x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Albanian admits killing two US servicemen in Frankfurt

Prosecutors suspect first deadly Islamist terrorism in Germany after attacker had been in touch with radical Islamists via the internet, where he had espoused Islamist views.

BERLIN // The killing of two US servicemen at Frankfurt airport appears to be the first deadly act of Islamist terrorism on German soil, officials said yesterday after the gunman confessed to the attack.

"There are grounds for suspicion that the attack was motivated by Islamism," the German Federal Prosecutor's Office said in a statement.

The gunman, a 21-year-old ethnic Albanian living in Frankfurt, has been identified as Arid Uka. He fired nine shots from a pistol at the servicemen after getting in an argument in front of a military bus outside the terminal on Wednesday afternoon, killing two airmen and seriously injuring two more, authorities said.

One of the injured airmen was shot in the head and remained in critical condition yesterday. The other was no longer in life-threatening condition, a police spokesman said. They had both undergone surgery in a Frankfurt hospital. None of the victims have yet been identified because all relatives had not yet been notified.

The attacker tried to flee but was overpowered by police officers in the terminal.

Mr Uka told police he had been acting alone, but authorities aren't ruling out that he had accomplices, according to German government sources.

He had been in touch with radical Islamists via the internet, where he had espoused Islamist views.

A spokesman for the German postal service said he had been working in the international mail distribution centre at Frankfurt airport for the past month and that his contract was due to expire at the end of March. He had not had access to restricted areas of the airport and had therefore not been subject to any vetting.

Police said Mr Uka had not been on their files as a potential militant.

Officials said Mr Uka shot dead one soldier in front of the bus and then boarded it, killing the driver. He fired several more shots, injuring the two other airmen. He stopped shooting only when his gun jammed.

The German federal interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, told a news conference: "The attack is all the more painful because it hit a close ally on German soil."

The airmen were based in Britain, a US air force spokesman for the Lakenheath airfield in eastern England said. They were bound for Ramstein air base from where they were to have been deployed to Afghanistan, the US military said.

Arid Uka was born in Germany. His family moved to Germany from Mitrovica in Kosovo 40 years ago. He lived in an apartment with his parents and two brothers in a high-rise block in a working-class district of Frankfurt.

His uncle, Rexhep Uka, said the suspect's grandfather was a religious leader at a mosque in a village near Mitrovica, and that Arid Uka was a devout Muslim himself.

Neighbours described the family as religious, but not fanatical. Police spent hours searching the apartment on Wednesday night.

One former classmate told Bild, a German newspaper: "He was a quiet guy, very friendly but inconspicuous. He was on his own a lot, didn't have a girlfriend or friends."

He espoused radical views in internet forums where he passed on YouTube links to hymns praising jihad. "Even if the call for jihad came. So what?" he wrote in one forum. "That is part of this beautiful religion. One is permitted to fight the infidels if one is attacked."

Islam was under attack, he said. Germans were afraid of the religion spreading. "They want Muslims to assimilate and to believe in Santa Claus," he wrote in one forum in December.

He described Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, as a "heathen" because she had expressed solidarity with Israel. "That is like a declaration of war," he wrote.

Der Spiegel, a leading German news magazine, quoted one radical website as claiming Mr Uka had decided to commit an attack on German soil because he had been unable to travel to Afghanistan. Police heightened security at Frankfurt airport on Wednesday but Mr Friedrich said he did not see any need to raise the alert status for the whole of Germany.

The country stepped up security at airports and train stations last November after the government said it had concrete indications that a terrorist attack was being planned.

Some of those measures have been scaled back in recent weeks, but officials have warned of the continuing threat of lone acts of terrorism like Wednesday's attack.

In Washington, President Barack Obama promised to "spare no effort" in investigating the killings, saying: "I'm saddened and I'm outraged by this attack."

Mrs Merkel condemned what she called a terrible act.

The attack has fuelled concern about the threat of homegrown terrorism in Germany by young men recruited from among the country's four million Muslims. German intelligence agencies say scores of young men, possibly more than 100, have travelled to terrorist camps in Pakistan, and that many are now back in Germany.

They are regarded as a significant threat because of their training, knowledge of European society and ability to travel unhindered with legal German passports.

dcrossland@thenational.ae