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17 November 2001

Computer-Aided Search for Unidentified Terrorists: What were the Criteria?

Police give indications at a panel discussion on "The University of Heidelberg after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11"

At a podium discussion organized by Heidelberg University, Karl-Heinz Ruff, head of Heidelberg's criminal investigation department, spelled out concerns shared by many students at the University. Critics of a more restrictive security policy fear, he said, "that the new anti-terror legislation will mean that Germany will forfeit the balance it has achieved between the claims of freedom and security and return to a police and surveillance state."

In a public statement, the Rectorate has made it clear that it takes fears about such negative repercussions of the terrorist attacks very seriously. It is equally determined to join forces with the authorities in thwarting criminal acts of any kind. At the same time it is adamant in pursuing the objective of countering blanket suspicion and prejudice against fellow citizens of the Islamic faith or Arab origins.

Still top of the priority list for the University is the bid for greater internationalisation, for example by providing more courses in English and by deepening existing scholarly and scientific contacts all over the world. The University of Heidelberg will remain a location for the free exchange of ideas. "Islamic students are an enrichment for the University," said vice-rector for international relations, Prof. Dr. Angelos Chaniotis, himself initially a "foreigner" in Heidelberg.

But ill-defined fears need to be addressed and allayed. What exactly the criteria were for inclusion in the computer-aided search for unidentified terrorists was something that not only students were keen to hear more about. For obvious reasons, Karl-Heinz Ruff was unwilling to be too specific on the point. He did however make reference to a case in Lower Saxony, where the investigators' attentions had focussed on two students from abroad. According to press reports, the phone number of one of them had been found in documents connected with Mohamed Atta, while the other had disappeared without trace since September after taking flying lessons in Lower Saxony.

"On the basis of investigations in connection with the 'Hamburg terrorists' Jarrah, Atta and Al-Shehhi, a search profile emerged indicating a possible 'sleeper'," said Ruff. All in all, one thing became clear from the discussion: the computer search for unidentified terrorists is not a witch-hunt victimising students from Islamic countries but a systematic bid to put the finger on criminals.

Michael Schwarz

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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Updated: 06.12.2001


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