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Terror threats fail to derail the party at Oktoberfest

AFP · 1 Oct 2009, 07:58

Published: 01 Oct 2009 07:58 GMT+02:00

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"Maybe the terrorists should come down and have a drink with us," suggested Bob Kalman, as he enjoyed a beer in one of the huge tents at Germany's world-famous Oktoberfest in Munich this week.

"It might solve a few of the world's problems if people got talking," the 30-year-old marketing manager originally from the Scottish city of Glasgow, now looking very Bavarian in his lederhosen, told AFP.

A string of threats against Germany by Islamic militants in the run-up to last Sunday's general election has prompted security to be stepped up around the country, including at Oktoberfest.

Police in the southern state say that since September 19, six videos have surfaced on the Internet threatening attacks unless Germany withdraws its 4,200 troops from Afghanistan.

In one of the videos, a man calling himself "Ajjub" and speaking in German, said it was only a matter of time "before jihad destroys German walls." Photos of famous German sites and events then appear in the video, including Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, Cologne's cathedral - and Munich's Oktoberfest.

In another, a German Islamist originally from Bonn called Bekkay Harrach or Abu Talha al-Almani says: "The time is ripe for Germany to finally understand that Afghanistan is not Germany's 17th state. Nor is it a beer tent to celebrate Oktoberfest in all year round."

At Oktoberfest, which every year attracts around six million visitors from all over the world, armed police were searching people as they came in, and cars were banned from parking nearby.

Private security guards were also searching people's bags as they entered the festival's immense tents, and once inside there was a visible security presence. There was also a large number of surveillance cameras.

On Thursday a light aircraft advertising beer caused minor panic among visitors after it flew over the site and circled around at low altitude, organisers said. Since then a no-fly zone has been in place over the festival.

Part of the security operation includes closer surveillance on Germany's Muslim community and German converts, with Munich police saying on Monday they were detaining two suspected Islamists until Oktoberfest ends on Sunday. Police last week carried out 20 raids in five of Germany's 16 states on suspected Islamists, a spokeswoman for Munich prosecutors office told AFP on Sunday.

Oktoberfest has seen violence before. On September 26, 1980 a homemade bomb thought to have been planted by a far-right extremist killed 13 people and injured 200, 68 of them seriously. But this year's drinkers were not letting anything spoil their fun.

Inside the tents a lively atmosphere reigned, as live music, singing and the sound of hefty glasses clunking together filled the air, together with the smell of roast pork.

On Wednesday afternoon, the tents also were filled with Juventus fans singing alongside Bayern Munich supporters before the evening's Champions League clash.

Story continues below…

"There is a much higher police presence this year than normal, but look around, everyone is having a great time and enjoying themselves," said Bob Kalman.

Susanne Seitz, 30, a communications manager from Munich in a traditional southern German dirndl dress agreed: "It won't spoil the party, people are having just as good a time as they have always done."

"The police are clearly doing all they can to protect us, but if it happens, I don't think there is really very much anyone can do about it," Seitz told AFP.

But there have been unexpected affects to all the extra security. Seitz said police appear to have virtually stopped fining people for being drunk on their bikes or not having their lights on while cycling.

"They seem to be more pre-occupied about catching the terrorists," she said.

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