'New Al Qaeda plot to blow up planes on September 11' smashed
Last updated at 15:23pm on 5th September 2007
Police have smashed a suspected al Qaeda terror cell plotting to bomb civilian and military jets by Islamists nursing a "profound hatred of US citizens".
The force of the planned explosions would have been worse than the train bombings in Madrid and the Tube and bus attacks in London on 7 July, 2005, according to German security sources. Those attacks killed 191 and 52 people respectively.
Three men aged 22, 28 and 29 have been arrested in Germany days before they planned to strike, and bomb-making equipment and explosives have been seized.
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One suspect was taken away by helicopter in handcuffs
Another of the suspects is led away in handcuffs. Click to enlarge
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Federal prosecutor Monika Harms said the three suspects had bought 700kg (1,500lbs) of hydrogen peroxide to make massive bombs. She said: "We have prevented what we believe would have been the worst terror attacks ever on German soil".
She declined to name specific targets but said the suspects had an eye on institutions and establishments frequented by Americans in Germany, including discos, pubs and airports.
Citing unnamed security sources in Berlin, the broadcaster Suedwestfunk said Frankfurt International Airport and US Ramstein Air Base were among targets.
Joerg Ziercke, the head of Germany's federal crime office, said the men had a "profound hatred of US citizens".
German security sources have reportedly said the men belonged to the Islamic Jihad, an Egyptain terrorist group that merged with al Qaeda in 2001.
Confiscated canisters labeled as hydrogen peroxide are displayed during this morning's press conference in Germany
Wolfgang Bosbach, an MP with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, said the plot may have been timed to coincide with the anniversary of the 2001 atrocities in the US.
Franz Josef Jung, the defence minister, said: "The attacks were planned for the near future. They presented a real threat to life."
The suspects are believed to have been planning simultaneous attacks on aircraft sitting on the ground. Security services had been watching them for six months until yesterday, when the investigators spontaneously made the arrests after the men were observed moving chemicals from one storage location to another.
As is customary in Germany, the suspects have only been identified by their first names and last initials. Daniel S comes from the Saarland, Fritz G from Ulm in Bavaria and Adem Y from Turkey, although there are reports that he holds a Pakistani passport. The two Germans are 22 and 28, while Adem Y is 29.
The men were arrested yesterday as two dozen raids took place across Germany. They are believed to have been detained in the Frankfurt area.
One of those held, Fritz G, put up a fight when police raided the men's house in the Frankfurt area. He escaped through a bathroom window and managed to reach an outer cordon of officers about 300 metres away before being aprehended. He was able to snatch a gun, which went off, from a policeman. No one was hurt.
A German network reported that shots had been fired when police raided a house in a town in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
The Germans are converts to Islam. At least one of the men is reported to have received terrorist training overseas.
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Frankfurt Airport. Reports suggest the terror plot targeted civilian and military planes at the airport
The US military base at Ramstein was also believed to have been targeted
The German intelligence service is said to have learned of the plot through emails.
The suspects are reported to have confessed. Security services are trawling their contacts to make sure there are no back-up teams.
Ramstein serves as America's main logistical base to service the war in Iraq. Germany has ground troops in Afghanistan.
"There are clear indications that at a minimum Ramstein and the Frankfurt airport were possible targets and that they would not have waited long to strike," leading conservative politician Wolfgang Bosbach told German television station N24, adding the attacks could have been timed to coincide with the anniversary of September 11.
The terror attack that authorities believe was foiled in Germany may have been timed to coincide with the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York
Police believe that the men wanted to experiment in the coming days and weeks with the chemicals and possibly start building a bomb. They were, however, far away from making a bomb that could be detonated.
A "bomb factory" is said to have been found in the village of Oberschledorn in the Sauerland. Locals said undercover police had been watching the house from a caravan.
Captain Jeff Gradeck, a spokesman for the US European Command (EUCOM) in Stuttgart, said: "We don't have any information yet that US facilities were targeted."
There was no comment from Frankfurt airport, one of Europe's busiest. The Ramstein base in the nearby state of Rhineland-Palatinate, 130 km (80 miles) southwest of the airport, is one of the most important US air bases overseas.
The arrests come a day after Danish police conducted raids and took eight young Muslims into custody whom they suspect of plotting a bomb attack and having links with al Qaeda. Although there are similarities between the two plots, no direct link has yet been established.
Germany, which has forces stationed in Afghanistan, has been on high alert for attacks. The country has feared a re-emergence of militant Islamic groups since 2001, when the northern city of Hamburg was used as a base for planning the September 11 attacks.
Earlier this year, federal prosecutors charged a Lebanese man held in detention over an unsuccessful attempt to detonate bombs on two trains in Germany in 2006.
He and another suspect were caught on surveillance cameras wheeling suitcases containing bombs aboard trains at Cologne's main railway station.
Both men left suitcases on the trains, which they planned to detonate later in the day with a timed explosive device. Despite being activated, the bombs failed to go off because of a technical error, the prosecutor's office said.
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