Five Islamist suspects' supposed farewell videos led to terror warning
May 16, 2007
HEIDELBERG, Germany — Five Islamists from Frankfurt who had supposedly filmed farewell videos for use after suicide attacks on U.S. military bases were the impetus of last month’s terror warning, a German news magazine has reported.
The magazine, Focus, quoted police sources and said that the five included two Germans who had converted to Islam and three Germans of Turkish origin. All belonged to the Islamic Jihad Union, a group affiliated with al-Qaida, the magazine said, and some had undergone military training in Pakistan.
The five at one point were detained after surveilling a U.S. base in Hanau, the magazine said. But because of insufficient evidence of criminal wrongdoing — and infighting and mistakes by intelligence agencies, Focus said — the men have not been charged.
“The federal prosecutor has so far not been successful in submitting enough incriminating evidence against the Islamist group. During a raid of the apartments of the suspects in January this year, the investigators found a lot of propaganda material, but it was not sufficient to get an arrest warrant from the investigating judge in Karlsruhe,” according to an English translation of the story, which ran Saturday.
The story doesn’t say how its authors know about the farewell videos, only that “according to the most recent intelligence, members have already filmed farewell videos.”
U.S. European Command officials said Tuesday that they could not comment on the story. But they said nothing had changed since the U.S. Embassy on April 20 put out a warning of an increased terrorist threat and increased its own security.
“The message is still valid, and we ask Americans to continue to be vigilant,” said Maj. John Dorrian, a EUCOM spokesman.
Dorrian said that anonymously sourced reports Friday by ABC and CNN news that there was an “imminent” threat of an attack with guns and bombs at EUCOM in Stuttgart had been unfounded.
“There was nothing that warranted those stories, in our estimation,” Dorrian said. “There have been no new developments that would drive the U.S. European Command to change our force-protection condition in theater. We remain at a high level of alert, and we have for several days conducted exercises to assure our force protection measures are very sharp.”
The information about the five men in the Focus story initially came from the Central Intelligence Agency and was passed along to Germany’s BfV Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
The two agencies agreed to keep surveillance of the men secret, and not tell local German police, to avoid leaks, the magazine said. U.S. military officials and intelligence were alerted to the threat, however, and themselves told German police, the magazine said.
According to Focus, the U.S. Air Force’s intelligence arm, the Air Intelligence Agency, told the Stuttgart chief of police about the surveillance of the group, and the Stuttgart police alerted other police agencies.
But according to the magazine, whose sources were German police, it was the German BfV agents who erred in the case. For instance, the story said, the agents pulled up to one of the suspect’s apartments in a freshly washed car and were quickly identified by the suspect.
Oliver Mueller-Fuhrmans, vice-spokesman for the BfV, said the agency as a rule doesn’t comment on its operations. “Especially if we are criticized for operational mistakes, we just say ‘No comment,’ ” he said.
U.S. Air Forces in Europe spokesman Capt. Chris Watt also declined to comment on whether — and, if so, why — the Air Force agents had given the information to Stuttgart police. Watt referred questions to EUCOM, but EUCOM declined to comment.
U.S. Army Europe also declined to comment about whether there are USAREUR- wide warnings out about the five men among military police and contracted Ponds guards who check identification at base gates.
But on March 27, three weeks before the embassy warning, the 21st Theater Support Command sent out an e-mail warning to an undetermined number of recipients.
“We have a credible threat that an extremist organization is targeting U.S. kasernes,” according to an e-mail given to Stars and Stripes by U.S. military authorities. “Intelligence and security agencies from the U.S. and other countries are currently working this threat.”
The e-mail also had attached a “BOLO” — or “Be on the Lookout” for at least three men “suspected for recruiting for jihad.”
The BOLO — given to personnel guarding U.S. bases — contained their photographs, passport numbers, birth dates and cars they might be driving. One was a 27-year-old German; one was a 22-year-old man of Turkish origin but with a German passport. Both had been arrested in January 2005, according to the BOLO. The third man was a 23-year-old Iranian.
Dorrian would not comment on whether any of the men on the BOLO were among the group of five referred to by Focus magazine.
The 21st TSC e-mail said Hanau had been watched, and possibly Mannheim, Heidelberg and Kaiserslautern, as well. It directed that people be aware of suspicious activity, and to note time, location, activity and the looks, clothes and cars of anyone doing something suspicious, and to call military or German police.
The message instructed that soldiers and families should read the e-mail, that they should not wear their Army uniforms until arriving at work, and that they should remove anything identifying them as American from their cars and houses.
Stars and Stripes learned of the message in late March. On two occasions, editors met with U.S. military officials about the possible threat. At that time, the newspaper agreed not to release specific information on the individuals for fear its disclosure could compromise the German investigation.