Germany Pulls Two Suspected Terrorism Trainees From Plane

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, September 27, 2008

COLOGNE, Germany, Sept. 26 -- Two terrorism suspects who had left notes saying they were willing to die for "jihad" were pulled off a flight at the airport here Friday morning, moments before it was scheduled to depart, authorities said.

The Somali-born men were planning to fly to Uganda via Amsterdam, then on to Pakistan, according to German media reports. An increasing number of Muslim radicals have left Germany to be trained at militant camps in Pakistan, where according to counterterrorism officials they are plotting attacks back in Europe.

On Thursday, federal prosecutors issued a public alert seeking information on the whereabouts of two other men believed to have returned to Germany after attending terrorist camps in Pakistan. Last week, police near Frankfurt arrested two more men who had gone to Pakistan for training and charged them with belonging to a cell that plotted to bomb U.S. targets in Germany last year.

"Germany remains within the immediate range of targets of Islamist terrorism," Joerg Ziercke, chief of the federal police, told the German Parliament two weeks ago. "Judging by everything we know, the decision to also carry out attacks in Germany has been made at the highest level of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups."

Authorities identified the two men arrested Friday at the Cologne-Bonn airport as Abdirazak B., 23, a Somali national, and Omar D., 24, a German citizen born in Mogadishu. German authorities customarily withhold the surnames of suspects.

The suspects had boarded KLM Flight 1804 for Amsterdam but were removed from the plane by police at 6:55 a.m. local time, just as it was preparing to pull away from its gate for departure, airport officials said.

A KLM spokesman said all passengers were taken off the plane until police could locate luggage belonging to the suspects. Officials said that no weapons or explosives were found and that the flight was allowed to depart after an 80-minute delay.

Police officials said they moved to arrest the men after searching their apartments and finding notes suggesting they intended to carry out a suicide mission. "They are under suspicion of intending to participate in the jihad and in possible attacks," Frank Scheulen, a spokesman for police in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, told German television. "Farewell letters were written."

The German newspaper Bild reported that the suspects had been under surveillance for months. Michaela Heyer, a North Rhine-Westphalia police spokeswoman, said the suspects had been living near Cologne, but she declined to comment further.

German counterterrorism officials have said the country faces a heightened risk of attack partly because of its continuing participation in the NATO-led military mission in Afghanistan. Germany announced in June that it would expand its role, adding 1,000 troops to the 3,500 already based there.

German intelligence officials have said that they have identified about 25 suspected radicals who have gone to Pakistan for training but acknowledged that they don't know the full extent of the problem.

"We have to be careful not to say we have dozens and dozens and dozens of people in the camps," said Rolf Tophoven, an analyst with the Institute for Terrorism Research and Security Policy in Essen. "But one is all it takes to carry out an attack. These people are highly motivated, very professionally trained and are capable of killing many people."

On Thursday, federal prosecutors issued wanted posters and arrest warrants for Eric Breininger, 21, a German citizen and convert to Islam, and Houssain al-Malla, 23, a native of Lebanon.

Officials said they had evidence that the men had returned to Europe after attending camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Both men are suspected of involvement with a group called the Islamic Jihad Union, which was accused of planning attacks against U.S. targets in Germany a year ago.

Last week, German police arrested two other suspected members of that group. Omid Shirkhani, 27, a German citizen of Afghan descent, and Huseyin Ozgun, a 27-year-old Turkish national, were taken into custody Sept. 19 near Frankfurt.

Federal prosecutors said Shirkhani and Ozgun had traveled separately to Pakistan during 2007 to receive training at camps operated by the Islamic Jihad Union, which is allied with al-Qaeda.

Authorities said the two men may have been aware of plans by other accused members of the group to bomb U.S. targets in Germany a year ago, though they were not charged with playing a direct role.

Earlier this month, prosecutors filed an indictment against three suspected ringleaders of last year's plot and said the trio had discussed a number of possible bombing targets, including U.S. military bases in Germany.

Those three defendants were arrested Sept. 4, 2007, in the rural village of Oberschledorn as they allegedly transferred bombmaking chemicals from a rented house. Police said they had stockpiled more than 1,500 pounds of chemicals to make explosives and had smuggled detonators from Turkey.

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