Germany: Arab students witch-hunted
Germany: Arab students witch-hunted
By Dietmar Henning
6 October 2001
In the name of the fight against terrorism and internal security the
German state is increasing its powers at both national and regional level.
The first to feel the effects of this are students from Arab countries.
Following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington they are to be
regarded with general suspicion.
Since Monday, a profiling system has been used to comb the country for
alleged terrorists. Interior Ministers at federal and state level agreed
this measure last week. Fritz Behrens, the Interior Minister of North
Rhine Westphalia (Social Democratic Party, SPD) explained they had agreed
common criteria for the countrywide search.
The searches rely on computerised profiling methods, which were originally
developed in Germany in the 1970s under the then head of the Federal
Criminal Investigation Office (BKA) Horst Herold in the course of the hunt
for members of the Red Army Faction (RAF). Searches using this method
ignore all considerations of data privacy. Not only do such searches
compare data from different official bodies, such as the residents
registration office, alien affairs, social security and traffic
department, but they review data from sources that state agents would not
normally have access to, such as the health insurance companies, the
customer records of real estate agents, builders and utility companies.
Among the criteria used for searches in the 1970s was whether someone had
paid the rent, water and electricity bills in advance and in cash, but had
actually used little electricity and water. Data about hundreds of
thousands of innocent people was studied. Twenty-five years ago the
suspension of data security provisions and the right to privacy, with
anyone who did not fit into the normal pattern being suspect, was
justified by extolling the fight against the terrorism of the RAF.
However, the legal basis for searches based on profiling methods was only
laid in 1992 in Paragraph 98a of the criminal code. Since then profiling
is permitted, if there are sufficient factual reference points to show
that a substantial criminal offence was committed. Moreover, the
arrangements must be presented to a judge.
The Interior Ministers conference also agreed uniform procedures in this
regard. As Interior Minister Behrens indicated, one police station in each
state will submit a request to the responsible court on Monday to organise
a search based on profiling methods. Furthermore, the governing Social
Democrats in Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein plan to change state laws
as soon as possible, in order to be able to use profiling, as this method
was not included in their previous state constitution.
Immediately after the terrorist attacks occurred in the USA and the first
clues pointed to Hamburg University, the majority of Germanys 16 states
began inquiries based on the racial profiling of Arab students. Beside
Hamburg, the Berlin city government, presently headed by an SPD-Green
Party administration, also introduced profiling. In Berlin, the state
criminal police agency called for data on 400 students at the Technical
University. Police officers also visited the Free University and the
Information that was checked included students addresses, their occupation
and residency status as well as their religion. A Berlin district court
revealed that these records were to be compared with other data: such as
information from power utilities, atomic energy installations,
institutions that used dangerous chemical, biological and/or radiological
materials, and also airlines and elsewhere.
The students concerned all have one thing in common: They are all male and
originate from one of 14 specific Arab states or Pakistan. While student
representatives justifiably spoke angrily of a witch-hunt and liability
based on kinship, Berlins Justice Senator, Green Party member Wolfgang
Wieland, tried to calm things down saying he thought that use of the term
profiling in this case was unfortunate.
Wielands position is not exceptional. There was not a single word of
protest from any state legislature, whether under the control of the
Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU), the Free
Democrats (FDP), the Greens, the SPD, or the Party of Democratic Socialism
(PDS, successors to the former ruling party in East Germany).
Recent events show quite clearly that a witch-hunt is being pursued. Last
week Lower Saxonys Interior Minister Heiner Bartling (SPD) described the
criteria, which in his opinion should be employed in combing data for
alleged terrorists. Young Muslim men, who are probably predominantly
foreigners and are living in Germany legally, were here to study at
university or technical college, who possessed certain technical abilities
and had contacts with foreign countries, he said. Such a profile could
apply to a large section of the over 40,000 students who originate from
countries where the majority follow the Islamic faith.
Horst Haug, spokesman for the state criminal police agency in
Baden-Wuerttemberg, reduced these criteria to the simple formula, the
terrorists were extremely inconspicuous, because those concerned were
sleepers, those who did not appear suspicious should be suspected.
Moreover, Haug named the following reference points for suspicious
behaviour: Those who constantly received visitors in the evening, who
creep along the stairway without being heard, who park their car around
the corner, so that it cannot be seen.
The Sueddeutsche Zeitung commented: These days, it is enough to be of Arab
origin to come into the sights of the terrorist hunters from the FBI, or
[Germanys] Federal Criminal Investigation Office and secret service.
The creation of such an atmosphere towards foreigners opens the door for
hysteria and denunciation. Karl-Heinz Weber, deputy leader of the state
criminal police agency in Rhineland-Palatinate provided a further insight:
All leads provided by the general population are being investigated with
the utmost care. Weber said this creates a lot of work for the state
police, because the information provided was multi-facetted. The
authorities were receiving statements from the public such as, this person
seems suspicious to me, but were also being given concrete clues. For
example, one person reported seeing three men of Arab origin, who stood at
a street corner and gesticulated violently, which Weber said we would then
investigate something like that.
The September 25 edition of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported the search
of an apartment of a student in Muenster conducted by the state agencies
there, because building workers said they had seen a Palestinian flag and
headdress, as well as photos and the Koran. No connections were confirmed
between the suspicious tenant and the terrorists who had flown the planes
in the US.
Nevertheless, the search of this particular students flat had consequences
for some 2,500 other foreign students living in the 23 student hostels in
Muenster. Staff from the student administration checked the names of all
the inhabitants over the following days, comparing names on mailboxes and
doorbells with the tenant register. According to the student
administration, whose constitution binds it to neutrality concerning the
views of political and religious groups, events have shown the dangers of
anonymous blocks of flats, which must sweep aside any accusations of
prejudice or even xenophobia.
So far, several arrests made in Germany over the last week have not
produced any leads in the investigations being made into the terrorist
attacks in the USA. Three alleged Islamic fundamentalists from Turkey and
the Yemen were arrested in Wiesbaden, accused of belonging to a terrorist
organisation. Present knowledge confirms the original suspicions that the
accused had intended to prepare and execute future attacks in Germany, the
Federal Prosecutors Office claimed.
Another preliminary investigation was initiated into a group of people of
Arab origin living in Hamburg. However, in this case as well, no
connection has been shown to those responsible for the terrorist attacks.
It is claimed that the suspicion exists that one or more of the group
belong to a terrorist organisation, but more exact information, regarding
which group or what actions were being planned, was not given.
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