German Terrorist Plot Foiled
German and U.S. authorities have thwarted what a massive Islamist terrorist plot against about to be launched against American targets in Germany.
FT‘s Hugh Williamson:
German security forces have prevented a terror attack in Germany that could have been more deadly than the Madrid and London bombings, top security officials said on Wednesday.
Police on Tuesday arrested three men who had planned simultaneous car bomb attacks against US military and civil targets, such as pubs and discos, Monika Harms, federal chief prosecutor, said at a press conference in Karlsruhe. The men — two Germans who had converted to Islam and a Turkish national — are alleged members of ‘Islamic Jihad Union’, a little known terror group linked to Al Qaeda that has its roots in Uzbekistan, Ms Harms said.
The group had obtained 12 barrels of liquid weighing 730kg to be used in preparing explosives. This could have resulted in the equivalent of 550kg of TNT, Ms Harms added. “This was one of the most serious terror attacks ever planned in Germany” she said. “There could have been a very big death toll” as the amount of explosives exceeded those used in the Madrid subway bombing and the London transport bombing in 2005, she said.
The men — who in 2006 had trained in terror camps in north Pakistan — were driven by “a hatred of US citizens”, according to JÃ¶rg Ziercke, president of the BKA federal crime agency. US authorities were involved in investigations that led to the arrests, he said.
The alleged terror cell had been under surveillance since December 2006, when one member was seen spying on a US military base in Hanau near Frankfurt. The group started gathering the explosive liquid in February and in August rented a holiday apartment — reportedly in Oberschledorn, western Germany — to build the explosives. The group had gathered incendiary devices, cables and other equipment, Ms Harms said.
Security officials in Berlin said the arrests may be linked to raids and arrests in Denmark on Tuesday, when, according to Danish police, eight people with alleged links to Al Qaeda were detained in order to prevent an attack.
Germany’s interior ministry and BND foreign intelligence agency have been warning for several months of an increased danger of Islamic terror attacks in Germany, possibly linked to Berlin’s military involvement in Afghanistan.
Noah Barkin and Sabine Siebold of Reuters report, “Harms could not confirm reports the accused had been targeting Frankfurt international airport and a major U.S. military base in Ramstein. But she said they had been seen scouting out U.S. installations such as discos, pubs and airports.”
The minister said one of the men arreseted had links to the Islamist scene in Neu-Ulm in southern Germany. German investigators have suspected for several years that a mosque in Neu-Ulm is used as a base for extremists planning attacks.
A leading member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, Wolfgang Bosbach, said the men had probably been planning attacks to coincide with the sixth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Der Spiegel has the most detailed description of who the suspects are:
According to information obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE, the three men were Daniel S. from the state of Saarland and Fritz G. from Neu-Ulm in Bavaria, both of whom are German converts to Islam, as well as Adem Y., who is believed to be from Turkey.
WaPo has a very long report from AP’s David McHugh that contains more quotes and details about the investigation. Particularly noteworthy, though, is the political reaction:
Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an interview released Wednesday that German troops would remain in Afghanistan for several more years, despite recent setbacks in the region. “To walk away would send the wrong signal,” Merkel told N-24 television.
The European Union’s top justice official said Wednesday that the threat of a terror attack remained high in the 27-nation bloc. EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini said the EU executive would push ahead with plans to set up an EU-wide airline passenger data recording system despite privacy concerns. “The threat of new terror attacks continues to be high,” Frattini said, citing Spain, Italy, Belgium, Britain and Germany as countries where the risk has been the highest.
While many of these massive plots, particularly those uncovered in the UK, have turned out to be Keystone Kops amateur efforts, this one appears quite serious:
“These weren’t just sort of half-professional terrorists — these were very dangerous, highly professional men,” Schaeuble said.
Schaeuble said he had “no knowledge of any link” with the Danish arrests of eight suspected Islamic militants accused of storing explosives in a populated area of Copenhagen with the intent of carrying out a terror attack. But the German interior minister added there was “a strong parallel” between the two investigations and subsequent arrests.
A U.S. government official who did not want to be named called the German terror plot “the real deal,” adding that U.S. authorities “have been working this case real hard.”
Thankfully, some highly professional intelligence and law enforcement people were on the case. And, whatever tensions might exist over Iraq, the level of US-German cooperation here was what one would expect of longtime allies:
“We have met repeatedly with our German counterparts on a variety of security measures and consider them to be among our most important allies,” the DHS spokesman said.
German authorities had alerted the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart of a possible terrorist threat to American installations, but not specifically Ramstein, Capt. Jeff Gradec said. Neither EUCOM nor Ramstein is taking any extra security measures, the U.S. military said.
CNN’s International Security Correspondent Paula Newton said intelligence officials have been calling for more cooperation to combat terror plots in Europe, in particular the faster transfer of information between different countries. Europe is at high risk, officials say, due not only to the Iraq war, but also the NATO mission in Afghanistan, to which many European countries contribute, she said, adding that the Muslim population in Europe is beginning to feel more alienated than it has done in previous decades. “This brings Europe to the battleground,” Newton said.
Like America on September 11, 2001, Europe has been part of the battleground for several years. Indeed, there have been numerous attacks on European soil already, including the Madrid and London bombings and the French Muslim riots and the widespread mayhem over the Danish Muslim cartoons. One wouldn’t think a wake-up call necessary at this point.