Germany on alert for terrorist attack

Police with machine guns patrolled airports and railway stations after the government said it believed an attack was being planned for the end of this month.

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BERLIN // Germany went on a security alert yesterday after warnings of an imminent terrorist attack.

Police with machine guns patrolled airports and railway stations after the government said it believed an attack was being planned for the end of this month.

The interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, said the government saw an increased threat after receiving fresh intelligence from various sources following the discovery last month of two parcel bombs on cargo planes in Dubai and England. The devices had been sent from Yemen and were bound for the United States.

"There is cause for concern, but not for hysteria," Mr de Maiziere told a hastily convened press briefing. "According to intelligence received from a foreign partner that reached us after the Yemen incident, an attack plan is to be implemented at the end of November."

He did not mention any specific targets. The tip-off was one of three different threat scenarios that had led him to conclude that Germany's security situation had "changed", Mr de Maiziere said.

The other two were the foiled attack on air cargo traffic by Al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula, which had confirmed the reliability of intelligence received in recent months, and a separate German police investigation that had uncovered concrete leads that Islamist groups were planning attacks in Germany, he said.

Mr de Maiziere's announcement coincided with a visible increase in the number of police officers patrolling Berlin's main railway station wearing bullet-proof vests and carrying sub-machine guns.

German police said they had deployed more officers at all airports and large railway stations. They urged the public to be alert and report anything suspicious, such as abandoned luggage.

“The measures serve as a precaution and a deterrent,” said Mr de Maiziere. “We are showing strength but will not allow ourselves to be intimidated. Citizens will be able to see police measures; in addition there will be many measures they can’t see. We will not allow international terrorism to curtail our everyday lives or our free culture.”

Officers patrolling Frankfurt airport, one of Europe’s biggest hubs, had been equipped with heavier weapons, a police spokesman said. Lufthansa, the German national airline, sought to reassure passengers by reiterating that it had stepped up security after the September 11, 2001 attacks with a range of measures such as reinforcing cockpit doors and sending sky marshals, incognito security officers, on many flights. “We’re doing our utmost here,” said a spokesman for the airline.

There was no immediate confirmation of a report in Tagesspiegel, a Berlin newspaper, that US authorities had warned that two to four al Qa’eda terrorists planned to stage attacks in Germany and Britain in crowded areas such as Christmas markets which are due to open in many towns and cities this weekend.

The report said the planned attacks were being organised by Mohammed Ilyas Kashmiri, a suspected leading al Qa’eda figure from Pakistan-administered Kashmir. It quoted unidentified security sources as saying he had recruited militants in the Afghan-Pakistan border region.

Separately, Focus, a leading news magazine, reported on Monday that US authorities had warned Germany that four al Qa’eda militants, two Indians and two Pakistanis planned an attack in Germany this month.

So far, Germany has been spared a major terrorist attack. In 2007, German security services, acting on a US tip-off, foiled a plan by Islamist militants to carry out bomb attacks against US installations in Germany.

Intelligence agencies started stepping up warnings about possible al Qa’eda attacks in the US and Europe over the summer after militants arrested in Afghanistan and Pakistan had claimed attacks were being planned.

Separately, US authorities said they had information that around a dozen terrorists had been sent to Europe to conduct Mumbai-style commando raids.

In early October, the US, Britain and other nations issued Europe-wide terror alerts and US and British media cited intelligence sources as saying Berlin’s Adlon Hotel, its main railway station and the landmark television tower were among possible targets in Europe.

The warnings have fuelled concern in Germany about the threat of home-grown terrorism by radical young men recruited from the country’s four-million strong Muslim community. German intelligence agencies say scores of young men, possibly more than 100, have travelled to terrorist camps in tribal border areas of 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.

The BKA estimates that some 400 radical Islamists are living in Germany, of whom 130 are regarded as dangerous and 70 may have been to terrorist camps.