Two US airmen shot dead at German airport

A Kosovan gunman shot dead two US Air Force personnel and seriously wounded two others when he opened fire in a bus at Frankfurt airport yesterday – one of the most serious attacks on the American military in Germany in decades.

Police said the gunman, who was apparently armed with a pistol, stormed the military transport bus and opened fire at about 3pm. The driver had stopped to pick up arriving personnel outside the international airport.

The US Air Force bus driver and an airman were killed instantly. Two other airmen were said to have been seriously wounded in the attack. The gunman fled into the terminal building. Police gave chase and arrested him minutes later.

Police said the 21-year-old gunman had identified himself as a Kosovar Albanian during initial questioning, with unconfirmed reports naming him as Arif Uka, from Mitrovica. Officers said his motive for carrying out the attack was not immediately clear, although he appeared to have acted alone.

Boris Rhein, the Interior Minister for the state of Hesse, said it was unclear at this early stage if the "terrible, senseless crime" was linked to terrorism. Germany recently downgraded a nationwide terrorist alert, but warned that the threat of attacks by extremists remained.

The shooting happened only a few miles from the US Air Force European headquarters at Ramstein air base, which is a major military air hub used to ferry troops and equipment to and from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Eyewitnesses told German television that the US military bus was riddled with bullet holes, but was covered with sheets in the aftermath of the attack.

In Washington, President Barack Obama said he was "saddened and outraged" by the shooting, while Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel told a press conference how upset she was.

A fortnight ago, the German government announced it was partially easing a nationwide terrorist alert and relaxing some of the tight security measures it first introduced last November due to fears of a Mumbai-style attack on Berlin's Reichstag parliament building.

Police were ordered to scale back their high-profile presence outside public buildings and at airports and railway stations, but Thomas de Maiziere, the German Interior Minister, insisted that the threat of terrorist incidents was still real.

Four Islamists of German background were convicted in March last year for plotting to bomb US military targets, including Ramstein Air Base.

The ministry said there were about 1,000 potential militants under the surveillance of the police and intelligence services.

About 130 were considered to be "dangerous" individuals capable of carrying out serious, politically motivated attacks. The government has primarily been concerned about the threat of al-Qa'ida attacks by fighters trained on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The possibility of attacks by Kosovar Albanians had not been cited as a concern.