BERLIN — Revelations that a Tunisian man who is considered a “dangerous jihadist” and may have served as a bodyguard to Osama bin Laden in 2000 has been living for years in a western German city have ignited a debate over the difficulties faced by the German authorities in trying to curtail the activities of potential Islamic extremists.
The man, identified only as Sami A., in accordance with German privacy laws, has been under observation by intelligence services in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia for eight years, said a spokeswoman for the state Interior Ministry. He is idolized by young Muslims in the region for having attended a training camp of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said the spokeswoman, Birgit Axler.
She denied news media allegations that the authorities had not moved strongly enough against the Tunisian, insisting that “we are using every possible law to limit Sami A.’s activities as much as possible.”
So far, that has meant that Sami A., 36, is required to check in daily with the police in the western city of Bochum, where he lives, and must request permission for any travel.
The Bochum immigration authorities failed in 2009 to revoke his residency permit when a higher court ruled that his relationship to his wife, a German, and three children was important enough to override concerns about his activities as a radical Muslim preacher. The city has challenged the ruling in the state’s highest court, which is expected to issue a final decision later this year, Ms. Axler said.
A name similar to Sami A. does not appear on the United Nations’ current list of Qaeda figures, nor is one listed among the handful of men believed to have served as bodyguards to Bin Laden. But the local news media and members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right party still insist that stronger action be taken against him.
Peter Biesenbach, the deputy chairman for the Christian Democrats in North Rhine-Westphalia, called Tuesday for an “offensive response from the relevant security officials,” the German news agency dpa reported.
In its most recent report, released last month, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency said it considered about 38,000 of the estimated four million Muslims living in the country potential extremists.
Sami A., Ms. Axler said, falls into that group and is considered one of about 50 potential extremists in the state who preach an ultraconservative form of Islam known as Salafism and are under police observation. In May, a group of Salafist youths attacked the police during a demonstration in Bonn in which 29 people were injured.
In May 2007, federal prosecutors, citing a lack of concrete evidence, dropped an investigation into allegations that Sami A. belonged to a foreign terrorist organization.
Security experts point out that living with the threat of potential terrorist cells has become part of a new domestic security problem facing European societies in the post-Sept. 11 world. Unless the authorities can prove that individuals who are known or believed to be radical members of any group have broken the law, they have to be observed, but not arrested.
“If we want to live in a functioning modern society that is based on the rule of law, we have to accept there are weak spots that some want to exploit,” said Michael Bauer, a terrorism expert at Munich University’s Center for Applied Policy. “If we don’t want to give up our system, this is simply something that we have to accept.”
Really, is that the choice? "If we want to live in a functioning modern socdiety that is based on the rule of law" Germans, and French, and British, and Italians, and Dutch, and Danish, and all the others, can do nothing about this unprecedented threat, based on an immutable ideology which, at any moment, for any number of reasons, may prompt some to conduct Jihad through violence against the non-Muslims among whom they have been allowed to settle? Nothing at all? Why can't laws be changed so that those who are deemed to be the most dangerous -- those 38.000 Muslims for example, mentioned in the article -- are deported. And if they have "German wives" and "German children" - it's the easiest thing in the world to find some domestic ditz who will marry you, and thereby to offer you, as in this case, protection -- then change the law. For god's sake, marrying a "German" should not make you exempt from deportation. If the German (probably Muslim) spouse, and the German (almost certainly Muslim) children, wish to follow you, let them.
A failure of intelligence, a want of imagination -- by too many all over the Western world.