German police were investigating whether a gunman who shot dead two US airmen in an attack on their bus at Frankfurt airport had links to “terrorist” organisations or was acting alone.
The 21-year-old man from Muslim-majority Kosovo in southeastern Europe cried “Allahu Akhbar” (“God is Greatest”), reports quoted witnesses as saying, before opening fire in the bus outside one of Europe’s busiest airports on Wednesday.
“We are not ruling anything out at present,” Boris Rhein, interior minister of the west German state of Hesse, was quoted as saying.
“At the moment we do not know whether the background to this was terrorist, jihadist, Islamist or something quite different.”
Spiegel magazine’s online edition however cited investigators as saying preliminary enquiries suggested this was a planned attack, and not the result of an argument, as had first been suggested.
The attack on the air force personnel, who had just arrived in Frankfurt from Britain and were about to be taken to the nearby Ramstein airbase, also left two of them seriously injured.
“I am saddened and outraged by this attack,” US President Barack Obama said in a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room. “We will spare no effort in learning how this outrageous act took place.”
Police seized and arrested the alleged gunman in the terminal building, reportedly still with large amounts of ammunition and his handgun.
A police source in Pristina said that the suspect was an ethnic Albanian from the town of Mitrovica in the north of the disputed territory of Kosovo, and that he was not on record as having fallen foul of the law before.
The incident came a month after Germany’s authorities had announced that additional security measures imposed late last year in response to indications of an imminent “terrorist” attack were set to be gradually scaled back.
The US military has a number of major bases near Frankfurt, including Ramstein where the bus was headed, which are used as hubs for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Germany opposed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq but has more than 5,000 troops in Afghanistan, and has never suffered an attack by Islamic extremists but a number of suspected bomb plots have been uncovered.
The September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States were planned in part in the German port city of Hamburg by an Al-Qaeda cell led by Mohammed Atta, the hijacker of the first plane to strike New York’s World Trade Center.
In March 2010 a German court jailed four Islamic militants who dreamed of “mounting a second September 11” for a thwarted plot to attack US soldiers and civilians in Germany.
The men from the Sauerland cell, named after the region where three of them were captured in September 2007, admitted to belonging to a “terrorist organisation”, plotting murder and conspiring for an explosives attack.
The four included two German converts to Islam, a Turkish citizen and a German of Turkish origin.
“The German government will do all it can to investigate what happened,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters in Berlin as she expressed her condolences.
Kosovo’s government condemned what it called a “horrible” attack “against civilised values and against the traditions of the people of Kosovo.”