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Germany plays down terror warnings: No reason to be ‘alarmist’

By Reuters
Monday, October 4, 2010 12:32 EDT
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The German government played down on Monday U.S. and British warnings about the heightened risk of terrorist attacks on Europe, with Berlin saying there were no immediate signs of a threat against Germany.

“There are currently no indications of any immediate threat of attacks planned against Germany,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters. “There is no reason whatsoever to be alarmist at the moment.”

But de Maiziere, who said he was in close contact with security agencies, said there was a general abstract danger and Germany remained a target.

The minister, a senior figure in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats, said the targets identified in a U.S. news broadcast have been known for more than two years.

“There’s no change in the situation,” he said.

The U.S. State Department on Sunday issued an alert warning American citizens to exercise caution if traveling in Europe. Britain raised the threat level to “high” from “general” for its citizens traveling to Germany and France.

The plot that triggered the alerts involved al Qaeda and allied militants, possibly including European citizens or residents, intelligence sources said last week. They said the militants were plotting coordinated attacks on European cities.

Germany has long viewed itself as a target because it has 4,590 military personnel stationed in Afghanistan, making it the third largest contingent of the 150,000-strong international force fighting the Taliban-led insurgency.

Germany has been largely spared terror attacks by Islamic militants, even though the leaders of the 9/11 attacks on the United States in 2001 were students based in Germany.

In 2002, 14 Germans were among the 20 killed in a suicide attack on a synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia. In 1986, two American soldiers were killed and scores hurt in a bomb attack at the “La Belle” nightclub in West Berlin that was linked to Libya.

Earlier this year, three Islamist militants who admitted planning “a monstrous bloodbath” in 2007 with foiled car bomb attacks on U.S. targets in Germany were convicted of conspiracy to murder and belonging to a foreign terrorist organization.

The three Germans and one Turk were sentenced to between five and 12 years in jail 2007. Members of the radical Islamic Jihad Union, they had identified discos and airports including the U.S. Ramstein air base as possible targets.

Joerg Ziercke, head of Germany’s BKA Federal Crime Office, said last month more than 400 Islamist radicals were living in Germany, some of whom had trained in camps overseas, including a hard core with combat experience in Afghanistan. Police had seen a rise in German residents moving to and from the camps.

(Additional reporting by Thorsten Severin; writing by Stephen Brown and Erik Kirschbaum)

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