Prosecutors arrested three men and are searching for five more suspects who are accused of planning "massive" terrorist attacks. Investigators suggested that US military facilities in Germany could have been the targets.
German Federal Prosecutor Monika Harms said the three men arrested Tuesday were two German converts to Islam and a Turkish Muslim, all in their 20s. The men are being held on charges of membership in a terrorist organization and preparing a bomb attack.
Harms said the men were members of the Islamic Jihad Union, which has its origins in Uzbekistan. The three suspects attended a militant training camp in Pakistan last year, she said at a press conference Wednesday in Karlsruhe.
Prosecutors also said investigators were still looking for another five suspects.
Seized containers of hydrogen peroxide solution
Harms said the men in custody, identified as Fritz G., Adem Y. and Daniel S., had been able to collect massive quantities of hydrogen peroxide.
That same household chemical was used by suicide bombers in the 2005 London public transport attacks that killed 56 people.
She said once turned into bombs, the material could have created an explosion with the same strength as 550 kilograms (1,210 pounds) of dynamite.
Links to al Qaeda
German security forces were able to apprehend the three suspects and seize the materials Tuesday in the small town of Oberschledorn in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the arrests showed terror attacks in Germany were "not an abstract danger but a very real threat."
Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said police had stopped an "imminent threat" to Germany.
Jörg Ziercke, head of Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), said the Islamic Jihad Union had ties to the al Qaeda terrorist network and that the men accused of planning the attacks in Germany were "driven by a hatred of US citizens."
Ziercke said security forces decided to move in on the suspects Tuesday when it became clear the three had begun creating bombs. Harms added that the suspects were taken into custody before making a functioning explosive.
US bases could have been targets
Harms (left) and Ziercke in Karlsruhe
Refering to the terror suspects' aims, Deputy Interior Minister August Hanning told journalists in Berlin: "There were no concrete targets."
"But the German police are speculating that Frankfurt airport was one of these targets," he added.
Harms also did not specify the exact targets of the planned terror attacks, but said US military facilities in Germany were to have been hit. The suspects were apparently planning to detonate a series of car bombs simultaneously, she said.
"As possible targets ... the suspects named discotheques and pubs and airports frequented by Americans with a view to detonating explosives loaded in cars and killing or injuring many people," Harms said.
Officials at Ramstein did not confirm if the air base was a target
Earlier Wednesday, SWR public radio had reported that the US military base at Ramstein was a possible target.
US military authorities at the Ramstein air base, one of the largest US military facilities in Europe, could not confirm those speculations.
Ziercke said over 300 police officers had been monitoring the suspects over six months, and that it was one of the largest police operations of its kind in Germany.
German police worked together with international authorities, said Ziercke, who specifically thanked US authorities for their cooperation.