By Joseph Nasr and Andrea Shalal
BERLIN, UEDEM, Germany (Reuters) - Germany's Defence Minister said on Thursday the country lay in the "crosshairs of terrorism" and pressed plans for the military to train more closely with police in preparing for potential large-scale militant attacks.
Ursula von der Leyen, speaking at an operations center in the town of Uedem near the Dutch border, said military and police already worked together on disaster response and to defend against 9/11-style attacks and chemical and biological threats; but it was critical to meet changing circumstances.
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"The debate about using the military domestically is important simply because we are now pragmatically preparing for situations that we could not imagine before the attacks in Paris and Brussels," von der Leyen told reporters. "We all know that Germany has long been in the crosshairs of terrorism ... We have to be prepared."
Islamist militants killed 130 people in simultaneous attacks in Paris last November. In March, attackers killed 32 in attacks on Brussels airport and a metro station.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, speaking in Berlin, said Germany must spend considerably more on its police and security forces, create a special unit to counter cyber crime and terrorism, and clamp down on foreigners convicted of crimes.
SUCCESSOR TO MERKEL?
De Maiziere rejected calls by interior ministers in some of Germany's 16 states to abolish rules allowing the children of foreigners born in Germany to have dual citizenship. He said he would not seek to ban head-to-toe burqas worn by Muslim women as demanded by some fellow conservative politicians.
Germany is debating security measures including domestic use of military forces after a spate of attacks on civilians, two claimed by the Islamic State group, and a mass shooting in Munich initially seen as a possible terrorist attack. It was later found to be the work of an 18-year-old deranged gunman.
The use of the military at home is a sensitive matter.
Von der Leyen triggered questions when she put a unit of 100 military police on alert for possible deployment during the Munich shooting. Germany’s postwar constitution, intended to protect democracy after the Nazi era, forbids the army from deploying at home, except for defense against invasion or in case of natural disasters or extreme emergencies.
Von der Leyen and de Maiziere are seen as most likely successors to Chancellor Angela Merkel. De Maiziere was the last defense minister but demoted by Merkel to Interior Minister. He has however won widespread praise for his steady handling of recent attacks.
Von der Leyen said German police would retain responsibility for responding to any such attacks. But she said she would meet at the end of the month with de Maiziere and state interior ministers to discuss joint training of police and military.
Von der Leyen said the military could help police forces strained by attacks that hit several different areas at once, instead of requesting reinforcements from France, Austria or other countries.
"In such extraordinary situations, the military would then legally be in charge, under the leadership of the police," she said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Ralph Boulton)