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What Can and What Must Germans and Americans Do to Fight Terrorism?

What Can and What Must Germans and Americans Do to Fight Terrorism?

Speech by Otto Schily, Federal Minister of the Interior "What can and what must Germans and Americans do to fight terrorism?" at the closing session of the American-German Workshop on Cooperation in Combating Chemical and Biological Terrorism Washington, D.C., 4 February 2003 (check against delivery). Quelle: BMI Internetredaktion, Berlin, den 4. Februar 2003.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This bilateral meeting of experts is an excellent example of the very close cooperation between the United States of America and the Federal Republic of Germany in the fight against terrorism. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the German Criminal Police Office (BKA) already had a good working relationship long before the tragic attacks of September 11th, as part of our close cooperation as allies and friends. In view of the new kind of threat posed by Islamist-extremist terrorism, we have further strengthened and expanded this cooperation. Both federal law enforcement agencies have exchanged liaison officers, ensuring direct access to the results of each other's investigations. FBI agents were also among the more than 600 officers making the largest investigative team in German history.

Cooperation among all of our security authorities has been praised by both sides without exception as excellent, and our investigations have already brought about a number of successes, which I will talk about in more detail later.

Ladies and gentlemen,

At least since the appearance of anonymous letters carrying anthrax spores, the public has been aware of the insidious threat posed by terrorist attacks using biological or chemical weapons. In early January, the Taliban, for instance, announced that they had chemical weapons and threatened to use them in retaliation for being driven from power in Afghanistan. Just before Christmas, three Muslim extremists were arrested in Paris; French police found numerous chemicals in their apartment. And in early January, British police raided a London flat where four North African men produced the deadly toxin ricin. Commenting on those events, a British newspaper feared the threat of poison gas attacks all over Europe by cells of North African terrorists with links to Al Qaeda.

Security authorities must weigh the actual risks very carefully. I would like to point out that terrorist attacks using chemical or biological weapons have up to now remained the absolute exception. One example is the 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway by members of the Japanese Aum sect.

But the threat of biological or chemical attacks is still cause for special concern. Naturally, because biological or chemical substances used with criminal or terrorist intent have the potential to inflict enormous damage; but also because of their potential to spread fear and alarm, even when the actual risk remains limited. That's why chemical and biological weapons are so insidious: Anyone who fears poisoning will have to worry about every kind of food or beverage, since he or she won't be able to tell what is uncontaminated and what isn't.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Causing fear and insecurity among the population is a secondary effect that extends far beyond the primary damage caused by an attack. But this is precisely the goal of terrorism: Islamist-extremist terrorism, like that practiced by Al Qaeda, wants above all to destabilize Western societies and terrify their citizens. Such terrorism consciously chooses so-called "soft targets": tourists vacationing in Bali and Djerba and working fathers and mothers, nearly 3,000 of them killed in the World Trade Center. It's about terror for terror's sake. And that means: If we allow ourselves to give in to panic, the terrorists will have already won.

The German Federal Government has of course increased its preparedness since September 11th to ensure that the public is protected in case of emergency. We have developed a "New Strategy for Protecting the Population of Germany," with the primary goal of improving the coordination of existing resources for emergency response, those at the federal level and those of the 16 German states. This strategy includes the following:

a network linking the different information systems together in a joint German emergency preparedness information system (deNIS);

a new concept for warning the public using a satellite communications system, in operation since mid-October 2001; and

the expansion of our federal Academy for Crisis Management, Emergency Planning and Civil Protection into a forum for international scientific exchange and a center of excellence for basic and advanced training in dealing with nuclear, biological and chemical hazards.

Since September 11th, the Federal Government has provided the states with a total of 367 state-of-the-art NBC detection vehicles. These vehicles give Germany its first highly mobile system to take samples of biological hazards and detect, measure and record radiological and chemical contamination.

In addition, the Federal Government is taking precautions to cope with the threat of a bioterrorist attack involving smallpox. We have acquired 35 million doses of vaccine to start with (enough for nearly half the population of Germany), and are in the process of acquiring enough vaccine for the entire population.

The Federal Government is taking the increased significance of civil protection into account at the organizational level as well, by setting up a new high-level agency, the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Emergency Response. As the new US Department of Homeland Security, this agency will serve as the Federal Government's central organizational unit for civil security.

At the European level, I would like to mention the European Union's program adopted on December 20th, 2002, to improve cooperation in combating chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear terrorist threats; and at the transatlantic level, NATO's WMD Initiative on weapons of mass destruction.

The US and Germany in particular are carrying on an intensive exchange of information on ways to confront the threat of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; this workshop is the best illustration of that. And another bilateral workshop will take place in Germany this spring, concerning critical infrastructure and its dependence on IT.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In the following I would like to give you an overview of the actions taken in Germany - and partly also at the European level - since September 11th to fight Islamist-extremist terrorism, and the successes we have achieved in close collaboration with our American partners.

To give you some background: In Germany, the Federal Ministry of the Interior is responsible for anti-terrorism activities at the federal level. This includes the work of the Federal Criminal Police (BKA) and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, legislation relating to foreigners, i.e. asylum, visa and immigration policy, and border control. The principles for airport security checks of passengers and baggage are developed within my ministry and carried out by another agency of my ministry, the Federal Border Police. And civil protection and disaster management policy also fall under my responsibiliy. (Sport is one of the few areas in my portfolio that - happily - has nothing to do with fighting terrorism.)

In order to link these wide-ranging responsibilities even more effectively in the interest of fighting terrorism, I have set up a new directorate for anti-terrorism activities within my ministry. Its central task is to work out principles and guidelines for all relevant fields and to coordinate national and international efforts in combating terrorism.

Already on September 19th, 2001, only eight days after the terrible attacks, the German government agreed on a new set of emergency measures, known as the first security package. A second, comprehensive package of anti-terrorism legislation went into effect on January 1st, 2002, introducing a number of amendments that have significantly improved the efforts of security authorities to combat international terrorism. As part of this second package, the Federal Government made available an additional 1.5 billion euros to fight terrorism. During 2002, out of my total budget of 3.5 billion euros, fully 60 percent went toward domestic security.

In extending the powers of federal security authorities, we have among others reinforced the BKA's authority as Germany's central law enforcement agency and expanded its authority to initiate investigations to a larger number of crimes. Of the more than 130 investigations into Islamist terrorist activity currently being conducted in Germany, the majority are headed up by the BKA.By changing the law on (private) associations, we have made it possible to ban organizations that use the cover of religion to pursue extremist goals, commit crimes or support violent or terrorist organizations in other countries. On this legal basis, I was able to outlaw and disband the Islamist association known as the Caliphate State and the fundraising organization Al-Aqsa, which is linked to Hamas. About two weeks ago, I also barred the internationally active organization Hizb ut-Tahrir (Liberation Party) from all activity in Germany. The group's assets in Germany were also seized, cutting off the financial support for terrorist activity as well.

An important point for improving security is the increased use of biometric data in identity documents. Already today, the German identity card is machine-readable and incorporates a number of security features; the relevant data are directly integrated into the document materials and cannot be altered without damaging the document. Adding additional biometric data will further reduce the risk of people using documents of other persons who are similar in appearance.

One indispensable and highly effective tool for prevention is computer-aided profiling and search. After the September 11th attacks, a systematic and nationwide search was carried out in Germany to find persons who matched certain criminal profiles predefined by the police. The data pool included among others Muslim male students between the ages of 18 and 40 from certain countries. This pool was narrowed down to a group of about 1,150 persons, who are now the subject of further police investigation to determine or rule out cause for suspicion. Computer-aided profiling has thus provided the police with a specialized investigative approach to detect possible "sleepers."

Computer-aided profiling across national borders could be even more effective. Within the EU, I have therefore taken the initiative to set up Europe-wide computer-aided profiling.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is no exaggeration to say that, at the European level, the German Federal Government is the driving force in the fight against terrorism. We have made significant proposals, such as the initiative for an extraordinary EU council on September 20th, 2001. The EU's joint action, or "road map," for dealing with terrorism now includes roughly 70 measures passed in response to the changed security situation. To mention only a few:

  • introducing a European arrest warrant;
  • setting up a team of anti-terror specialists within Europol;
  • freezing assets in a concerted action in order to cut off international terrorism from its financial base.

We must resolutely continue these efforts. I have recommended further measures to the EU Council of Justice and Home Affairs ministers; some of these have already been adopted or are under discussion, including the mandatory introduction of uniform, tamper-proof visa stickers and foreigners' residence permits with photographs in all 12 member states of the Schengen Agreement.

Ladies and gentlemen,

From the very beginning, the Federal Republic of Germany has provided German troops for the Operation Enduring Freedom.

At present, about 9,500 German troops are deployed outside Germany, whether in the Balkans (KFOR 4,600, Macedonia 220, SFOR 1,500) or as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. About 100 German special forces troops are fighting in Afghanistan, German reconnaissance tanks are stationed in Kuwait, and the German navy is patrolling the waters off the Horn of Africa.

Roughly 1,300 German troops are stationed in Kabul as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF); this number will increase further when Germany and the Netherlands assume joint leadership. We are also the lead nation in the joint effort to rebuild an Afghan police force.

Only the United States has more troops deployed in international peacekeeping missions than Germany. In addition, since late January several hundred German soldiers have been assigned to duty guarding American installations in Germany; altogether, up to 7,000 soldiers have been made available for this task. I think this contribution provides further evidence of our extraordinary commitment to opposing war and terrorism.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Please allow me to make a few more remarks on the success of our investigations so far.

We are currently conducting two major criminal trials against suspected Islamist terrorists. One involves the Meliani group, accused of planning a bomb attack on the Christmas market in the French city of Strasbourg. This group was made up of five North African Muslims who trained as terrorists in Afghanistan and had access to Osama bin Laden's logistics network. But German police investigations uncovered the planned attack in time, already in late 2000 - and thus before the September 11th attacks -- resulting in the arrest of those now on trial.

The other trial involves Mounir El Motassadeq, a Moroccan accused of aiding Mohamed Atta and belonging to the same terrorist cell. This trial is the first in the world in connection with the September 11th attacks.

Lastly, I would like to mention the recent apprehension of two suspected Al Qaeda members as a good example of the effective cooperation between American and German authorities. On January 10th of this year, BKA officers arrested two Yemeni men, Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayyed and Said Mohammed Mohsen, in a hotel at Frankfurt Airport as part of a joint operation with US law enforcement authorities. The entire operation was planned and successfully carried out by security authorities of our two countries in close collaboration. It is proof of the viability and effectiveness of our bilateral cooperation, as Attorney General John Ashcroft confirmed in a telephone conversation we had following the arrests.

Our successful bilateral cooperation is absolutely essential for effectively confronting the worldwide threat of terrorism. We will keep the upper hand only if we work together as strong partners in the anti-terror alliance. To this end, I am in regular contact with Attorney General John Ashcroft and with the American security and intelligence services.

I have met with Tom Ridge several times since October 2001, and today we had the opportunity for another long conversation. I was able to congratulate him on his new appointment as Secretary. As the President's Homeland Security Adviser, Secretary Ridge earned an outstanding reputation and deserves much of the credit for the successes so far. Now he is in charge of a department that will soon have 170,000 staff - one of the largest government departments in the world. I have great respect for the achievement represented by this unprecedented and major restructuring. I wish Tom Ridge all possible success and look forward to continuing our close and excellent cooperation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In closing, I would like to mention one more point that I find especially important, not least because it is often overlooked in the course of daily operations and also in the media.

In the fight against international terrorism, there is no alternative to vigorous, consistent and internationally coordinated action on the part of security authorities. We must continue to use all the measures for prevention and deterrence at our disposal and, where necessary, increase them. But our common fight against Islamist-extremist terrorism will result in lasting victory only if we actively address Islamist fundamentalism also in terms of its message. We must remove every intellectual and political foundation for terrorism as well. Numerous social, cultural and religious factors are in play here.We must successfully isolate terrorists even within the societal groups where they originate or with which they identify, to cut them off from their sources of material and ideological support. Through open channels of communication we must offer acceptable alternatives to those who are unsure or in doubt, to keep them from choosing the path of fundamentalism or even terrorism.

For this reason, Germany has intensified its dialog with reformers in Islamist countries and will continue to support democratic and open societies in countries that could offer a breeding ground for Islamist-extremist terrorism.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am sure we are all aware that we still have a long road ahead of us in the fight against international terrorism. The way is hard and will certainly contain its share of setbacks. The past seventeen months have shown that the world is prepared and takes the appropriate steps to confront threats with strength. But we can only win this battle together. The excellent working relationship and cooperation between the United States of America and the Federal Republic of Germany in the area of internal security gives me confidence that we will indeed win.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).