Germany’s parliament voted Friday to authorize the shooting down of aircraft to thwart September 11-style hijackers or deranged pilots.
The measure, giving the defense minister authority to issue such orders to the air force, was approved by deputies from Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democrats and their Greens coalition partners.
Opposition Christian Democrats voted against the law, saying it violated the constitution which limits the role of the armed forces within Germany’s borders. The government argued the constitution gave it sufficient scope, by permitting military action in a serious emergency.
“The armed forces and a majority of constitutional experts have said that the measure conforms with the constitution,” said Frank Hofmann, a Social Democrat member of parliament.
The government, rebuffing suggestions the law gives the defense minister a “license to kill,” said it was needed as a clear legal framework for how to react if an errant plane threatened to crash into a stadium, nuclear power plant or city.
The debate on air security in Germany picked up after a 31-year-old student brought Frankfurt to a terrified standstill last year by circling the financial capital in a light aircraft and threatening to crash it into the European Central Bank tower.
Investigators said the man had a morbid obsession with a U.S. woman astronaut killed in the 1986 space shuttle disaster. He was arrested on landing at Frankfurt’s main airport.
The new law prevents a fighter pilot from facing lawsuits for shooting down a civilian plane on orders. Fighter pilots will receive special psychological training to prepare them for the possibility of having to destroy a civilian plane to avert a September 11-style attack.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed when hijackers commandeered four commercial airliners over the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. Two slammed into the World Trade Center, one hit the Pentagon and the fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.