Attacks energize Europe on fight against terror

The EU is working on measures that will make it easier to go after a common enemy.

The enormity of the Sept. 11 attack in the US - combined with its sinister European connections - is pushing Europe to strengthen its own security efforts.

Regardless of their political stripes, leaders across the continent have made an unprecedented show of solidarity with the US. Governments are also calling for increased security measures and greater international cooperation in preventing future terrorist acts.

"It's clear that a network of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists has spread out over Europe and the whole world, including Germany," Berlin's Interior Minister Otto Shily said in an interview with Der Spiegel this week.

Since the Sept. 11 attack, police have carried out a Europe-wide crackdown on Islamic militants, including the arrest of seven in connection with an alleged plot to target US interests in France. In Germany, arrest warrants were issued for two men suspected of helping plot the attacks on New York and Washington.

EU leaders held an emergency summit last week to formulate a "plan of action" By early December, EU members are expected to come up with a common definition of terrorism and hasten introduction of a European arrest warrant, which would speed up extradition procedures.

EU leaders have also called on their justice and interior ministers to draw up a common list of terrorist organizations and to improve cooperation among national intelligence services. The fledgling EU police force, Europol, is expected to form an anti-terrorist squad to work together with US authorities.

Peter Schmidt, a specialist in security policy at the Berlin think tank Foundation Science and Policy, says these are "practical, small steps on the European level, but the bulk of the work must be on the national level."

One stumbling block to more streamlined action has been countries' differing legal codes. Portugal's constitution, for example, sets the maximum sentence for any crime at 25 years, and the country does not extradite suspects to countries where they could receive a harsher sentence.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attack, Britain is contemplating a number of measures intended to beef up the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2000. London is considering issuing compulsory identity cards, as well as giving police new powers for interrogating suspects, and abandoning some rights of judicial appeal for migrants refused entry to Britain. Civil liberties advocates are voicing doubts about some of these provisions.

In Germany, however, there is little talk of civil liberties. Germans were shocked to discover that three of the suspected hijackers lived in the northern city of Hamburg. In a poll published this week, 74 percent of Germans said they were prepared to accept "very severe restrictions" in the name of security, while only a fifth expressed concerns about civil liberties. Four in five Germans responding to the poll advocated reinstating border controls between EU countries.

But Social Democrat member of parliament Jörg Tauss warned last week: "The target of the terrorist attacks was an open and free society. We should take care not to stake the foundations of a free and open society on supposed internal and external security. It would only be a deceptive security."

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's cabinet has proposed security measures that would eliminate the possibility for extremist organizations to use religious freedom as a cover; improve airport security; and allow prosecution of terrorist organizations active abroad. Investigators in several states have begun wide-ranging, random screenings of students of Arab origin.

Conservatives are saying that German Intelligence services were underfunded after the cold war. Many have now called for a review of Germany's asylum policy as well as proposed immigration legislation.

"It's a reintroduction to world politics for Germans," says Michael Wolffsohn, a political scientist at the University of the German Armed Forces in Munich. "There is a general awakening to world realities, I would say."

As a consequence of Nazi horrors, says Dr. Wolffsohn, Germany learned not to regard military might as a legitimate tool. Likewise, the German elite advocated openness toward the world, disregarding the possibility that some foreigners had ulterior motives.

In Hamburg, the connection to terror suspects may already have had political repercussions: In local elections last weekend, a maverick law-and-order candidate mustered one-fifth of the vote. Wolffsohn warns that people's insecurity might lead to the rise of "Rambo rightists" across the continent.

Many Europeans are awakening from their "politics of illusions," says Wolffsohn. "European countries do perceive, somewhat slowly, that, yes, there is an imminent terrorist and military danger coming from its southern underbelly of the Middle East."

Europe has long battled terrorist threats from other sources.

In France Sunday, five suspected members of the Basque separatist group ETA were arrested - a development that Spanish officials hailed as a prime example of how increased worldwide vigor in hunting down terrorists can pay big dividends. The five were sought by Spain in connection with bomb attacks and other ETA actions. The arrest of Asier Oiarzabal, the ETA's alleged logistical chief, believed to be plotting the robbery of explosives in France, was carried out in a coordinated effort by Spanish and French authorities. "The fight against terrorism no longer has borders," says a Spanish government official.

Spain has long sought coordination among law enforcement groups, a streamlining of the extradition process, and cross-border monitoring of terrorists' financial transactions. "That Europe is talking about these kinds of measures is seen as a big triumph for the Spanish government,' says Charles T. Powell of the Madrid-based Instituto Universitario Ortega y Gasset research group, who has written a book on the ETA. "It's the culmination of a policy that has been sought by Spain since 1996."

Matt Hilburn in Madrid contributed to this report.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Attacks energize Europe on fight against terror
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today