U.S., German cooperation key to foiling bomb plot
BERLIN (Reuters) – Close work between German and U.S. authorities was key to uncovering what German police say would have been “massive” bomb attacks by militant Islamists, German media and a diplomat said on Friday.
Police on Tuesday arrested three men — two German converts to Islam and a Turk — suspected of planning the attacks on sites frequented by Americans in Germany.
The arrests were the result of an investigation that began a year ago, when U.S. officials alerted German authorities to emails intercepted from Pakistan, where the trio had trained at what police described as camps for terrorists.
The U.S. officials gave the Germans Internet I.P. addresses — numbers that can help locate the exact location of a computer — and parts of names, Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported, citing unnamed German security sources.
A diplomat in Berlin confirmed the original tip-off had come from the United States.
“Initially when they got wind of the plot, they alerted the Germans to it, (including) over time the surveillance of the group and the key people,” a Western diplomatic source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
He said Germany ran the investigation but got information from the Americans and other countries to carry it forward.
The Federal Prosecutor’s Office say the three appeared to be tied to the Islamic Jihad Union, a Sunni group with roots in Uzbekistan. Officials say the Islamic Jihad Union may be linked to al Qaeda.
German police say the suspects were targeting U.S. sites — military bases, pubs, discos and restaurants where Americans often meet. However, the diplomatic source said there was “no solid evidence that they were after solely American targets.”
He said Frankfurt International Airport was a possible target. If it had been hit, most of the victims could have been Germans and people of other nationalities, he said.
German police have said the three arrested men exhibited an exceptional “hatred of Americans.”
Interior ministers from Germany’s 16 states met in Berlin to discuss ways to combat the terrorist threat.
Among the ideas they discussed were punishing people who go to “terrorist training camps” and online searches of computer hard drives, currently illegal in Germany, Berlin’s top interior official, Ehrhart Koerting, told reporters after the meeting.
One of the three suspects, a 28-year-old German identified as Fritz G., might have had a connection to Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian who had studied in Hamburg and planned the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, a German official said.
“His name came up in connection with a visit of Mohammed Atta to Neu Ulm,” Bavarian Interior Minister Guenther Beckstein told daily Bild.
“Fritz G. first came to the attention of the authorities nine years ago because he publicly praised terrorist attacks,” he said. When Fritz G. was 18 he converted to Islam and began calling himself “Abdullah,” German media reported.
Authorities in Germany say there are at least 10 people under investigation, including the three detained this week.
German and U.S. authorities know the names of five of the seven suspects that were not arrested, but not all of their whereabouts. Only two of the seven are in Germany, Tagesspiegel newspaper reported, citing unnamed German security sources.
The two suspects in Germany are a Lebanese Kurd and an Iranian, the paper said. The other suspects are abroad, most likely in Pakistan.
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