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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 November, 2003, 19:17 GMT
German plan to down hijack planes
11 September attacks on World Trade Center
Two planes were flown into the World Trade Center in 2001
The German cabinet has approved plans to allow hijacked aircraft to be shot down in order to prevent a terror attack.

Germany's ruling coalition agreed that the power could only be used if a plane had failed to respond to other attempts to halt it.

The federal government, not the military, will make the decision to act under the terms of the bill, which still needs parliamentary approval.

The move follows the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US involving four hijacked airliners.

Germany had its own air attack scare in January when a disturbed student stole a small plane and flew around Frankfurt for two hours threatening to crash into the European Central Bank.

Last resort

The coalition of Social Democrats and Greens is expected to begin developing a new draft of the country's air security laws based on the agreement between the parties.

Defence Minister Peter Struck explained that an aircraft considered to be a possible threat should first be forced off course and made to land.

I'm thankful that the cabinet has created the necessary clarity empowering me if necessary to order an airplane to be shot down
Peter Struck
German Defence Minister
Warning shots could then be fired and if that failed, the aircraft could be shot down as a last resort.

Volker Beck of the Greens said: "Weapons may only be used in cases in which nothing else works and it is clear that the plane will be used against people.

"The appropriateness of the means is the key criterion."

The defence minister said the law would prevent a fighter pilot from facing lawsuits for shooting down a civilian plane.

Mr Struck said fighter aircraft could be airborne within eight minutes of an alarm being raised, and could reach any point in German airspace within 10 to 15 minutes.

He said that, as in the United States, fighter pilots received special psychological training in case they were required to destroy a civilian plane in order to avert an 11 September-style attack.

Suspicious aircraft

Last month, US Air Force General Ralph Eberhart told reporters pilots practised shooting down civilian airliners "several times a week" in case they were called upon to act against a suspicious civilian aircraft.

However he said a careful chain of command and identification was in place to order such action and that it would be a last resort.

US airline pilots are also being allowed to carry handguns on domestic flights - a measure introduced in the wake of 11 September to protect crews and passengers from hijack attempts.

A US programme of putting "sky marshals" on aircraft has expanded substantially since 11 September, although the exact number of involved is classified.

They fly carefully chosen missions, sometimes at an hour's notice in response to new terror threats.

The UK has a facility for introducing "sky marshals" if the authorities consider it necessary.

Aviation and maritime safety legislation empowers the UK authorities introduce security measures depending on the perceived level of threat.

Fighting terror in America's skies
30 Aug 02  |  Americas
Country profile: Germany
15 Jun 03  |  Country profiles

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