German Alert Followed Namibian Airport - 11-18-2010, 12:48 PM
German Alert Followed Namibian Airport Scare
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN and ERIC SCHMITT
Namibian authorities halted and searched a flight bound for Munich on Wednesday morning after luggage screeners found an untagged laptop bag containing batteries wired to a fuse and clock, a discovery made just hours before Germany issued a rare security alert.
On Thursday, Air Berlin said no explosives were found in the bag.
A statement by the Namibia Airports Company said that “a suspicious parcel” had been found in a luggage screening area in the airport at Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, at 8:50 a.m. local time Wednesday, and that as a result Air Berlin Flight 7377 was delayed and its 296 passengers and 10 crew members sent back to the terminal and asked to identify their luggage. The flight took off in mid-afternoon, but its cargo was kept for further examination, the statement said. The plane arrived in Munich early Thursday.
In a statement issued Thursday, the German Federal Criminal Police said that a scan of the suspicious bag had revealed “batteries that were connected by cable to a detonator and a running clock.”
In a hastily called news conference in Berlin about four hours after the package was discovered, the German interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, announced that said the government had “concrete indications of a series of attacks planned for the end of November” and dispatched heavily armed police officers and bomb-sniffing dogs to train stations, airports and key landmarks.
His declaration and the decision to put on a show of force on the streets represented a significant shift in Germany’s counterterror strategy. Even as Britain and France went on high alert as intelligence reports of potential plots against Europe mounted and two powerful bombs hidden in air cargo shipped from Yemen were intercepted, security officials in Germany had maintained that the country’s threat from terrorism was general and abstract. It holds that major warnings alarm the public while doing little to protect it — in itself a sort of victory for terrorists.
Mr. de Maizière did not mention the Namibian alert or specify the exact nature of the new information, saying only that it had emerged after the interception of the Yemen bombs, one of which had passed through a German airport.
A German intelligence official said the shift was likely not so much a result of a single tip than of the buildup of reports that indicated German targets were at risk and of increased concerns about cargo security, underscored by the discovery of a small package bomb in the mail of Chancellor Angela Merkel that had been sent from Greece.
The official, speaking anonymously on security matters, said reports had been streaming in for months that teams might be heading to Germany for a Mumbai-style attack or other terrorism strikes, though without the specificity of the Saudi tip that pointed to the Yemen bombs.
“The situation has developed over the past weeks and months,” the official said. “There were new messages almost every day. The number of messages increased and concentrated on Germany.”
Pakistani and American officials offered dovetailing accounts of the influx of intelligence been pointing to imminent attacks by terrorists trained in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
The officials said that American military drone strikes in those countries had killed some of the plotters and disrupted the plans, but that others were at large and might still strike.
In Washington, an American counterterrorism official, also speaking anonymously on security matters, detailed the intelligence behind a warning issued in October to Americans traveling in Europe. He said that about 25 fighters affiliated with Al Qaeda, organized into cells of three to five members, had been planning commando attacks in Britain, France and Germany. Since then, the official said, about 10 of the fighters have been killed or captured, most of them by drone strikes in Pakistan.
A Pakistani official, who also spoke anonymously, said drone strikes in September and October were believed to have killed European recruits directly involved in various plots, possibly including attacks in Germany and Britain. But he said several such plotters were believed to be alive.
According to one European intelligence official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, some attackers might be in place. That official said that “within the last six weeks there had been some Germans arrested in Pakistan” who said as much, though they did not know where or when a strike was planned.
France has been on high alert for several weeks, deploying nearly 5,000 extra members of the military and the police force to patrol sites deemed vulnerable. Five people were arrested in France on terrorism charges last week. Officials said one of them had spent time in Afghanistan and the others had planned to travel to Pakistan. The officials also said one of the suspects had been involved in an assassination plot against the leader of the Great Mosque of Paris.
On Wednesday, even as Mr. de Maizière issued his warning, he sought to maintain Germany’s calm.
“We won’t be intimidated by international terror,” he said, “neither in our way of life, nor our culture or freedom.”
Reporting was contributed by Barry Bearak, John Grobler, Joseph Berger, Judy Dempsey, Victor Homola, Mark Mazzetti, Souad Mekhennet, and Stefan Pauly.
|airport, alert, german, namibian|