Terror Alarm in Germany

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Terror Alarm in Germany

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In the year prior to the U.S.-led military invasion of Iraq, the tone of the exchanges between the U.S. administration and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein sharpened noticeably. U.S. President George W. Bush stated clearly that "all options are on the table" for enforcing any alleged arms violations by Iraq. Many observers in Europe and elsewhere surmised correctly that it would only be a matter of time before the military option would be exercised.

With the Iraq crisis looming ever larger on the horizon, Germans wondered whether their country would be asked to provide troops for any military action against Iraq. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder gave a clear answer and preempted any such request with his unequivocal stance of "no blood for oil" during his bid for reelection in the summer of 2002.

While former Chancellor Schroeder's unusually direct challenge to President Bush did nothing to promote better German-American relations, the thinking seemed to prevail among many Germans that their chancellor's clear refusal to support the U.S. position would give Islamic extremists no reason to target their country.

The Islamic terrorist bombing of Madrid commuter trains on March 11, 2004, killing 191 people and wounding hundreds, seemed to prove the point. Spain was part of America's "coalition of the willing" in Iraq, and the attacks contributed to the defeat of José María Aznar's government in national elections held only three days later.

Terrorists like 9/11 pilot Mohammed Atta were known to have lived in Germany, but in the five years since the World Trade Center attack, the country had been spared any violent terrorist activity. But recent events have awakened Germans to the fact that their cities are also potential targets for Islamic terrorists.

Botched train bombings

On July 31, 2006, two suitcase bombs were placed on commuter trains at the Cologne main train station. One of the suitcases was put on a train headed for the city of Hamm, north of Cologne, and the other was deposited on a train headed for Koblenz, south of Cologne. The suitcase in the northbound train was discovered in Dortmund, and the other bomb was found when the southbound train reached Koblenz. Because of a minor design flaw involving the amount of fuel placed in the bombs, detonators set for 2:30 p.m. failed to ignite the charge.

After a thorough examination of the two suitcase bombs, Germany's federal criminal bureau, the Bundeskriminalamt, released information about the destructive potential of the bombs. According to officials, the construction of the bombs reflected a considerable degree of skill and knowledge. The explosives were placed in propane tanks and would have caused the trains to derail, leaving many dead and injured commuters in their wake.

The bombs were deemed powerful enough to have killed anyone within a 100-meter (325-foot) radius. The bombers also placed food starch and other substances inside the suitcases in an apparent attempt to give the impression that a chemical bomb had been detonated, if the bombs had gone off as planned.

Less than three weeks later, on Saturday, Aug. 21, a special police task force cordoned off the main train station and an adjoining hotel in the northern German city of Kiel. The police found what they were looking for: a 21-year-old university student from Lebanon, one of two prime suspects in the bungled suitcase bombing.

The suspect was later flown to Karlsruhe, where a judge at Germany's highest court formally charged him with membership in a terrorist organization and attempted murder. According to the Bundeskriminalamt, the suspect was positively identified by DNA evidence and fingerprints collected from one of the suitcases used for transporting the bombs.

Three days later the other main suspect was identified, a Lebanese student who had been residing in Cologne. After his accomplice was arrested in Kiel, he fled to Lebanon, where he was taken into custody in the Lebanese city of Tripoli. The two arrests eased the tension caused by the discovery of the two suitcase bombs and the media attention in the aftermath. The botched bombings dominated the national news in Germany for over three weeks.

Surveillance cameras provided the tip

The decisive clue for identifying the suitcase bombers came from a source that in the past has been at times a controversial topic among Germans. Surveillance cameras in use at the Cologne main station caught images of the two bombers depositing their bombs. Both were obviously of Middle Eastern background, and one was wearing a jersey featuring the number of German soccer star Michael Ballack.

Police released the surveillance video, apparently causing one of the two suspects (the fellow wearing the jersey) to panic. His arrest at the train station in Kiel was a rapid response to his apparent attempt to get out of Germany as quickly as possible.

Data protection and police jurisdiction have always been somewhat sensitive issues in postwar Germany. With the shadow of the gestapo looming over them, the authors of Germany's federal constitution decided to prevent the establishment of a national police force. Each of Germany's 16 federal states has its own police force, and Germany's border police, the Bundesgrenzschutz, is charged with policing Germany's borders and other entry points into the country.

Each of Germany's federal states also enforces its own data protection laws, all of which are stricter than those of the European Union. The interpretation of these laws leads to strange results. Some see surveillance cameras, for example, as a potential threat to personal data protection, since the whereabouts of people in public places recorded on film could theoretically be used against them. That's the reason surveillance cameras installed at Berlin's main train stations only relay live images to security personnel—no recordings are permitted.

The threat of terrorist activity in Germany and the apprehension of the two suspects in the botched train bombing have led to a remarkable change in the public mood. While no one supports nationwide video surveillance, recent opinion polls show as many as 80 percent of Germans are now in favor of expanding the use of security cameras in public places.

"When one remembers the hysteria that made data protection a mantra in the 1980s over a harmless issue like a [national] census, the mental change in recent years is enormous…The world has changed and with it the Germans, both in foreign policy and domestically. Today even the data protection watchdog voices support an anti-terror file," according to the conservative daily Die Welt (Aug. 21, 2006).

Response commensurate with the threat

A serious threat to personal or national security can evoke a response that might have been previously unimaginable. The changing mood in Germany over the use of surveillance cameras is not the first time things have changed following terrorist activity.

During the 1972 summer Olympic Games in Munich, Palestinian terrorists gained entry to the Olympic village and took nine Israeli athletes hostage after killing two other Israeli Olympians. After the terrorists and their hostages were flown by helicopter to Fürstenfeldbruck airport, supposedly to be flown out of Germany by a Lufthansa plane, the German police bungled a rescue operation. The result was the death of all nine Israelis, five of the eight Palestinian terrorists and a German policeman.

Prior to the 1972 attack in Munich, Germany had no special antiterror unit. The amateurish attempt of Bavarian police to free the Israeli hostages led to the realization that Germany needed a highly trained, national special weapons unit to deal with any future crisis. The unit created, the GSG 9, today ranks among the top antiterror units worldwide and was used to free German hostages held on a Lufthansa Boeing 737 airliner that had been hijacked and flown to Somalia.

Today Germans aren't the only Europeans who wonder what future terrorist attacks loom on the horizon. With an increasing Islamic population and university campuses used by recruiters to persuade well-to-do Islamic students from the Middle East to become terrorist cell members, the threat is real.

Some commentators in Germany referred to the botched train bombings and the threat of future terrorist activity as "an attack on our freedom." How much freedom are Europeans willing to give up to live in a secure society?

The book of Revelation contains an interesting prophecy about a final resurrection of the Roman Empire in the end time. That final resurrection is the seventh head of the beast described in Revelation 17:3. The seventh head also has 10 horns, each of which represents a king (verse 12). Those 10 kings—each of whom is some type of political leader in a European context—will voluntarily cede their power and authority to a central authority called "the beast": "These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast" (verse 13).

This final resurrection of the Roman Empire will be remarkable in the sense that in contrast to earlier resurrections, the composition of the empire is not achieved by military force or conquest, but by voluntary means.

History shows that nations are only willing to forsake or reduce sovereignty when they perceive that it is in their own best interest to do so. The pattern of trading national jurisdiction for the benefit of group cooperation is well established in the European Union, most likely a forerunner of the final configuration described in Revelation 17. An example is the formation of the 12-nation "euro zone," the block of EU members who use the euro as their common currency. The establishment of the euro is unique in modern times and probably throughout history.

The final union described in Revelation 17:12-13 appears to be not just a partial, but a total surrender of national sovereignty to a central authority. Some threat to Europe's security and future will lead to this development. Could it be a domestic security threat caused by multiple extremist attacks coordinated to exact a maximum of destruction and terror?

Whatever the threat will be, Europe will respond in a way that no one could foresee in today's liberal environment—other than those who understand Bible prophecy. WNP