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Officials: Confessed airport shooter was targeting military

The flags flew at half staff on RAF Lakenheath, England, on Thursday as the 48th Fighter Wing community mourned the death of one of its own from a shooting at Frankfurt airport Wednesday.

GEOFF ZIEZULEWICZ/STARS AND STRIPES

Germany: Airport attack thought to be ‘Islamist motivated’

By STARS AND STRIPES STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS Published: March 3, 2011

FRANKFURT, Germany — The suspect in a deadly attack on U.S. airmen at the Frankfurt international airport has confessed to targeting members of the American military and portrayed himself as an Islamist on the Internet, according to German news sources.

Two airmen were killed and two others seriously wounded in the Wednesday shooting, which German officials are investigating as an act of Islamic terrorism.

Hesse state Interior Minister Boris Rhein told reporters that the suspect, identified as a 21-year-old ethnic Albanian from Kosovo, acted alone, the DAPD news agency reported.

The suspect, Arid Uka, saw “himself engaged in Holy War with infidels,” according to Die Welt, while Frankfurter Allgemeine reports that there were rumors he had planned to embark on a “killing spree.”

Uka opened fire on a U.S. Air Force bus carrying 15 airmen as they sat outside Terminal 2. According to Lt. Gen. Stephen P. Mueller, vice commander for U.S. Air Forces in Europe, only the driver of the bus, who was killed, was in uniform. The rest of the airmen were wearing civilian clothes.

As to why they chose to use such a conspicuous vehicle for transportation, Mueller said that officials would look into it as part of the investigation.

The bus driver was from Ramstein Air Base. The other three airmen are from a security forces team based at RAF Lakenheath, England, said Col. John Quintas, commander of the 48th Fighter Wing at Lakenheath. The airmen were heading to Ramstein en route to Afghanistan.

The names of all the victims have not been released. However the father of Kristoffer Schneider, a 2002 graduate of Norwin High School in Irwin, Pa., told a local television station that his son is in stable condition after being shot in the front of the head.

The suspect, who is being transported to the federal supreme court in Karlsruhe, was to be taken before a German judge later Thursday, said Juergen Linker, a German police spokesman.

Deutsche Post AG, Germany’s main mail operator, said Uka was a temporary worker at its mail-handling operation at the airport. His contract was due to expire at the end of this month, said Stefan Hess, a spokesman for the Bonn-based postal service.

According to the German news magazine Der Spiegel, Uka’s digital footprints on the Internet clearly show an Islamist attitude. Two weeks ago, the Spiegel said, he published a jihadist song on his Facebook page. One line of the song goes: “I cannot stand this life of humiliation under all of you people any longer, my weapon is ready any time.”

Der Spiegel reports that the investigators found 140 new friends connected with “Arid U.” in the two weeks before the shooting. That could be a sign that Arid U. radicalized quickly, they reported, and that he drifted into a scene of radicals.

He was living with his parents and two brothers in a three-room apartment in a multi-story building in Frankfurt, which German police raided Wednesday evening.

As the flags flew at half-staff Thursday over a cold, gray RAF Lakenheath, community members said they didn’t understand why the military used such conspicuous buses to ferry troops out of Frankfurt airport.

“It irritated me,” Sara Hall, whose husband is stationed at Lakenheath, said Thursday morning at the base cafe. Troops and families overseas are constantly told to blend in and not advertise that they’re American, she said, and the military system should do the same. “If they’re going to stress it to everyone else, they should follow it.”

Hall and a friend, Diana Overton, whose husband is also stationed here, said the military needs to reconsider the use of American vehicles in these situations.

“It’s sad and scary,” said Overton, whose husband has been stationed in Europe for eight years.

Hall and Overton said they were still unclear about just what happened Wednesday afternoon, but it reminded them of the realities of being Americans overseas.

“It puts a spotlight on us over here,” Overton said. “This could happen to our friends and neighbors.”

One airman from the 48th Security Forces Squadron, the victims’ unit, said violence is everywhere, even in the States. But being overseas has its own risks.

“It’s different here because you stand out,” said the airman, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the matter. “Everybody knows we’re Americans because of our buses.”

The airmen said the deaths and injuries to 48th security forces “hurts us.”

“It’s surreal,” the airman said, adding that the unit should have been downrange. The airman said he has been on the bus from Frankfurt to Ramstein Air Base, and had never considered the risks before now.

“You go there, Ramstein picks you up and that’s it,” he said. “It’s not a big deal.”

Stars and Stripes reporters Geoff Ziezulewicz, Seth Robbins, John Vandiver, Mark Patton and Marcus Kloeckner contributed to this story.

A U.S. Air Force bus is towed from in front of Frankfurt International Airport's Terminal 2. On Wednesday afternoon a gunman shot four Americas, killing two. According to German police, the bus was to be towed to a hall on airport grounds for further investigation.
MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES