German authorities have announced the break up of a terrorist ring that was targeting both an American base in Germany and the Frankfurt airport. The alleged terrorists had been under surveillance for several months and the initial reports seem to indicate that the plot was serious.
Unfortunately manipulation of fear over terrorist attacks has become de rigeur, and it feels necessary to look at his plot with a skeptical eye. On the one hand, the threat here appears to have been real and German authorities have said the attack may have been imminent. On the other hand, the surveillance of the suspects was so close that in July police were able to swap out tanks of hydrogen peroxide, a component of the bombs the terrorists intended to explode, with tanks containing a more diluted mixture. Furthermore, the sting comes shortly before a vote on whether to maintain German troop levels in Iraq and the anniversary of 9/11, as well as an American appraisal of the effectiveness of the surge.
Does the proximity to these events lessen the seriousness of the threat? Certainly not, if the threat’s validity stands up under further inspection; but we here in America know that terrorist threats are often trumped up at the outset, only to crumble under scrutiny, such as the Florida ring or the supposed threat from dirty bombs.
There is a further issue here: Europe’s problem with homegrown terrorist threats. Here in America we are constantly told that we need to fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here. But European countries have been dealing with threats from their own citizens, not foreigners. If internal elements are capable of being radicalized then external events and conditions, such as the Iraq war or the Israeli occupation of Palestine, act to water these seeds of radicalization. In such a situation, we get the inverse of the standard line: by providing rallying points for Islamic militants such as the Iraq war the threat of domestic terrorism, at least in European countries, is actually increased.
The threat of terrorism is a confusing morass where up can become down and left becomes right. We should be thankful that this particular threat was negated, but we should be wary of those who use it to push their own agenda or ideology. What we do know is that surveillance and evidence gathering worked here, and a potentially terrible event has been diverted.
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