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Frankfurt Tightens Security
By Andreas Tzortzis
FRANKFURT. The financial heart of Germany and one of Europe's most important transport hubs, Frankfurt could present an inviting target to any potential terrorist attacks, security experts say.
So when the unthinkable happened in New York and Washington two weeks ago, officials in Frankfurt set about preparing for the worst, largely under a cloak of secrecy.
"It's a completely new situation," said Peter Öhm, spokesman for the Frankfurt police department.
In one widely noted measure, the department has closed the street, and set up an armored truck and giant bins, outside the U.S. Consulate in order to guard against the possibility that someone might want to ram a truck bomb into the building. It has also increased the police presence around buildings associated with Israeli or Jewish organizations in the city.
In Frankfurt's main train station, Federal Border Guard officers, some with their muzzled dogs, patrol in greater numbers and more frequently. The number of police on city streets has also increased, though Mr. Öhm would not say by how many.
"I don't want to speculate what, when and where, but we know that we're in a special place here," he said. "We know we can't put our feet up and watch television and drink a beer."
The news that at least three of the hijackers used Germany as a base to plan the attacks, combined with recent reports that as many as 100 possible terrorists are currently living within the country's borders, have increased the anxiety level of all security officials.
"We have no knowledge that any of the perpetrators lived in Frankfurt, thank God," said Edwin Schwarz, who heads the city's planning and security department. "But I can't rule out that with an escalation of violence ... Frankfurt, as an international city, with the European Central Bank here, will be threatened."
Most German states, including Hesse, where Frankfurt is located, have passed emergency legislation allowing them to use computer databases to "profile" potential terrorists living in Germany. Frankfurt police officials have already reexamined the arrests of four suspected Islamic fundamentalists taken into custody last June.
Representatives of some mosques have reported that police have come by asking them to keep their eyes open. Mr. Öhm said more officers have also been stationed around mosques in an effort to deter potential hate crimes against Muslims.
"An action can also prompt a reaction," said Mr. Schwarz. "There are confused people on the other side who can't differentiate among Muslims, and would want to take revenge."
Now, with German politicians giving full support to any American-led retaliatory strike against terrorist organizations, officials must operate on the assumption that the odds on Frankfurt being targeted have increased.
"I couldn't have imagined, in my worst dreams, that such an attack on the World Trade Center in New York City was possible. That was for me unthinkable," Mr. Schwarz said. "But now I have to think of everything as possible."
The possibility has prompted a wave of new security measures at banks and private companies across the city. At a minimum, thousands of employees now have to put up with more controls by guards as they enter and exit buildings; gone are the days when many security guards were willing to just wave in anyone with a familiar face.
The ECB has barred anyone from entering through its revolving doors, said spokesman Niels Bünemann. He declined to elaborate on any other measures, but said the bank's private security officials, like scores of private firms across the city, are in almost daily contact with city and state police.
The attacks have provided increased business for major security firms like Securitas and IHS. But spokesman said they could not divulge how much more business the terrorist attacks have brought them.
"Everything has completely changed since the terror attacks," said Carmen Barbas, of IHS. "That you can definitely say." Sep. 26
© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 2001
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), September 26, 2001