Photo Gallery: Fatal Attack at Frankfurt Airport

Foto: Fredrik Von Erichsen/ dpa

Fatal Shooting at Frankfurt Airport German Investigators Suspect Islamist Motives behind Attack

German authorities are pursuing substantial evidence that the perpetrator of Wednesday's attack at Frankfurt Airport, which killed two American airmen, had links with Islamist groups in Germany. There is concern that additional attacks may be in the works.
Von Matthias Gebauer und Yassin Musharbash

Following initial investigations, security authorities in Germany are investigating whether Wednesday's shooting at Frankfurt Airport was a targeted attack on the US Army. They are also exploring whether US soldiers in Germany are at risk of further attacks.

SPIEGEL ONLINE has learned from security sources that the 21-year-old attacker got on to a bus which was carrying US soldiers and opened fire with a pistol. Two US airmen were killed and two wounded in the incident, which took place at 3:20 p.m. local time on Wednesday.

Initial reports that there had been an argument in the bus have not been confirmed, the authorities say. On the contrary, the results of the investigation so far point to a targeted attack by the assailant, who is from Kosovo and is reported to have worked at the airport. The shooter fired several times, police said. The suspect was arrested by federal police officers shortly after the attack and was questioned on Wednesday evening.

Investigators believe that the pistol jammed after the first shots were fired, otherwise the shooter would have fired again. After police overpowered the man in the airport, officers found a second magazine with bullets on his person, which the man apparently had not been able to use as a result of the problem with the weapon.

The weapon is currently being examined by experts. As well as the pistol, the suspect also had a knife on him, which he used to attack the police officers as they tried to arrest him. He was quickly disarmed, however.

Suspected May Have Worked at Frankfurt Airport

On Wednesday, the Associated Press and the news network CNN both identified the attacker as a 21-year-old Kosovar man called Arid U., citing information from Kosovo's interior minister, Bajram Rexhepi. The suspect reportedly comes from the city of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo and lived in Frankfurt.

According to Arid U.'s family in Mitrovica, the young man was a practicing Muslim. His uncle said that Arid U. worked at Frankfurt Airport. Investigators believe he may have previously observed US soldiers being transported from the airport to become familiar with the army's procedures.

SPIEGEL ONLINE has learned from sources in German security forces and from the US authorities that there is now substantial evidence linking the attacker to Islamist groups in Germany. In the US, there are fears that the man could be part of a terrorist cell which may now be planning further attacks on American targets in Germany. Sources in the Pentagon expressed great concern about the incident.

On Thursday morning, Germany's Federal Prosecutor General, the country's highest investigative authority, took over the investigation. The office is responsible for terrorist attacks, meaning that there is no longer any doubt that the authorities suspect a terrorist motive behind the incident.

Suspicious Facebook Page

German authorities have found a profile on the social networking site Facebook which they believe could belong to the alleged perpetrator. On the Facebook page, the young man makes little attempt to conceal his Islamist beliefs.

As the motto of his Facebook page, Arid U. has selected a saying by the Muslim conqueror Khalid bin Al Walid, a contemporary of the Prophet Muhammad: "May the eyes of the cowards never sleep." Among the websites that the man lists as his favorites are some that have clear Islamist leanings, including one called "Rule of Islam." On his Facebook "wall," he has linked to a jihadist fighting song, and one of the comments on a friend's posting refers to "these miserable kuffar (infidels)." The last entry is dated Monday evening.

Although elements of Islamist ideas can be clearly identified on the page, not all the contents are related to militant Islam; there are also posts that indicate he was a keen player of computer games. In view of the crime for which the man was allegedly responsible, where people were shot at close range, one posting seems almost ironic. In August 2010, the owner of the Facebook page apparently completed an online questionnaire regarding which weapon suited him best. The answer was the M82 Barrett sniper rifle.

German authorities are currently evaluating the suspect's social milieu and other evidence, including the Facebook page. It is not yet confirmed that the page belongs to the suspected attacker, but authorities are assuming it does, according to information obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Attacker Apparently Shouted 'Allahu Akhbar'

During their initial investigation, the authorities also came across other evidence that points to an Islamist motive behind the attack. Witnesses testified that, immediately before the shooting, the perpetrator shouted out "Allahu Akhbar" ("God is great"). The Arabic phrase is used by Muslims worldwide in almost every conceivable context, but it is also used by Islamist terrorists as a battle cry. Investigators told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Wednesday evening that they are actively following up reports that the man used the phrase.

Arid U. had not in the past done anything to attract the attention of the authorities or terrorism investigators, and his name did not appear to be on the police's watch list. One investigator told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the man might have been in loose contact with Islamist groups that are under surveillance without himself coming to the authorities' attention. Within a few hours of the attack, the police were already questioning witnesses who knew the suspect. Meanwhile US investigators were pursuing leads in Kosovo, where the suspect's family lives.

A terror alert was issued at Frankfurt Airport on Wednesday after the shooting. According to a report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, all the police officers in the airport were alerted with the code phrase "The panorama cafe has opened," which security authorities had previously agreed upon as a warning signal.

After the shooting, the man fled into the airport's Terminal 2 building. There he was arrested by federal police officers, who had noticed him walking around nervously. According to initial reports, the man had a large quantity of ammunition on his person as well as the weapon apparently used in the attack.

Man May Have Belonged to a Terror Group

Speaking on Wednesday evening, high-ranking investigators were cautious in their assessment of the incident. "The mere fact that someone with a gun was in the vicinity of the airport is surely not a coincidence," said one investigator who is working on the case. "It could be that we are dealing with a mentally disturbed lone perpetrator here, but he could also easily be a member of an organized group." According to the investigator, the bus carrying the soldiers was easily recognizable as a US Army vehicle and was probably chosen as the target for that reason.

The State Office of Criminal Investigation in Hesse, the state where Frankfurt is located, immediately set up a special task force to look into the case. Security authorities also sent a warning message to all other German airports and locations where the US Army has bases.

US President Barack Obama expressed his shock on Wednesday. "I am saddened and outraged by this attack," he said, in a surprise appearance at a scheduled White House press conference. "We will spare no effort in learning how this outrageous act took place. We will be working with German authorities to ensure that all the perpetrators are brought to justice."

He said it was a "stark reminder" of the sacrifices that American service members make. "The American people are united in expressing our gratitude for the service of those who were lost."

Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle have promised that everything would be done to investigate the incident.

American authorities are now directly involved in the investigation. Shortly after the fatal shooting of the US soldiers, investigators from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation arrived at the scene. Several teams of investigators are currently traveling to Germany from the US to look into the background of the attack and assess future possible dangers. On Wednesday evening, a spokesman for US Defense Secretary Robert Gates told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the Americans would do "everything possible" to help the investigators and to punish the people responsible for the "cowardly" attack.

The statement suggests that the US believes that other people or even a group may be behind the attack, in addition to the arrested suspect Arid U. Sources in the Pentagon said there were fears that a terror cell may be planning further attacks on the US Army or other US facilities in Germany.

'Nothing Can Be Ruled Out'

Meanwhile the German authorities are keeping an open mind about the motive for the attack. "Currently nothing can be ruled out," said Boris Rhein, the interior minister for the state of Hesse, where Frankfurt is located, on Wednesday. "We don't know at this stage if (the attack) has a terrorist, a jihadist, an Islamist or a completely different motive."

The crime occurred around 3:20 p.m. on Wednesday in a public area in front of Terminal 2. Two occupants of the bus were killed, apparently including the driver. According to the US Air Force, the two dead airmen were stationed in Britain. Two other people were injured in the attack. The US military confirmed on Wednesday evening that the wounded were two airmen.

The soldiers on the bus were on their way to the US military air base at Ramstein, located about 80 miles (130 kilometers) from Frankfurt Airport in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. From there they would have flown on to their deployments abroad.

Thousands of US soldiers still travel to deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan via Germany each year, despite a drawdown of troop numbers in Germany. Until 2005, the US Air Force had an important base, the Rhein-Main Air Base, located at Frankfurt Airport that was used for many military missions such as the two Iraq wars. The airport is still used by US soldiers traveling to their bases on commercial flights, and the US military has a reception center in the airport for incoming soldiers.

Authorities have long known that Islamists in Germany have seen the US Army as a potential target. The so-called Sauerland Cell that was uncovered in 2007 had planned to attack US Army bases in the country.

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