2 U.S. airmen killed, 2 hurt in shooting near Frankfurt airport

A body is carried away from the U.S. Air Force bus. For video and President Obama's comments, visit washingtonpost.com/nation.
A body is carried away from the U.S. Air Force bus. For video and President Obama's comments, visit washingtonpost.com/nation. (Ralph Orlowski)
By Greg Jaffe and Julie Tate
Thursday, March 3, 2011

A gunman opened fire on a bus full of U.S. Air Force personnel outside Frankfurt International Airport on Wednesday afternoon, killing two airmen and wounding two others.

Early reports suggested that the alleged gunman, Arif Uka, 21, 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," Boris Rhein, an interior minister for Hesse state, told reporters.

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 did not identify the service members who were killed or wounded because they were still notifying their families.

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