Suspect in fatal shooting of 2 U.S. airmen allegedly confesses to authorities

By Greg Jaffe and Julie Tate
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 3, 2011; 10:34 AM

The young man suspected of fatally shooting two U.S. airmen at a German airport Wednesday has allegedly told authorities he deliberately targeted American military personnel and was acting on his own, news services reported.

German federal prosecutors are leading the investigation into the shooting, which also injured two airmen, and are working together with U.S. authorities.

Hesse state Interior Minister Boris Rhein told reporters in Wiesbaden that Arif Uka, 21, was apparently radicalized over the last few weeks.

"The suspect is accused of killing two U.S. military personnel and seriously injuring two others," federal prosecutors said in a statement. "Given the circumstances, there is a suspicion that the act was motivated by Islamism."

Uka allegedly opened fire on a bus full of U.S. Air Force personnel outside Frankfurt International Airport. One of the injured airmen remained in critical condition Thursday, authorities told news agencies.

Early reports suggested that Uka was a Kosovar Albanian and a devout Muslim who worked at the airport. It was unclear whether he had come to Germany from Kosovo or was born in Germany.

In an interview with the Associated Press in Kosovo, an uncle said that Uka was born and raised in Germany after his parents moved there from Kosovo about 40 years ago. But a German official and Kosovo's interior minister said that the alleged gunman was a Kosovo citizen from the town of Mitrovica.

German officials stopped short of linking the attack to any international terrorist movement and said the investigation was continuing.

"Whether the incident was linked to terrorism, I cannot say at this stage," Rhein told reporters Wednesday.

Some witnesses reported that the gunman shouted "Allahu akbar," or "God is great" in Arabic, before firing at the bus and continued to scream the phrase as he was detained, according to ABC News.

The attacks prompted immediate condemnations from President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who pledged that Germany will do "everything possible" to make sure there is a full investigation.

Obama said investigators were still gathering information about the attack and pledged that the U.S. and German governments are both committed to ensuring that "all of the perpetrators are brought to justice."

The U.S. Air Force personnel went to Frankfurt from RAF Lakenheath base in eastern England, which is home to an F-15 fighter jet wing.

After arriving at the airport, they boarded a bus, with U.S. Air Force markings, that was to take them to the terminal.

In recent years, the United States has significantly reduced the size of its forces throughout Europe, but it still retains about 50,000 troops in Germany, where it operates several major facilities in and around Frankfurt.

Ramstein Air Base, outside Frankfurt, is among the largest U.S. facilities in Germany and serves as a regional hub for funneling supplies and some troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Lakenheath employs about 4,500 active-duty military members as well as 2,000 British and U.S. civilians.

In 2007, U.S. and German officials said they thwarted a possible attack by a small cell of German and Turkish nationals who had trained in Pakistan and were planning to bomb U.S. targets in Germany, among them Ramstein Air Base. Those arrested were alleged to have had links to the extremist Islamic Jihad Union.

Despite those high-profile arrests, attacks on U.S. troops in Europe are rare, and the overall terrorist threat to U.S. troops had been considered low. U.S. troops in Europe, for example, will frequently travel in their uniforms if they are on official government business.

U.S. officials have not released the names of the service members who were killed or wounded because they were still notifying their families.

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