Official Links German Terror Plot to Syrian Arms, Pakistani Operatives
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Three terrorism suspects arrested this month in Germany had acquired detonators that originated in Syria and received direct orders to act from operatives in Pakistan, the German interior minister said Tuesday.
The minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, told reporters in Washington that the detonators were smuggled into Germany from Syria through Turkey and that the suspects were days away from acting on plans to target Americans in Europe. He did not disclose further details about the connections to Syria and Turkey, adding, "We don't really know more."
"We know that this is a clear network, highly conspiratorial," Schaeuble said after two days of meetings with U.S. security officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. "The demand came from Pakistan . . . 'You should go on for action. Do not go on preparing for months and months and months, but now is the time to take action in the first half of September,' and they did."
Police arrested the three suspects, two of them German citizens who had converted to Islam, on Sept. 4 in a village in western Germany. Investigators said the suspects had assembled ingredients for building homemade bombs and had intended to attack Americans in Germany, possibly at Ramstein Air Base and the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt.
German officials said the suspects had trained at camps in Pakistan run by the Islamic Jihad Union, a Central Asian network based in Uzbekistan and Pakistan. U.S. and German investigators said they were examining whether al-Qaeda operatives may have been involved in organizing the plot but have not uncovered firm evidence of a connection.
U.S. and European intelligence officials have become increasingly concerned about the ability of al-Qaeda and affiliated networks to launch operations in the West from refuges in Pakistan.
The day before police arrested the three terrorism suspects in Germany, authorities in Denmark broke up a cell they said was plotting attacks in that country. Danish officials have said at least one of the suspects had trained in Pakistan. Jakob Scharf, director of the Danish Security Intelligence Service, said the cell was taking orders from "a leading al-Qaeda person."
In Germany, it is not against the law to attend a terrorist training camp outside the country.
German lawmakers are debating whether to change the law but have been unable to find a solution. Some legislators have said that it should not be illegal simply to attend a training camp and that prosecutors should have to prove intent to engage in terrorism; others argue that such an approach would be impractical.
Schaeuble said authorities know of several citizens and residents of Germany who have returned after attending militant camps in Pakistan but lack evidence to charge them with any crimes. At least three remain under surveillance, he said.
"We know we have a lot of people in Germany who are suspected of becoming terrorists," he said. "It is a delicate issue. We don't have enough evidence to make it a legal situation. But we know they are linked to a terrorist network. . . . Now we have to watch them."
Whitlock reported from London.