suspects were German converts to Islam. "It's Germans!" screamed the headline on Thursday's edition of the Berlin tabloid BZ. There are fears that the kind of "home-grown" terrorism which was behind the July 7, 2005 terror attacks in London has now spread to Germany.
The three men, who had visited terrorist training camps in Pakistan, were associated with a mosque in the southern German city of Ulm which has a reputation for radicalism. Police said the men belonged to a German cell of the terror group "Islamic Jihad Union," a little-known Sunni Muslim group with roots in Uzbekistan and ties to al-Qaida.
The arrests and the enormous police investigation which preceded them have also given new fuel to the debate about how best to deal with Islamist terror -- and by extension the Muslim community in Germany. Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has taken the opportunity to renew his calls for the authorities to be allowed to carry out clandestine online surveillance of terror suspects -- a highly controversial proposal which is opposed by the center-left Social Democratic Party.
Commentators writing in Germany's main papers Thursday showed mixed reactions to the case, with some cautioning against hysteria while others called for more efforts to fight homegrown terror.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes.
"The day after usually belongs to the people who like to issue warnings and say 'I told you so,' and who continually swear we have always experienced the biggest-ever threat. If an attack did not occur, then they claim to have prevented the disaster through their warnings. And if it did happen nevertheless, well, they forecasted it a long time ago. But the issue is too serious for the 'told you so' treatment. Islamist terrorism is undoubtedly a colossal danger. But could it not also be the case that every age needs an enemy which can be presented as an absolute and total threat, in order to portray itself as the most dangerous period of all time?"
"The case showed that terror can be prevented through the cooperation of various authorities and with normal police and intelligence methods. There is no need for hysteria and political alarmism. The case also cannot be used as an excuse to set the political agenda and force through issues such as online surveillance."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The reality of the terror threat in Germany has been made so obvious by the recent police operation that Schäuble does not even need to repeat his familiar calls for online surveillance. (Opponents of online surveillance) might be tempted to say that the attacks were prevented without using such methods. But is it really so simple? The operation brought the security authorities involved to the limits of their abilities. And should Germany really promote itself with the message that computer privacy is sacred here -- including that of terrorists? Experience shows that we cannot leave terrorists with any safe havens to retreat to -- not in Afghanistan, not in German mosques and backrooms and not in the depths of the Internet. The next attack is perhaps already being planned."
The conservative Die Welt writes:
"The attempted attack was unique because two German converts were involved. They did, however, possess role models. As was the case with the attacks in London and Madrid, all three suspects had connections to Islamists in Pakistan. And just like in Great Britain and Spain, the three were associated with a mosque known for its radical stance."
"Hence Germany is not just a shelter for terrorists, but has long been a terror target for Muslims who have been living here for years. Just to make things clear: The majority of the Muslim population does not have anything in common with the extremists. Nevertheless, one has to concede that Muslim radicals prefer to choose Europe as a target for their terror plans because they can move around freely here and easily find recruits."
"Germany is still a niche society for Islamists in which they can live well. It is precisely this freedom which must be eliminated for such people. At the end of the day, terrorist sympathizers must be combated with intelligence activities and social pressure, which must come from the Muslim community. Clearly the government must increase the pressure on immigrants to integrate. Parallel societies -- even if they are peaceful -- are not acceptable."
The left-leaning Die Tagezeitung writes:
"If Adem Y.'s accomplices had had Turkish or Arab names, it would surely have been only a matter of hours until a new round of the tiresome integration debate had begun. The first blowhards would have piped up, demanding German courses for hate preachers, online searches of Friday sermons or a headscarf ban in the schoolyard. But one of the suspects is called Daniel S., and the presumed leader answers to a name which couldn't be any more German: Fritz G."
"The fact that two of the amateur bomb makers are German converts makes it clear that Islamist terrorism has very little to do with the integration of immigrants. For that reason, the constant mixture of both issues in the German debate does not help. Those who join the international jihad do not do so because they don't speak German well enough or can't find an apprenticeship. Instead, one has to ask what drives young Germans to join an obscure terror sect from Uzbekistan. One possible answer might be that their motives do not completely differ from those which 40 years ago prompted young Germans to take up their 'anti-imperialistic' fight against the United States."
-- David Gordon Smith, 3:00 p.m. CET