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Target Oktoberfest

29/09/2009

On Saturday, Bavarian police arrested two Islamists, who are suspected of wanting to carry out a terrorist attack against the Munich Oktoberfest.

The two suspects – Hatem M. and Marouane S. – are said to be associates of Bekkay Harrach, who appeared in a German language Al Qaeda video message last week. Harrach threatened Germany with terrorist attacks for the two weeks after the national elections, with footage of the Oktoberfest running in the background.

A day earlier, the German authorities declared the Oktoberfest a no-fly zone, with planes flying into Munich airport now having to bypass the city centre altogether.

All this clearly shows that the German authorities are extremely nervous at this point in time. But – in the words of my friend Thomas Hegghammer – ‘should they be?’

In Spiegel Online, Yassin Musharbash shows that the case against the two suspects is relatively weak. It certainly wouldn’t hold up in a court of law.

According to the police, the suspects – who had been under observation ever since Harrach’s video came out – started ‘behaving suspiciously’ in the two days prior to their arrest. The authorities believe that they had been incited by Harrach’s video message and were now trying to take action.

Another German source, who is intimately familiar with the Harrach case, tells me that he had never come across the names of the two suspects. He says that they are unlikely to be among the ‘really dangerous’ people with whom Harrach has associated.

None of this inspires great confidence. But I empathise with the German authorities, who are caught between a rock and a hard place.

Taking preventive action is always likely to stir controversy. At the same time, there are good reasons to believe that Germany is a priority target for Al Qaeda right now. For the time being, I am part of the ‘better safe than sorry’ camp…