Germany backs navy's bigger role

It will be authorised to stop, search and seize gang-operated vessels and detain suspects

BERLIN • Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet agreed yesterday to expand the role of the German navy in the Mediterranean Sea to include efforts to stop arms headed to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants in Libya, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said.

The German decision comes days after the European Union (EU) gave its naval force the authority to search suspicious vessels as part of its five-frigate "Sophia" mission, which is also seeking to break up gangs smuggling migrants to Europe.

Parliament is expected to approve the move before it adjourns for the summer at the end of this month, according to government sources. The mandate also covers work to help Libya build up a coastal patrol and navy.

Ms Von der Leyen told reporters the expanded EU and German missions followed a United Nations decision to reinforce an arms embargo on Libya, where ISIS fighters operate.

Germany has thus far participated in the EU mission with a logistics ship, and about 950 German soldiers have helped rescue about 15,000 people at sea since May last year, according to the German military.

Once approved by Parliament, yesterday's decision means German ships will be able to stop, search and seize larger vessels used by gangs transporting migrants, and take suspects into custody, the sources said. In cases of suspected arms smuggling, they will also be able to search ships transiting to and from Libya, they added.

Ms Von der Leyen said there were still some legal issues to resolve regarding Germany's expanded role, but the Cabinet decision and expected parliamentary approval would allow the German military to begin detailed planning for the bigger role.

Meanwhile, the Swiss authorities have taken a suspected ISIS leader into custody, broadcaster SRF reported yesterday, calling it the first arrest of a senior figure from a Salafist ring based in the northern city of Winterthur.

The man, a Muslim convert identified only by the letter S, is being held in investigative custody while the authorities check his suspected role in radicalising and recruiting young people to fight with ISIS, the report said. Federal prosecutors would not confirm the report.

After deadly terror attacks in France and Belgium, the Swiss authorities are monitoring the social media activity of about 400 possible ISIS operatives who might pose a security threat, the Swiss federal intelligence service said last month.

Separately, the Swiss government said yesterday that it had taken steps to improve counter-terrorism measures, including plans to allow the police to conduct covert surveillance and make suspects regularly report to a police station.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2016, with the headline 'Germany backs navy's bigger role'. Subscribe