BERLIN, Dec 2 (IPS) – Government officials in Germany are being accused of manipulating threats of terrorism to induce public hysteria, even while warning against such reactions. The self-contradictory approach has prompted German citizens to call the terror warnings "farcical" and "negligent."
In mid-November, three separate instances of supposed terrorist threats were made public, only to be dismissed as hoaxes days later. This practice of "crying wolf" is leaving many Germans suspicious of their government’s intentions.
On Nov. 17, the German police authorities announced that a bomb was discovered in the Namibian airport of Windhoek, in luggage addressed to Munich that was intended to be loaded into an airplane of the German airline LTU-Airberlin. The intelligence came from a detailed communiqué that turned out to be fake.
Soon after the announcement was made, authorities learned that the bomb was a dummy, a phony device most likely smuggled into the Namibian airport by an unknown secret service to test the facilities’ security controls. However, the German government took 27 hours to officially clear the case, giving national press the opportunity to report at length on the alleged bomb, heightening public fears of attack.
In the interim, the Berlin interior minister Ehrhart Koertning used the occasion to make racist, xenophobic remarks, appealing to the German population to denounce "those neighbors whose appearance is alien, or who only speak foreign languages, especially Arabic."
Five days later, on Nov. 22, the German weekly newspaper Der Spiegel published a story based on leakages by government security sources, warning the public that Muslim fundamentalists were planning terrorist attacks against important German objectives, such as the Bundestag, the German parliament in Berlin.
According to Der Spiegel, Muslim terrorists were planning to storm the Bundestag and kidnap several members of parliament.
Immediately following publication of the story, German interior minister Thomas de Maizière called Der Spiegel‘s report "irresponsible" and "highly speculative" during a television debate on terrorism. He encouraged the German population to maintain "sober behavior" vis-à-vis the alleged menaces.
"A newspaper’s story cannot be more important than the security of the population," de Maiziére said at a press conference, referring to Der Spiegel‘s report.
But the interior minister’s remarks were inconsistent with his own behavior: just one week earlier, de Maizière had warned that according to "serious evidence by a foreign partner, an attack (against German public facilities) is planned for late November."
During the press conference, de Maizière affirmed that the German government had gathered "within the shortest time consistent evidence" of major risks for the country. "We have taken the appropriate measures to prevent such risks and discourage such attacks," he added.
Police presence at airports, train stations and around the Bundestag in Berlin increased substantially following the supposed threats.
But many German citizens are skeptical of the heightened terror threats, believing that the government is intentionally preying upon public anxieties.
For the respected political analyst and former prosecuting attorney Heribert Prantl, de Maizière’s contradictory behavior is a "manipulation" of the diffuse terror anxieties of the population.
Prantl said that de Maizière’s handling of the fake bomb "offers a foreboding of the case when a suspicious bag would be a real bomb."
Likewise, in an editorial comment in the leading German daily newspaper Die Suedeutsche Zeitung, German citizen Nicolas Richter called de Maizière’s terror warnings "a farce".
"De Maizière’s warnings only provoked confusion," Richter wrote. He referred to the German police press communiqués as "bumptious", and suggested that the police are "craving a state of emergency."
Richter added that the interior minister should "avoid such negligent warnings."
The German warnings came three weeks after similar events took place in France. In late October, government sources in Paris leaked reports to the local press that Muslim fundamentalists were planning to carry out terror attacks against objectives in French territory.
A month earlier, the French press reported that a Yemenite woman had been trained as a suicide bomber and was traveling towards France to commit an imminent terror attack. Soon after publication, the story was dismissed as a hoax.
As in Germany, the French reaction to the threat of terrorism was immediate, despite concrete evidence. On Nov. 2, French president Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed the alleged terrorist threats against France as "extremely serious", and called an urgent summit of all French security agencies to debate preventive measures.
"Our alertness against terrorism is intense and absolute," Sarkozy said. "We are closely cooperating with our international partners, not on daily but on hourly basis. We exchange information, we exchange our intelligence analysis, and we harmonize our reactions to the threats."
As in Germany, the warnings were followed by an increased presence of police forces in airports, train stations, and other public buildings. But one month later, the warnings have receded, and so too the police presence on the streets.
There have not been any major successes against the alleged Muslim terrorists in either country. But, many people fear, the warnings of imminent terrorist threats will continue regardless.
(Inter Press Service)