Al-Qaeda suspect in custody in alleged German attack plan
One of three men arrested on suspicion of being members of the al-Qaeda terrorist group is to remain in custody, prosecutors said Saturday, after evidence emerged that the group had been plotting an attack in Germany, dpa reported.
Deputy federal prosecutor Rainer Griesbaum said there was evidence that the men, arrested Friday in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, planned to trigger an explosive device laced with metal shards in a crowd of people.
However, police had not identified a specific target and said the plan was still at the "experimental stage" and there had not yet been any danger to the population.
The arraigning judge ruled Saturday that the principal suspect, a 29-year-old Moroccan, is to remain in custody in light of the evidence against him.
The suspect allegedly travelled to an al-Qaeda training camp in the Afghan-Pakistani border region last year, where investigators said he was drafted by al-Qaeda to launch an attack in Germany.
His suspected accomplices were a 31-year-old German of Moroccan origin and a 19-year-old with dual German and Iranian nationality. They were due to appear before the arraigning judge later Saturday.
Federal Criminal Police Office chief Joerg Ziercke said the group consisted of seven to eight people. "But it could be more," he said.
The suspects had contacts in Austria, Morocco and Kosovo, and had "welcomed" Thursday's bomb blast in the Moroccan city of Marrakech in which 16 died, according to intercepted conversations.
"Marrakech could have been a stimulating event," Zierke said of the men.
Possible targets included events in the region of Duesseldorf, a large metropolitan area in the west of Germany, the police chief said, adding that intercepted telephone conversations suggested they could also have targeted "a bus stop or a bus."
The men did not have explosive material as was initially reported, but had tried to create a detonator using barbecue lighting material. Investigators also found a container that had possibly been used for explosives in the six properties they searched.
The men were arrested after months of surveillance, as police suspected them of planning a test-run to try out their explosive devices on Friday.
"We cannot give the all-clear for Germany. We need to continue to expect attacks by Islamist terrorists in Germany," Ziercke added.
Spiegel news magazine wrote that the US intelligence agency CIA, as well as the Moroccan secret service, were working with the German authorities to gather intelligence on the men.
Investigators reportedly classified the dimension of the case as comparable with that of the so-called Sauerland group of four Islamists who were arrested in 2007 on suspicion of planning a bomb attack in Germany.