BERLIN // A suspected bomb has been found in a suitcase as it was about to be loaded on to an Air Berlin flight from Namibia to Munich.
The discovery came just hours after German authorities tightened security and warned that they expected a terrorist attack by the end of the month.
The device consisted of batteries connected by wires to a detonator and a running clock. Police at Windhoek airport in Namibia found it when they X-rayed the case in the baggage hall.
"It won't become clear whether this was an explosive device until technical examinations have been completed," the Federal Criminal Police Office said. A German police liaison officer based in South Africa and several technical experts were dispatched to Namibia to help with the investigation.
Police in Nambia said the piece of luggage seized was a laptop bag wrapped in plastic and confirmed it contained wires and a timer.
An Air Berlin spokeswoman said no explosives were found in the bag. However, al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula were known to have carried out several "dry runs" before planting parcel bombs on two US-bound cargo planes last month.
The suitcase found in the Namibian airport's baggage hall on Wednesday had been due to be loaded on an Airbus operated by Air Berlin, Germany's second-biggest airline.
Most of the flight's 296 passengers were German holidaymakers returning home. They had to disembark and the luggage and cargo were unloaded and checked again.
The plane was then allowed to take off and it landed safely in Munich shortly after 12.35am local time yesterday, seven hours late.
The airport operator in Namibia confirmed that a "suspicious parcel" had been discovered, causing the delay of the Air Berlin flight, but that once security authorities had "satisfied themselves with the safety and security of passengers and their baggage" it was allowed to continue.
"However, without its cargo, which remained behind, also for further investigation," the operator said.
The scare came after the interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, had warned on Wednesday that terrorists were planning an attack in Germany at the end of November, according to intelligence received from an unnamed foreign partner.
So far, Germany has been spared a major terrorist attack. But in recent years its military involvement in Afghanistan, where it has 4,600 soldiers and is the third-largest foreign troop provider after the US and Britain, has repeatedly provoked threats by militant groups that Germany is a target.
Mr de Maiziere praised the security authorities in Namibia, a former German colony. "The checks definitely worked," he told reporters during a meeting of interior ministers of Germany's 16 regional states in Hamburg. "International terrorism wants to spread fear in our country. We will not allow that to happen."
Increased numbers of police officers armed with submachine-guns have been deployed at all airports and major railway stations. Heightened security was also evident in Berlin's government district. Police have fenced off the Reichstag parliament building and imposed a wider ban on parking around the office of Angela Merkel, the chancellor.
Mr de Maiziere made no mention of specific targets and did not say whether authorities had been able to identify any.
German media reports based on intelligence sources have said a group of four or six Indian and Pakistani al Qa'eda militants were en route to Germany to attack public areas such as Christmas markets.
That has brought back memories of December 2000 when German police, acting on a foreign intelligence tip-off, foiled an attack by four Algerian Islamists on the Christmas market in the French city of Strasbourg, near the German border. The men had planned to pack six kilos of explosive in an aluminium pressure cooker and detonate it.
The interior minister of the state of Bavaria, Joachim Herrmann, said Jewish, US and British institutions on German soil were among possible targets. He said a variety of attacks were feasible, including remotely detonated bombs, suicide bombings "or attacks with other weapons - with wild shoot-outs and other things".
* With additional reporting by the Associated Press