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US sees Qaeda link in European terror arrests

world Updated: Sep 06, 2007 11:27 IST
DPA

Three men who plotted to bomb US military installations in Germany are members of an Al-Qaeda linked group and had chemicals for a bigger blast than the 2005 London bombings that killed 52 people, German officials said.

German authorities said on Wednesday that elite anti-terrorist police had arrested the men - two German converts to Islam and a Turk - at a house in central Germany that the suspects had rented under a false name.

The three men trained in Pakistan last year at a camp run by the Islamic Jihad Union, a militant Islamic group rooted in Uzbekistan that has expanded its activities "under the influence of Al-Qaeda", the German federal prosecutor's office said.

Chief federal prosecutor Monika Harms said potential targets included US military facilities and places frequented by Americans such as discotheques, pubs and airports - leading to speculation that Frankfurt's airport, continental Europe's busiest, was a target.

The suspects, all in their 20s, planned to blow up car bombs to "kill or hurt a large number of people", Harms' agency said. They had stockpiled military detonators and about 730 kg of hydrogen peroxide, which could have been used to make bombs as powerful as 550 kilos of TNT.

Strands of the plot apparently dated back for months. One of the suspects scouted two US barracks in Hanau, near Frankfurt, in late 2006 or early 2007, apparently as a possible target, the prosecutor's office said.

In Washington, US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the German raid and the detention of eight terrorist suspects in Denmark showed that Al Qaeda "continues to carry out active war against the West."

"American interests overseas remain very much at risk," six years after the Sep 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Chertoff said.

US law enforcement agencies praised Germany's action, but said there was no imminent risk of attacks inside the US.

All of the suspects were taken into custody on Tuesday. In the Danish case, a court later ordered six of the eight suspects released.

The German-held suspects, whose full names were withheld, were "motivated by hatred of American citizens," said Joerg Ziercke, head of the German federal criminal police. He said German police had the men under surveillance for six months.

They were being held on charges of membership in a foreign terrorist organisation and of preparing a bomb attack. Chancellor Angela Merkel said the arrests showed that terrorism is "a very real threat" to Germany.

Two men were arrested in the house without a struggle, while a third was chased down by police who had surrounded the building.

Five other men remain under investigation, including an Iranian who was back in Germany after being arrested in Pakistan for visa irregularities, authorities in the western state of Saarland said.

A terror scare developed in April as the US Embassy in Berlin sent a message to Americans in Germany to be vigilant and said security was stepped up at diplomatic posts and military installations.

"The message was partially in response to the threats from this group," a US official said Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Harms said the three suspects were arrested well before they were able to make a functioning bomb. Explosives equivalent to 550 kilos of TNT would have been considerably more powerful than the material used in the London attacks.