BERLIN, April 1 (UPI) -- In a major shift to its security policy, Germany says it is now willing to accept inmates held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
German news magazine Der Spiegel said in its latest edition that the country's new Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, with backing from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, is pushing for the acceptance of "a few" of the 190 inmates remaining in the U.S.-run military detention center at Guantanamo Bay. The inmates could be moved to Germany within weeks, the news magazine said. Former Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble had opposed such a plan on security grounds.
The candidates for relocation to Germany include Mohammed Tahamuttan, a 30-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank who was arrested in Pakistan; Ahmed Mohammed al-Shurfa, a Jordanian who had traveled to Afghanistan in the summer of 2001 and was arrested there shortly after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; and Mahmoud Salim al-Ali, a Syrian who was arrested in Kabul.
A delegation of German security and immigration experts recently visited the prisoners in Guantanamo, the magazine writes. The Germans interrogated the inmates to assess whether there were security risks if they were transferred to Germany.
The plan, lauded by human rights groups, is proving unpopular even within the chancellor's party bloc. Lawmakers and state politicians fear that the former inmates are extremists or were radicalized because of their stay in Guantanamo.
Der Spiegel writes that Merkel's entire parliamentary group rejects the government's plans.
"No one can be naive enough to bring potential al-Qaida helpers into our country," Alexander Dobrindt, a senior conservative from Bavaria, told the news magazine. "There are no innocent lambs sitting in Guantanamo."
The European Union said last year it would assist Washington in closing Guantanamo but left it open to individual member states when it comes to accepting prisoners.
U.S. President Barack Obama wants to close the prison as soon as possible. He has asked America's allies to take in inmates who are deemed not to be threats but can't return to their home countries because they could face abuse or torture or because their governments are unwilling to take them back.
Washington succeeded in resettling prisoners in Saudi Arabia, Palau and Bermuda and in European nations including Spain, Switzerland, Britain and Ireland.
While German politicians have frequently called for the closure of Guantanamo, the German government had resisted calls to resettle inmates. Berlin refused to take in a group of Uighurs, Muslim separatists from China who would face persecution if they returned home. It also denied a request for two male inmates from Syria and Tunisia for security concerns.