Ulm and Neu-Ulm, cities on the border between the southern states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, have long been viewed by authorities as a primary breeding ground for terrorists in Germany.
The area is back in the spotlight after three men believed to be part of the "Ulm scene" were arrested Wednesday. The men were allegedly planning a "massive" attack against US targets in Germany, including military facilities, according to Monika Harms, Germany's federal prosecutor.
Two suspects homegrown radicals
Fritz G., a German convert to Islam, has been identified by prosecutors as the plot's probable ringleader. The 28-year-old was a resident in Neu-Ulm at the time of his arrest. Fritz G. was taken into custody along with Daniel S., a 21-year-old German, and Adem Y., a 28-year-old Turk in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
All three are thought to have been connected through a radical mosque and now-defunct multicultural center. They also allegedly trained at terrorist camps in Pakistan. German authorities are currently searching for 10 other suspects believed to have been involved in the plot.
Radicalism in Ulm nothing new
Authorities said they are puzzled by why the region has been a magnet for radical Muslims. Two years ago, Bavaria's interior minister closed the multicultural center in Neu-Ulm.
Ten years ago an Egyptian physician was under suspicion of collecting funds for Islamist radicals. Another man was believed to have connection with the bombing attacks in Bali that occurred in 2002. He left Germany voluntarily after the Bavarian authorities had deported his son, whom they classified as a "threat." Officials had found bomb making instructions in his apartment during a raid, but were unable to prove that attacks were being planned.
Terror a threat inside Germany
As the latest attack has made clear, Germany, like several other western countries, has a homegrown group of Islamists on its hands, according to German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.
"The danger that international terrorism represents is a reality not only for the soldiers, police and personnel charged with the reconstruction in Afghanistan ... but also inside our own country," he said.
The British "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, the "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, jailed in 2002 for fighting with Afghan militia against US troops, and Australian David Hicks, the first man convicted of supporting terrorism by a US military court at Guantanamo Bay, are among the other cases of western nationals accused of supporting terrorism.
"One would think that someone who grows up here and enjoys the great advantages of our free society is immune," Schäuble told Germany's Bild newspaper. "But some are susceptible. These are dangerous, fanatical people with high criminal energy."
Germany has avoided major attacks
While Germany has been spared attacks such as deadly bombings in Spain and Great Britain, terrorist have been operating in the country for a number of years. Several of the suicide pilots in the September 11, 2001 attacks, including the ringleader Mohammed Atta, were involved in the Islamist scene in Hamburg.
Germany had a close call last year when two suitcase bombs left on commuter trains headed to Dortmund and Koblenz failed to explode because of construction flaws. The suspects were believed to have been motivated by caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed printed in European newspapers.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said investigators must remain vigilant, adding that the thwarted plot shows that attacks in Germany were "not an abstract danger but a very real threat."