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 Jörg 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.”

AFP adds:

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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    When will America accept the reality of the quagmire that is Germany. When FDR first sent troops into Germany, his arrogant imperial presidency started us down a path of over 60 years of being occupiers, not liberators. Every year, congress continues to fund our on going occupation. This fuels the righteous resentment that forces these poor victims to be forced into attacking the US.

    Of course, I’m not sure why the Turk was involved, but it must have been something bad the US did. /snark off

  2. Richard Gardner says:

    Reading several reports, I see the 730kgs of “liquid” is Hydrogen Peroxide, which in this case is not the benign diluted stuff you may have in the medicine cabinet.

    While the similar arrests in Denmark are mentioned, there have been regular reports out of Europe of plots being thwarted. I fear that one day a plot won’t be stopped.

    Previously on OTB (quick search just here):

    (UK) Al-Queda Dirty Bomb Plot Mar 24, 2006
    14 Terror Suspects Detained In Belgium Dec 1, 2005

    You rarely hear much follow-up on these type stories.

  3. Richard Gardner says:

    As for John’s comment about the quagmire of Germany, today’s news also reports, Removing WWII Bombs Steady Job in Berlin.

    More than 60 years after the war’s end, removing unexploded bombs, grenades and artillery shells remains a full-time task for police and private companies all over Germany.
    […]
    In Berlin, an average of 900 explosive cleanup operations take place each year. Of these, about 100 unexploded bombs are deemed too dangerous for removal — a job for “sprengmeister,” explosives experts like Mehlhorn and Neumann, who blow them up on site.
    […]
    The companies uncover an average of 87 tons of weaponry each year in public and private projects. In 2004 alone, workers found 160 bombs, 2,400 grenades, 1,500 explosive devices and 2,700 guns and other weapons.

  4. Tlaloc says:

    On the surface this does seem more serious. Still after so man false alarms I think I’ll wait a week or two for the jagoff stories to come out before knotting up all my panties.

    And that’s coming from someone whose kids are in germany right now.

  5. Beldar says:

    Ramstein is huge and hugely important, but it’s not just an air force base. Per a 2004 UPI article:

    Landstuhl [Regional Medical Center], located just south of Ramstein Air Base, is the largest U.S. hospital outside the United States. It is the main transfer point and treatment center for soldiers medically evacuated from Iraq, Kuwait or Afghanistan on their way back to the United States.

    Hospitals are by nature softer targets, I suspect, than air force bases. I hope and trust the appropriate people in charge of security there recognize what a tempting target that hospital — filled with recovering “infidels” — would be.

  6. James Joyner says:

    True enough on Landstuhl. We were stationed in neighboring Kaiserslaughtern from 1976-79, so I’m pretty familiar with those bases. There are plenty of attractive targets in that area.

  7. bernie says:

    Tlaloc: “I think I’ll wait a week or two for the jagoff stories to come out before knotting up all my panties.”

    Or perhaps one should wait long enough until something so serious comes along that it soils one’s panties?

  8. Jer says:

    You can’t possibly put the “French Muslim Riots” in the same list as the other three events you mention. The “riots” were mostly a demonstration about social injustice and unfair treatment by the police gone awry. The fact that most of the participants were Muslim or from a Muslim background had little to do with their actions at that time.

  9. Tlaloc says:

    Or perhaps one should wait long enough until something so serious comes along that it soils one’s panties?

    Alternatively, in Japan you can go to a vending machine to get pre-soiled panties. For those who like that kind of thing but just don’t have the time to do their own soiling.