THE woman behind the cheese counter at Hertie's in Bonn looked concerned after hearing an indecipherable name paged over the store's broadcast system. ``Did you catch that?'' she asked her customer, bending over the Goudas and Edams to hear the answer. No, came the reply, and then the woman explained her concern. ``We've had to learn code names for things like fires in case of terrorism.''
From store clerks to security experts, Europeans and Americans in Europe are keenly aware of the Gulf-related threat of terrorism. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has threatened worldwide retaliation on the United States and its allies. The Palestine Liberation Organization last week called on Muslims and Arabs everywhere to resist ``American-European aggression.''
All over Europe, police and security specialists are on a heightened state of alert and engaged in international cooperation to protect people from terrorist attack.
In France, the Ministry of Interior moved into Phase 2 of its antiterrorism plan - vigipirate - only hours after the allied attack against Iraq began. More than 200,000 police officers have been assigned across the country to stepped-up security checks at airports, train stations, government ministries, and many schools. Private security guards check the bags of all customers entering Paris supermarkets and department stores. Anyone wishing to send a package at the post office is now asked to provide identification, and the sender's national identity number is taken down.
In Britain, security has been tightened. The level of preparedness is being compared with the 1970s, when the outlawed Irish Republican Army ran a mainland bombing campaign. A Jan. 20 report in the Sunday Times of London said British hospitals have been told by the Ministry of Defense to draw up plans for dealing with chemical weapon attacks in London and other cities. Britain's 19 nuclear power stations are all on heightened alert. London's Heathrow Airport is defended by tanks near its four terminals.
In Germany, where about 180,000 US troops and their families are stationed, local and allied authorities have been cooperating to provide additional security at US, British, and French installations. In Bonn, entrances to the US Embassy and residential community have been blocked off, and are controlled by bullet-proof vested, machine-gun toting police.
``We are continually receiving bomb threats,'' says Michael Geldmacher, a spokesman for the Bonn police. The police respond to every threat, he says, but fortunately they have so far been false alarms.
Meanwhile, control at the German border has been intensified and airline passengers are advised to arrive two to three hours before departure time because of more thorough security checks. They are also being advised to leave at home electronic goods that could be hiding places for bombs, such as tape recorders, cameras, and computers - otherwise the products could be temporarily confiscated. In Cologne, Mainz, D"usseldorf, and Bonn, residents have to live with a major disappointment: the cancellation of the winter's carnival parades (akin to canceling Mardi Gras in New Orleans).
Europe has a sizeable Arab population, which is causing special concern for authorities. With more than 200,000 Arabs living in Germany, ``the infrastructure for Palestinian terrorists is not bad,'' Christian Lochte, Hamburg chief of the office for protection of the Constitution, told Der Spiegel magazine in this week's issue.
On the other hand, says the Interior Ministry here, only a few of these people are considered dangerous and they are being closely monitored. Meanwhile, Germany has put a freeze on visas for Iraqis and searched more than 50 apartments of Saddam sympathizers. By last weekend, Britain had detained 65 Iraqis and 7 Palestinians. France expelled 12 Iraqi diplomats and 32 dependents on Monday and the Netherlands and Italy are also planning expulsions.
A US State Department official says that Arab terrorist groups have ``a better network and more facilities'' in Europe, including the support of European terrorist groups, such as the Red Army Faction in Germany. On the other hand, he says, ``the Europeans have been dealing with the issue a lot longer [than other regions, such as Asia and Africa] and have introduced very tight security measures.''
This is forcing terrorists to go ``further afield, to softer targets,'' says the State Department official. An example of this, he points out, was the death of an Iraqi in Manila last Saturday as he and a helper tried to plant a bomb that exploded prematurely near a US library there. On Friday, a bomb was found on the grounds of the US ambassador's residence and defused. According to the State Department official, the Gulf-related terrorist incidents worldwide have been ``scattered and uncoordinated.''