Germany Says It Foiled Bomb Plot
Thursday, September 6, 2007
BERLIN, Sept. 5 -- German authorities said Wednesday that they had disrupted a "massive" bombing plot targeting American interests in Germany, and they expressed alarm at evidence that the three local suspects had visited militant camps in Pakistan -- the latest example of people traveling from Europe to that country for terrorist training.
Prosecutors said the men -- two Germans who had converted to Islam and a Turkish citizen who lived in Germany -- had trained at camps in Pakistan run by the Islamic Jihad Union, a Central Asian network that is a close ally of al-Qaeda.
Counterterrorism officials said the three were among more than a dozen residents of Germany who had journeyed to Pakistan in recent months and were subsequently arrested or placed under surveillance. Key suspects in the London transit system attacks in July 2005 and a plot to blow up transatlantic airliners last summer also received training in Pakistan before returning to Europe for attacks, investigators believe.
U.S. intelligence officials have said in recent weeks that al-Qaeda and its affiliates have reconstituted themselves in Pakistan's remote mountain regions along the border with Afghanistan and have bolstered their ability to launch attacks on the West from there.
German authorities said that the three men arrested Tuesday, all in their 20s, were aiming at American facilities or sites likely to result in American casualties but that it was unclear whether they had settled on a target. Security officials said evidence indicated that Ramstein Air Base, a major U.S. and NATO installation, and Frankfurt's international airport ranked high on the list of sites under consideration.
"We were able to succeed in recognizing and preventing these most serious and massive bombings," Federal Prosecutor Monika Harms said at a news conference in the city of Karlsruhe.
Police arrested the three men Tuesday afternoon after raiding a two-story white cottage the men had rented in Oberschledorn, a hilly burg of about 900 people north of Frankfurt. One of the men escaped through a window and was grabbed by officers as he sprinted through the village, officials said.
Authorities said the group had accumulated more than 200 gallons of a concentrated hydrogen peroxide solution that is a key ingredient in homemade bombs used by terrorist groups.
"This would have enabled them to make bombs with more explosive power than the ones used in the London and Madrid bombings," Joerg Ziercke, chief of the German federal police, told reporters. On display at the news conference where Ziercke and Harms spoke were large blue containers that police reported seizing from the men.
Authorities said that in July police had secretly exchanged the suspects' supply of the liquid with a harmless substance but allowed the men to continue their plot.
Peroxide-based explosives have been used in several al-Qaeda-sponsored attacks, including the kitchen-built backpack bombs that exploded on the London transit system on July 7, 2005, killing 52 passengers and four attackers. The bombs used in the March 11, 2004, train attacks in Madrid were made from dynamite.
In late February, in one of his earliest appearances on Capitol Hill as director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell described the revival of al-Qaeda training of recruits in Pakistan's North Waziristan mountains. Without giving details, he said a number of terrorist "plans and activities have been shut down or disrupted." He warned that al-Qaeda elements in Iraq, Syria and Europe were planning attacks.