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Germany Becomes A Target for Sophisticated Homegrown Terrorism


Earlier this month German authorities arrested three men on charges of planning what has been described as “massive” bomb attacks on targets in Germany that are frequented by Americans. Among the intended targets of the foiled plot were the U.S. military base in Ramstein and Frankfurt International Airport. The suspects were two ethnic-German citizens who had converted to Islam and a Turkish resident in Germany. Officials are suggesting that Germany, like Britain, may have become a target for sophisticated homegrown terrorism.

Christian Wernicke, U.S. correspondent for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, notes that the German Marshall Fund recently released a survey showing a sharp increase in the number of Germans who now fear international terrorism. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Wernicke says that Germans now realize that it was an “illusion” that they could avoid the danger of being attacked by “staying out of Iraq.” And there is now growing concern in Germany about international threats and specifically about “Islamic fundamentalism.”

The German federal prosecutor in the case said the two German converts to Islam now in custody had trained at terrorist camps in Pakistan. One of the suspects, Fritz Gelowicz, was at a training camp of the Islamic Jihad Union, a terrorist splinter group affiliated with al-Qaida. Christian Wernicke says it is not currently a federal crime in Germany to attend one of these camps, but he thinks the law might change. And people are discussing what rights the government should have in investigating potential terrorists.

Kyrgyz journalist Alisher Khamidov, who is a Ph.D. candidate at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, says he has been following the Islamic Jihad Union since 2004. He says it originated in Uzbekistan and is thought to be a splinter group from the better-known Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The group, he says, has maintained ties with “transnational jihadi movements” operating in Afghanistan and in the Pakistani border region. According to Christian Wernicke, these new developments have increased concern about “what is going on in German mosques.” And that in turn has a definite impact on Germany’s large Turkish minority. Cem Dalaman, editor-in-chief of Radio Multikulti in Berlin, says there are nearly 3 million people of Turkish origin in Germany and 900,000 of them are German citizens. They are generally perceived as hardworking and “religiously moderate,” although extremism is now starting to “take root among them.” Regarding Adem Yilmaz, the man who was arrested, along with the two ethnic-German converts to Islam, he says people in Germany’s Turkish community never would have imagined “it would go this far.”

On the other hand, Mr. Dalaman explains, many Germans fear what he calls “an enemy within, a parallel society that threatens their German-ness.” He says that, ever since the discovery of the Hamburg-based terrorist cell “at the heart of the 9/11 attacks,” fear of an “Islamist wave sweeping across Germany and seeking to Islamize its Muslim minorities” has grown. And because Germany has never viewed itself as a “melting pot of minorities or cultures,” the discussion of homegrown terrorism is a new phenomenon. In some ways, Mr. Dalaman suggests, there are parallels with the Pakistani minority in Britain and with the Arab minority in France.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.