Bomb threat against US base in Germany

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The Independent Online

Anti-terrorist police are guarding a key US Air Force base in Germany after an anonymous caller threatened to bomb the site in an apparent attempt to mark the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

Police said the caller had telephoned the American military base at Spangdahlem, near the western city of Trier, on Monday evening and threatened an imminent attack on the European headquarters of the US Air Force's 52nd Fighter Wing located there.

"The caller spoke German with a foreign accent," a Trier police spokesman said yesterday. "He threatened to bomb the base with the help of four accomplices," he added. Spangdahlem is used for US Air Force missions worldwide.

Heavily armed members of Germany's GSG9 anti-terrorist police were immediately drafted into the area surrounding the base to back up US military police, who were put on a state of high alert. The intense police activity was reported to have alarmed local residents to such an extent that police felt obliged to publicise the threat in order to explain their sudden and massive presence.

Police said the caller had evidently sought to cause maximum alarm as he had issued his threat on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary and less than a week after the arrest in Germany of three Islamic militants suspected of planning what threatened to be the country's worst terrorist attack. But they also said they were not ruling out the possibility that the call was a hoax.

The threatened bomb attack in Germany coincided with the discovery by Turkish police yesterday of a large quantity of explosives hidden in a van parked in a densely populated area of the capital, Ankara.

Kemal Onal, the governor of the city, said the police, who found the explosives with the help of sniffer dogs, had prevented a potential catastrophe. "I do not even want to think about what would have happened if the attack had succeeded," he said.

Germany's Federal Criminal Bureau has revealed that in the wake of last week's arrests of three Islamic militants suspected of planning bomb attacks on Frankfurt international airport and the nearby US Air Force base at Ramstein, it is also seeking a total of 49 other suspects who are linked to the plot.

Fritz Martin Gelowicz, a 28-year-old German Islamic convert, was caught with bomb-making equipment in a rented holiday apartment near Kassel on Tuesday last week. His accomplices, Daniel Schneider, 21, another German Islamic convert, and Adem Yilmaz, a 28-year-old Turkish citizen, were also arrested. They were all members of an al-Qa'ida-linked group called Islamic Jihad Union.

Several of the 49 suspects are in Germany, but others are reported to be in Turkey, France and Pakistan. Police said the three had amassed sufficient chemicals and Syrian-made detonators to build bombs that would have caused explosions bigger than those experienced in the London and Madrid attacks of 2005 and 2004.

German and US intelligence agencies co-operated in their hunt for the bombers in what became known as Operation Alberich.

The suspected bombers' tapped phone conversations showed that two shadowy figures in Pakistan who appeared to be their commanders put intense pressure on them to carry out attacks within 14 days. Police said they only had what they believed were the pseudonyms of the two suspected commanders. All three suspects were said yesterday to be saying nothing to police questioning them.