By Namrata Goswami
Germany has been debating the possibility of a terror attack on its soil especially in the wake of 9\11, the Madrid bombings of 2004 and the London bombings of 2005. However, never before has it issued a national warning about an imminent terror attack as happened on November 17 in response to an intelligence report by a ‘un-named’ country of possible terror attacks by the end of November.
Consequently, heavily armed police officers and bomb sniffing dogs have become a visible sight in German train stations, market complexes and airports. Police officers have been told that they cannot hope to go on holiday even though Christmas is approaching since the ‘terror’ threat looms on the horizon. One German citizen exclaimed to this author in Heidelberg that, “I have never seen so much armed police my entire life in Germany.” Most German citizens observe that such visible policing had not been witnessed in Germany since the end of the Second World War.
But the fact remains that the terror threat is real. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere stated that his government had “concrete evidence of a series of terror attacks planned for the end of November” mostly by terrorists trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 25 al Qaeda fighters were identified as planning commando style attacks on Britain, France and Germany, 10 of whom were killed in drone attacks in Pakistan. The biggest fear is that the 15 remaining terrorists could carry out a Mumbai-style terror attack in Germany. The recent interception in Dubai and Britain of powerful bombs hidden in air cargo from Yemen, and which had passed through Cologne airport, has only added to German anxieties. German citizens undertaking terror training have also been arrested in Pakistan recently. And a package bomb from Greece was discovered in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mail in early November.
One obvious connection to Germany becoming a target of recent al Qaeda terror threats could perhaps be the presence of German troops in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). In April 2010, there were violent clashes in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province where three German soldiers were killed in a fight with the Taliban. Germany became the third largest troops contributing country in Afghanistan when, in February 2010, the German parliament increased the contingent by up to 850 troops to total 5,350 personnel. German soldiers have been involved in commando operations against the Taliban and this aspect is not lost on the latter, which is perhaps transmitting such information to a wide network of al Qaeda sleeper cells all over Europe.
Given this, Germany must remain extremely vigilant about the terror warnings since al Qaeda and the Taliban could plausibly seek to engineer a policy change with regard to German troop presence in Afghanistan through these terror threats. Both these outfits must be aware that Germany’s Afghanistan operation is unpopular with the German public and hence their target audience is also the German public.
As a response mechanism, the German government must activate effective countermeasures such as law enforcement, covert operations based on sound intelligence against terror networks, and efficient bureaucratic coordination. However, the distinction between terrorist networks and immigrant Muslim societies who want to genuinely be a part of German life must be maintained. The terrorists want to provoke the government to respond in such a manner that a particular segment of the German immigrant population is targeted as a possible source of terror activities. This by itself will create resentment and plant the seeds for radicalization. Hence, unless, specific intelligence is given, no population group must be targeted for counter-terror, and the German police should remain neutral in their law enforcement duties. The terrorists are truly defeated in their purpose when Germany’s liberal way of life is maintained and further strengthened. Finally, the greatest success against terror is in averting planned attacks. Hence, the vigilance by Germany is to be maintained but in a manner which is not intrusive to the life of the common citizen.
Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses at http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/Germany-IntheMidstofFear_NamrataGowami_031210