Acknowledging that Germany is home to hundreds of "potentially dangerous" Islamists, a senior German Interior Ministry official says he is worried terrorists may try to disrupt September's general election with attacks. As many as 100 Islamists are considered dangerous, Deputy Interior Minister August Hanning told the German daily Tagesspiegel last week. Among them are between 60 and 80 "Jihadists" who have returned to Germany after undergoing training in camps located near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Hanning, who formerly headed Germany's foreign intelligence network, the BND, said that in addition to the hard core of 100, another 300 Islamist radicals in Germany posed a "potential" threat.
Two years ago, authorities uncovered an al Qaeda plot to detonate car bombs near targets including Frankfurt Airport; the U.S. military's Ramstein Airbase; German civilian airports; a pub; and a nightclub. Germany has 3,500 troops in Afghanistan and several recent videos cite that as a justification for possible attacks. Some of those threats allude to Germany's upcoming elections, along with references to the March 11, 2004, bombings of Madrid commuter trains in which 191 people were killed. This has Hanning worried:
"The threats do not mention the elections directly. But for Jihadists in Pakistan the election is important because it will determine Germany's foreign policy in the future…. We remember that the attacks in Madrid in 2004 were carried out a few days before the election in Spain. …That really did affect the outcome of the elections….Al Qaeda sees this as a model for success."
The Madrid bombings, which occurred just three days before Spain went to the polls, arguably helped change the course of the country's 2004 elections. Prior to the bombings, incumbent Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar (a staunch ally of the Bush Administration) held a narrow lead in the polls. Aznar erroneously suggested that the Basque ETA (which had until then been the number one source of terrorism in Spain) had carried out the attacks. His opponent, Jose Maria Luis Zapatero, a leftist critic of the Bush Administration's policies in Iraq, cited Aznar's reaction as evidence that he was out of touch with reality and won the March 14 election.