- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2005

COLOGNE, Germany — Plans to give away 370,000 small backpacks — a device favored by urban suicide bombers — at next week’s World Youth Day featuring Pope Benedict XVI is prompting concern among security-minded officials.

Organizers are handing out the backpacks to those who register for the event.

The navy-and-baby-blue backpacks come stuffed with a rosary, a book of songs and prayers, bandages and bottled water.

Officials worry terrorists might pack them with explosives the way the London and Madrid bombers did.

“There have been no concrete threats,” Interior Minister Otto Schily said Wednesday, but security is still tight.

Mindful of recent bombings in London, Egypt and Madrid, authorities are boosting security for the German-born pontiff and hundreds of thousands of pilgrims expected for World Youth Day.

Cologne police are being joined by officers from other forces around the country, along with police from Portugal, France and Italy.

About 30 canine units trained in sniffing for explosives will also be on hand, Cologne officials and organizers said. German soldiers are also being drafted to help.

The city has been running drills in advance of the event, which begins Wednesday and runs to Aug. 21 and is expected to draw at least 800,000 participants, along with more than 6,000 journalists.

Officials won’t say if pilgrims will be searched, but undercover police and others will be monitoring the crowds.

World Youth Day spokeswoman Barbara Marnach said organizers are mindful of the London bombings, but have no plans to cancel the backpack giveaway.

“They will be handed out in the parishes and to those who have registered,” she said.

Ingo Wolf, the interior minister of Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia state, said more than 12,000 police, firefighters and civil defense officers from around Germany will be on the job during the event.

The figure does not include security forces coming from outside the country or the German troops assigned to protect it.

“In a free society, there always has to be a balance between security and freedom,” Mr. Wolf said. “We want to be good hosts, but at the same time also guarantee the best possible security.”

NATO will send Airborne Warning And Control System planes to help patrol the skies over Cologne at the German government’s request.

The high-point of the gathering will be an open-air Mass on Aug. 21 led by the pope at the 640-acre Marienfeld, a former open-pit coal mine.

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