September 26, 2014 / 5:05 PM / 5 years ago

Germany plans tougher controls on would-be jihadists

BERLIN (Reuters) - The German government plans tougher controls on would-be jihadists such as marking personal identity cards to alert border guards that the traveller may be en route to join the Islamic State militant group.

An interior ministry spokeswoman said some kind of marking on identity cards could identify suspected jihadists so border guards in Germany or other Schengen countries such as Belgium or the Netherlands could prevent them from leaving.

Germans can also use their identity cards to enter Turkey, a main transit point for militants travelling to Syria to join Islamic State, so border guards there could also spot them.

“We have to prevent fanatics from leaving Germany and heading to Middle Eastern crisis points to join the terror,” said Burkhard Lischka, an interior affairs spokesman for the Social Democrats, junior partners in Angela Merkel’s coalition government.

Thousands of Western volunteers have travelled to the Middle East to join militant groups including Islamic State. The trend has raised fears in Europe and the United States of attacks by returning fighters.

German security authorities say about 400 German citizens have joined Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and about 40 have died, at least five in suicide attacks. More than 130 are believed to have returned, 25 of whom had direct combat experience.

Although authorities can confiscate passports, all German citizens are obliged to carry an identity card which cannot be confiscated, and these suffice to enter some foreign countries including Turkey.

Berlin is also preparing to change legislation to make it a crime to attend a militant training camp. In the past, this was only considered an offence if plans to stage an attack could also be proved.

The government is also considering withdrawing German citizenship from suspected Islamist militants if they hold dual nationality.

Several returnees from Syria have been arrested in recent weeks, and at least 30 are facing trial. Others are monitored by intelligence services.

Police in the western town of Essen on Friday said they had arrested a 21-year-old man who spent time with Islamic State in Syria, on suspicion of having committed serious crimes.

German’s foreign ministry on Friday warned Germans abroad of a heightened risk of attack or kidnap in some African, Asian and Middle Eastern states where there are Islamic militants sympathetic to Islamic State.

Al Qaeda-linked militants in the southern Philippines threatened on Wednesday to kill two German hostages they have been holding since April. The foreign ministry said it was working on the case and threats would not influence German foreign policy.

Reporting by Thorsten Severin and Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Robin Pomeroy

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