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Germany Says It Averted Attack on Airport, NATO

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Germany has thwarted what officials there describe as a massive and imminent terrorist attack. Three men have been arrested. The targets were said to be the busy Frankfurt International Airport and the US military base at Ramstein. A German federal prosecutor says the three suspects had trained in Pakistan and aimed to make bombs larger than those used in previous attacks in London and Madrid. NPR's Emily Harris joins us from Berlin. And Emily, what more is known about these three men?

EMILY HARRIS: Of the three, two of them are German citizens, and one is from Turkey. Authorities here say they have been watching these three for some time because the trio had been seen observing a US military here in Germany at the end of last year. They say after the training in Pakistan, they had formed a German cell of a group called the Islamic Jihad Union. And officials here describe that as a Sunni group with roots in Uzbekistan.

All of the three were getting unemployment benefits through the German government, and the officials said that they spent most of their time working on this plot. All of them were arrested yesterday in one place. One apparently managed to escape out a window for a brief time, but was detained a few hundred yards away.

MONTAGNE: And what do German officials say exactly were their plans?

HARRIS: The exact details haven't been revealed. The thing the officials were really stressing today was the fact that this group of three had obtained about 1,500 pounds of hydrogen peroxide - that common chemical, usually used as a hair bleach, but it can be mixed with different very easily accessible ingredients to make a bomb. And officials were really stressing that that amount was quite significant, as you mentioned that it could have been used to make a bomb that would have been more powerful than those that were used to attack the transit system in London and the trains in Madrid.

There's not an official confirmation from federal prosecutors that the intended targets were the US base at Ramstein and the Frankfurt airport. The chief prosecutor here said that the three men had also been observed surveying night clubs and bars - similar targets like that - that they may have also had in mind.

MONTANGE: And eight suspects were arrested in Denmark yesterday on similar charges. Is there any connection?

HARRIS: There does not appear to be a clear connection at the moment. Of those eight, six of them were Danish citizens and two were permanent residents - very similar types of charges. They were accused of planning to carry out a terrorist attack on an unspecified target - whether that be in Denmark or somewhere else in Europe was not made clear, but the thing that seemed to tip off those arrests was that the group had obtained materials to make a bomb.

MONTAGNE: Emily, this plot comes just days before the sixth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. What's the feeling there in Europe about terrorism at this point in time?

HARRIS: It's a mixed feeling here, Renee. There's a - obviously, the amount of terrorism that has - attacks that have happened in Europe have gone up dramatically in the past six years. And there is a feeling here that Europe is more of a target than is certainly was before. There is also a deep feeling that this is all the US's fault for policies carried out in Afghanistan, and particularly in Iraq. But the debate here is quite divided. There are certainly calls for increased surveillence, even tighter security laws. And there are also people who are saying - as we saw it happen in Spain, for example - there's a debate here in Germany about how committed Germany should be to its service in Afghanistan. Their mission comes up for renewal this fall, and there's a lot of questions about how strictly controlled those soldiers should be, from keeping them out of combat, for example, rather than being involved in reconstruction.

The sympathy for 9/11 was great in Germany six years ago and also in the rest of Europe. And as we saw, starting a couple of years after that, that wore off with certain US policies, and that feeling of unhappiness has stayed among a large part of the population of Europe.

MONTAGNE: Emily, thank you.

HARRIS: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Emily Harris joined us from Berlin, where German officials say they have thwarted a massive terrorist attack. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.