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U.S.: Germans Believe More Must Be Done Against Conventional Terror

  • Roland Eggleston

The impact of yesterday's terrorist attacks in the U.S. are being felt particularly keenly in Germany, RFE/RL's Munich correspondent, Roland Eggleston, reports.

Munich, 12 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Many Germans are believed to be among the victims of yesterday's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.

The U.S. offices of many high-profile German organizations and companies were located in the World Trade Center, among them Deutsche Bank, which rented four floors in the building. The German Foreign Ministry said today that it has received no word about survivors from these companies.

Many Germans are also stricken because tens of thousands of other Germans have relatives in the U.S. The "Onkel aus Amerika" is a common figure at any gathering in Germany.

More than 5,000 people went to the U.S. Embassy in Berlin last night with flowers or wreaths. Hundreds more visited consulates in other cities to leave the long-burning candles that Germans traditionally place on the graves of friends or relatives.

Trade union and employers' organizations have ordered a nationwide minute of silence in all factories and other workplaces. German TV stations expressed regret in this morning's programs that the World Football Association did not cancel last night's international football matches. Replays of the matches on German TV this morning were transmitted in silence, without commentary.

Many German terrorist experts say they believe yesterday's attacks were masterminded by the Saudi Arabian millionaire Osama bin Laden, who is believed to live in Afghanistan. But several note that the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 was carried out with military precision by a white, native-born American -- who was later executed. These same terrorism experts warn against looking only among the followers of bin Laden.

Other experts on international terrorism suggest that U.S. President George W. Bush and his advisers may have underestimated the threat of conventional terrorism amid concern about possible nuclear missile attacks by so-called rogue states such as Iraq, Libya, Iran, or North Korea. In recent months, the U.S. has focused on the need to build a missile shield to defend itself from such potential threats.

Professor Helena Werth, an expert in terrorist studies, notes that the thousands of people believed to have died in yesterday's attacks were basically the victims of terrorists believed now to have been armed only with knives.

"Perhaps more money should have been spent on hiring experts in terrorism. We invest -- or seek to invest -- in high technology, and what we had was a horrifying crime committed with low technology. Perhaps we should have interested ourselves more in protecting ourselves against that."

Another terrorist expert, Manfred Berg, told RFE/RL today that the West, Russia and other countries must cooperate even more closely now on fighting terrorism and develop new measures to defeat it. Among several measures he suggested was a tightening of the present laws against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

"Otherwise," he said, "one day we will find terrorists in possession of atomic, biological, or chemical weapons."

An RFE/RL correspondent in Munich found today that many Germans believe that the self-confidence of the United States has been shaken by the attack on its largest city and on the headquarters of the Defense Department, the Pentagon. They expect President Bush to take rapid measures to reassure Americans that terrorism will be severely punished.

Some Germans interviewed went further. They see the attack on the United States as an attack on traditional American and European values. Among them is Friedbert Pfluger, the chairman of the European Committee of the German parliament:

"I believe we are all in the same boat in the Western world. This was an attack against civilization, against human rights, against a Western culture based on the philosophy of the ancient world and Christianity. All these are under attack. We can protect them only if we act together -- and that includes together with Russia. We must act together."

Pfluger says he believes the attacks on the U.S. suggests that a clash of cultures is beginning to replace the clash of ideologies.

"It suggests that the conflicts of the 21st century will not be about ideology or national states. Instead there were be differences between cultures. We want a dialogue between the cultures, but if necessary we must be prepared to fight for our freedom."

Professor Karl Kaiser, leader of the Institute for Foreign Policy, says that while Europeans looked with horror on what had happened in New York and Washington, they should not make the mistake of thinking such crimes can take place only in the U.S.

"It would be very foolish to believe that we in Europe can build an island of peace and tranquility," Kaiser says. He said Europe should be more active in supporting the U.S. position on countries, such as Iraq, that Washington is convinced sponsor terrorism.

Like several others commentators, Kaiser says he believes the magnitude and the planning of the attacks on the United States could lead to a sharpening of controls in many spheres of life, even in Europe.

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