Thu, Aug 24, 2006 - Page 7 News List

German official speculates on terror links

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , FRANKFURT

A top German security official said on Tuesday that the two Lebanese men suspected of planting bombs on two German trains could have had support from a network of Islamic extremists here and in Lebanon.

"There might be a structure of helpers and supporters in Lebanon and Germany," August Hanning, the secretary of state for the Interior Ministry, said in an interview. "We are still investigating this."

Hanning said the bombs, which had been stuffed into suitcases but failed to explode, were professionally made and suggested a meth-odically planned attack rather than a spur-of-the-moment scheme.

"We don't think that this was a spontaneous act because you can't make bombs like this from one day to the next," he said.

The comments by Hanning, a former head of Germany's federal intelligence service, underscore why this case is viewed as the gravest terrorist threat in Germany since 2001, when militant Islamic students living in Hamburg laid the plan to hijack commercial airliners in the US.

The recent bombing plot has rattled Germans, depriving them of a sense of relative insulation from terrorism and prompting a debate over the adequacy of the government's anti-terrorism measures.

On Tuesday, German authorities identified a 20-year-old Lebanese man, Jihad Hamad, as the second suspect in the failed plot. But Hamad appears to have fled the country, Hanning said.

The suspect lived most recently in Cologne, where on July 31 video surveillance cameras recorded him and a 21-year-old Lebanese accomplice boarding trains, lugging suitcases that hid propane-gas bombs.

On Saturday, the police took the other man into custody, identified as Youssef Mohammed el-Hajdib, in the northern city of Kiel. They credited a tip from Lebanon's military intelligence agency, which intercepted a panicked phone call he made to his family there after video images of him were broadcast here.

The suspect has said little to the authorities so far, and Hanning was reluctant to speculate on his motives. He did note that the timing of the attempted bombing, which took place late last month, coincided with the fighting in Lebanon.

On Tuesday, the police arrested a young man in Kiel who is a friend of Hajdib's. Investigators are trying to determine the extent of the support network for the would-be bombers.

The main suspects, Hanning said, grew up in Lebanon in what he described as an "extremist milieu." Authorities believe that Hajdib may have links to Hizb ut-Tahrir, a radical Islamic group banned in Germany, though the group denies he is a member.

The German authorities are also investigating whether he visited the Imam Ali Mosque in Hamburg, believed to be a gathering place for supporters of Hezbollah.

Both suspects lived in Germany for some time before carrying out the attacks. Hanning said it was not clear whether they moved here with a plan to carry out an attack.

Hanning said the explosives showed considerable expertise.

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