German police are searching for Islamic militants alleged to have planned car bomb attacks on a military hospital in Hamburg and a U.S. army airport in Frankfurt. The hospital was sealed off after a tip-off.
Armed police cordoned off the military hospital in Hamburg.
German authorities said Wednesday they had received information that Islamic terrorists were planning suicide car bomb attacks in early 2004 in Hamburg and Frankfurt. "We have firm indications pointing to individuals planning an attack on the hospital with a car bomb," a police spokesman told Reuters, adding that the suspects were believed to come from the "Islamic terrorist scene."
Hamburg state Interior Minister Dirk Nockemann said their targets included the military hospital in Frankfurt and a U.S. military airport in Frankfurt. German Interior Minister Otto Schily on Wednesday confirmed that the tip-off had come from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
Hamburg Constitution Protection Chief Heino Vahldiek said U.S. intelligence sources had identified two terror suspects. No explosives have been found in Hamburg.
Fears of U.S. targets
The incident comes amid heightened global security fears after U.S. authorities raised their security alert to the second highest level due to signs of a possible attack by al Qaeda, blamed by Washington for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Three of the alleged 19 suicide hijackers had lived and studied in Hamburg for years.
A month ago, police arrested a suspected Algerian militant in the northern German city as part of a Europe-wide probe into a network believed to be recruiting Islamists for suicide attacks in Iraq. Fears are growing that Europe could have become a recruiting ground for Islamists seeking to attack U.S. targets.
A spokesman at the Hamburg military hospital said no U.S. soldiers were currently being treated there, but said American soldiers injured in Iraq had undergone treatment at the hospital in the past.
A spokesman at the U.S. military hospital in Frankfurt said they there was no current terror threat. Security arrangements hadn’t been tightened at the airport.
Terror group with alleged ties to al Qaeda
Nockemann said the terror suspects were connected to the Ansar al-Islam group, which Washington believes is active in fighting its troops in Iraq and has ties to al Qaeda.
German security authorities suspect Ansar al-Islam of smuggling in Islamists prepared for violence into Germany and bringing potential suicide bombers to Iraq. The Bavarian Constitutional Protection report states that the group has about 100 active members, with cells in Munich, Augsburg and Nuremberg. The outfit allegedly consists of up to 1,000 radical Kurds from northern Iraq.
Mullah Krekar, Kurdish leader of the Iraq-based Islamic fundamentalist group Ansar al-Islam.
Ansar al-Islam leader Mullah Krekar (photo) is reported to personally know Osama bin Laden and is said to view him as "the crown on the heads of Muslims." According to the Constitutional Protection report, Ansar al-Islam wants to fight Christians and Muslims and wants to religiously prepare itself with weapons and money for the "Holy War."
Krekar, who lives in Norway, allegedly collected donations during his visits to Germany and lobbied for his radical group.
Military airport cordoned off
In a massive security operation on Tuesday, about 100 police officers sealed off the military hospital. Troops deployed two armored vehicles, cordoned off surrounding streets and searched parked cars. Around 2,000 neighborhood residents were required to show identification before entering or leaving their apartments.
Police search passers-by near the military hospital in Hamburg.
Though the normal routine continued at the military hospital, where civilians are also treated, patients and hospital staff also had to undergo security checks on Tuesday. The security measures around the building remained in place on Wednesday. A police spokesman said passing cars and pedestrians would have to reckon with search controls.
Schily blasts "premature" police action
German Interior Minister Otto Schily
Meanwhile, German Interior Minister Otto Schily (photo) strongly criticized the police operation in Hamburg and said the premature leaking of suspected terrorism targets would endanger the hunt for the terrorists. "It’s regrettable that the hints made it out in the public so prematurely because that could make the successful clarification of the case more difficult," Schily said in Berlin.
Hamburg security authorities defended the move. Vahldiek said in a television interview that the concrete nature of the tips led authorities to take them seriously.
"Both the federal and state branches of the German Agency for Internal Security informed us in writing about the concrete risk of a terror attack," Dirk Nockemann, said in a statement. "Mr Schily should first obtain information from his own federal authorities before making rash statements."