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Germany plans huge security overhaul after Berlin attack

Seeking quicker expulsions of illegal migrants

BERLIN: In this file photo taken on December 19, 2016 shows German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere during a press conference with his new French counterpart on December 19, 2016. — AFP

BERLIN: Germany’s interior minister yesterday outlined plans for a security services overhaul, seeking greater federal powers on domestic intelligence and quicker expulsions of illegal migrants following the Berlin truck attack. Thomas de Maiziere also called for giving federal police wider oversight across the country’s 16 states, and for a new national crisis management centre to be set up.

“We don’t have federal jurisdiction to deal with national catastrophes. The jurisdiction for the fight against international terrorism is fragmented,” he wrote in a guest column for the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “The federal police’s scope of action is restricted to railway stations, airports and border controls,” he wrote, stressing that “it is time” to reexamine Germany’s security set-up.

Policing and domestic intelligence services in Germany are currently decentralized and controlled by the country’s 16 states. The plans for a sweeping reform come after a series of embarrassing security failures, with the December 19 attack training a spotlight on the gaps. After Tunisian suspect Anis Amri allegedly rammed a truck into a crowded Christmas market, killing 12, it swiftly emerged that the asylum seeker had slipped through the net of security services.

Amri, 24, who was days later shot dead by Italian police, had been under surveillance since March, but German police dropped their watch in September thinking he was a small-time drug dealer. The failed asylum seeker should also have been deported months ago but Tunisia did not provide the necessary paperwork until after the attack.
Deportation centers

De Maiziere also said federal detention centers should be set up to hold rejected asylum seekers and illegal immigrants in the period leading up to their expulsion. In order to close security gaps, federal police must be given wider powers, the minister said.
“The current remit of the federal police is too limited,” he said. “We need a set of common rules and better coordination, for instance in checking dangerous individuals.” The federal government should also take charge of domestic intelligence services, he said, noting that trouble-makers do not seek to disrupt only one state but the country as a whole.

But de Maiziere’s suggestions quickly drew criticism, including from Ralf Jaeger, the interior minister of Germany’s most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia, who opposes removing state control over domestic intelligence services. The Social Democratic Party’s parliamentary chief Thomas Oppermann also accused de Maiziere of heading down a radical path with the security overhaul. The Islamophobic and rightwing Populist Party AfD meanwhile claimed credit for the planned measures, saying it had been seeking such reforms for months.

Security failings
De Maiziere is a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is running for a fourth term in a general election expected in September. Her government came under fire in the wake of the December 19 attack for its liberal border policy, which has allowed in more than one million asylum seekers since 2015, and for allowing Amri to slip through the net despite documented security concerns.

The December attack was only one of several cases last year that exposed security failings in Germany. In October, police botched an attempt to arrest a Syrian bomb plot suspect.  The man was finally caught after a nationwide manhunt, thanks to Syrian asylum seekers who detained him but was later found hanged in his cell. And in November, Germany’s domestic spy service unmasked a Spanish-born agent in its own ranks as a suspected Islamist. Media reports said he was also a former gay porn actor. – AFP

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