Germany considers increased spying on Muslims

BERLIN — After thwarting what might have become a "massive" attack on American installations, German authorities will review ways to fight homegrown terrorists, including a proposal to allow Internet spying on all German converts to Islam.

The search for seven other suspected members of a German cell of the Pakistan-based Islamic Jihad Union continued into Thursday night, with investigators saying only that they knew who they were seeking.

Anti-terror police arrested three men in a village in central Germany Tuesday, outside a vacation cabin where they were suspected of building a bomb. Germans were shocked to learn that two of the alleged bombers were native-born and had common German names, Fritz and Daniel. All three were unemployed and living on German government benefits, but other details are sketchy.

Fritz came from an upper middle class background, and German media reported that he converted to Islam about 10 years ago. His mother was a doctor, his father owned a successful business, and he's married and attends a technical college in Ulm.

"Daniel", who like Fritz hasn't been further identified, was known for angering his neighbors in Saarbruecken by praying loudly every three hours, but little else is know about him or "Adem", the Turkish-born third suspect.

This was "something new, and not in a good way," said Col. Christopher Langdon of London's International Institute for Strategic Studies. They "came from the white German population. They were very traditional German residents who converted and radicalized. These bombers were not Pakistani or Moroccan. That is raising eyebrows."

Anti-terror forces had been concerned primarily with first or second generation Muslim immigrants — not white Europeans.

Guenther Beckstein, the interior minister in the German state of Bavaria and a conservative leader of the southern wing of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Party, has called for a new law authorizing online surveillance of Islamic converts.

"Germans converting to Islam should be watched because they tend to show particular fanaticism in order to prove worthy of their new religion," he said Thursday.

The number is growing, according to the German Islam archive. In the last decade, only about 300 Germans each year converted to Islam. But in 2005, the number rose to 1,000, and it jumped to 4,000 in 2006.

As shocked as they were by the arrests, the idea of spying on other Germans unnerves many in civil-rights minded Germany, where government surveillance recalls memories of Adolf Hitler.

Gisela Piltz, a Liberal Party member of parliament, said she thinks it unwise to infringe on civil liberties so soon. She noted that while it was a shock to hear of a suspected Islamic terrorist named Fritz, it also was a shock this summer to hear of alleged terrorist doctors in England and Scotland.

"There is no pattern, and while we were perhaps the first to be attacked by Islamic terrorists from our native populations, it was only a matter of time. Terrorists are not poor, they are not stupid, and they do not want to get caught."

Karl-Heinz Kamp, a terrorism expert at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a right-of-center research center in Berlin, said the political debate on civil liberties versus security shouldn't be framed by a single plot.

"The bigger lesson here, of course, is that Germans are now an international terrorism target," he said. "That their names are Fritz and Daniel is shocking, but only means that the known spectrum of terrorists has now increased."

This week in Copenhagen, Danish authorities arrested nine people on charges of plotting terror attacks, and Kamp and other terrorism experts believe the frequency of attacks in Europe is increasing.

Magnus Ranstorp, Chief Scientist for the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defense College, said that while security forces don't release information on all thwarted attacks, there are known to have been at least 40 and perhaps has many as 50 since Sept. 11, 2001.

"This is what we can expect for the future: The attack plots are going to come fast and furious," he said. "And, as is clear in both these attacks, they're operating in new vistas. Terrorism in Europe is a part of life now."

(McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent Claudia Himmelreich contributed to this story.)

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