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Europe

Security Discussions Rage across Europe

European Union countries have been caught up in a wave of discussion and debate since the Madrid bombings, with many at odds within their own governments over what action to take to prevent similar attacks on home soil.

Like many of Europe's interior ministers, Germany's Otto Schily faces tough decisions.

European Union countries have been caught up in a wave of discussion and debate since the Madrid bombings, with many at odds within their own governments over what action to take to prevent similar attacks on home soil.

The bombings that claimed 200 lives in Madrid last week and sent shockwaves around the world have caused a frenzy of activity and discussion about security within governments across Europe.

While the attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States were seen as a crime against an important ally, the events of March 11, 2004 have reminded European leaders that global terrorism can hit at home as well. Now, many are reassessing their own national security measures and the security of the EU as a whole.

In Germany on Sunday, Interior Minister Otto Schily called for a European Union summit to revise anti-terror measures across the bloc as soon as possible, appealing to the Irish EU presidency to convene a security meeting at the earliest convenience. As the likelihood of involvement by Islamic extremists in the Madrid bombings increases, Schily has urged EU leaders to come together and assess what he called a "growing and wider threat to European Union nations."

Such a meeting, which has been penciled in for March 22, would consist of interior ministers and security chiefs considering new measures to protect EU countries from terrorism. However, Schily warned of the possibility of causing panic and over-reaction in the wake of the attacks in Spain and said, "We must remain sensible." Krista Sager, leader of the Greens in the Bundestag, also warned about hasty legislation in the wake of the Madrid attacks, saying that "current events should not be used for party political gain."

German opposition calls for tighter immigration laws

Wolfgang Bosbach.

But elsewhere, the proximity of the Madrid bombings raised concern about Germany's position and attitude to possible new threats. Wolfgang Bosbach (photo) of the opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) demanded that the government "close evident security gaps" and referred to the strengthening of immigration laws in the fight on terror.

"This issue is inseparable from discussions on the immigration law," Bosbach told German broadcaster ARD. "We want to know whether the coalition is ready for changes in the rights of foreigners in a bid to increase security, and if yes, where in the law and in what capacity."

Bosbach was clear on where his party stood on the matter. "We want to facilitate the expulsion of extremist foreigners…and create the possibility to expel extremist foreigners even if they have not been prosecuted under criminal law." He added that a person who is found to be active in a prohibited extremist organization or has been involved in any action taken by such a group should be deported from the country. "This must be sufficient to expel that person."

At the moment, there are barriers to the expulsion process in Germany when the person involved is an approved asylum-seeker or a foreigner who is married to a German. Their expulsion is possible only for serious reasons such as issues concerning public security and order.

Afghan deployment puts Germany in cross-hairs

Guenther Beckstein, Innenminister in Bayern, wartet am Dienstag, 9. April 2002, auf die Eroeffnung im Verfahren zum Lebenspartnerschaftsgesetz vor dem Bundesverfassungsgericht in Karlsruhe. Der Erste Senat soll auf Antrag der unionsgefuehrten Laender Bayern, Sachsen und Thueringen ueberpruefen, ob das Gesetz ueber die eingetragene Lebenspartnerschaften verfassungskonform ist. Das Gesetz war am 1. August 2001 in Kraft getreten. ( AP Photo/Winfried Rothermel)

While many Spaniards continue to link the attacks in Madrid to their former government's stance on Iraq, Günther Beckstein (photo) from the Christian Social Union (CSU) warned that Germany's role in the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan had put the country "in the field of vision of Osama bin Laden." Agreeing that hysteria was counter-productive, Beckstein added that to give an "all-clear" on the status of threat posed against Germany would be worse. Friedbert Pflüger, CDU foreign policy spokesperson, added that "we are in the crosshairs of the terrorists."

However, Uwe Schünemann, the conservative minister of the interior for the state of Lower Saxony agreed with Otto Schily's statement at the weekend that that there was no evidence of imminent danger concerning attacks by Islamic extremists in Germany.

Countries consider threat

Other European Union countries were considering what action to take as concerns swept across the continent of a new campaign by al Qaeda, if indeed the Madrid bombings were the work of an affiliated group.

London commuters at an underground station.

Britain announced on Sunday that undercover counter-terrorism officers had been on the London Underground system since the beginning of this year. Simon Lubin, a spokesman for the transport police, told reporters that the move was not a response to the Madrid bombings and that there was no specific threat against the train system.

Poland, which joins the European Union in May, was considering its own future as a possible terrorist target. Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, the nation's intelligence chief, told state Radio 3 that the country could be in Islamic terrorists' sights. "We cannot escape the hypothesis that we are a target," Siemiatkowski said.

Polish troops discuss the possible deployment of the multinational force in south central Iraq.

Poland was one of the staunchest supporters of the Iraq war and now oversees 9,000 international peacekeepers in the country. Last year, Poland and Spain, also a U.S. ally in Iraq, were named as possible targets on a taped message attributed to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The country's lack of experience in dealing with terrorists could make it an easy place for them to hit, Siemiatkowski said. "We have untested structures and zero experience in reacting to this kind of event," he said.

Italy announced it was sending a team of police and security officials to Spain to collaborate on the investigation. The Interior Ministry said security in Italy appeared adequate but international collaboration in intelligence gathering and police investigations needed to be "reinforced."

In France, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin visited a train station to inspect newly tightened security measures and urged French people to watch for suspicious behavior. Since the Madrid bombings, France has boosted the number of soldiers at airports, train stations and other sites considered sensitive.

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