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Germany: New Terrorist Threats Treated With Caution

Germany's intelligence service has again warned of a possible terrorist attack in Germany, the latest one involving an airliner. A spokesman for the Federal Criminal Investigation office says security services around the world receive such reports from many sources and most prove to have no basis. However, each must be investigated. He said recent disclosures that U.S. agencies ignored tips about a possible terrorist action before the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington has intensified the scrutiny of every piece of information.

Munich, 13 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The latest warning from German intelligence officials suggests terrorists may be planning to attack an airliner as it lands or takes off at Frankfurt international airport.

The information was gathered by Germany's foreign-intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND). The BND circulated a statement to police and security organizations in Germany earlier this month with a comment that it was no more than a general warning, with nothing to suggest an imminent attack.

The warning became public this week, however, when someone in the security service's Frankfurt office leaked it to a newspaper. It was soon picked up by newspapers and television stations around the country.

A spokesman for the Federal Criminal Investigation Office (BKA), Norbert Unger, said that while such an attack is conceivable, there is no evidence that such an attack is being planned. "It is conceivable that there could be such an attack. It has been discussed by various terrorist groups. However, we must add at this time we have absolutely no concrete information that such an action is planned in Germany, and specifically that it should take place in Frankfurt," Unger said.

The chief of the Bavarian criminal-investigation office, Heinz Haumer, said that since the beginning of the year, Germany has received warnings of possible terrorist attacks from various sources. None of the threats has proven to be accurate so far. Among these are a reported threat to take hundreds of hostages to force the release of Al-Qaeda prisoners held by the U.S.

German authorities classify as "doubtful" another report suggesting that as many as 30 members of Al-Qaeda could have been smuggled into Europe to prepare new terrorist actions. German Interior Minister Otto Schily told journalists that it is well known that people are smuggled into Europe using the same routes as drug smugglers and arms dealers, but said no link with Al-Qaeda has ever been found.

A spokesman for the German Interior Ministry, Rainer Lingenthal, said information and tips come from many sources, including U.S. interrogation of Afghan captives. He said some information comes from the intelligence agencies of Muslim countries that maintain close surveillance of terror suspects.

Lingenthal said the recent disclosure that U.S. agencies failed to act on tips about a possible terrorist action before the 11 September attacks has intensified the scrutiny of every piece of information, however vague or weak.

He said that, at the moment, there is no evidence that German citizens should fear a terrorist attack. "Neither from our own knowledge nor from friendly intelligence services do we have concrete information about an attack being planned in Germany that would endanger German citizens," Lingenthal said.

Lingenthal said about 31,000 Muslims living in Germany are believed to have sympathies with radical groups. However, he described them as a tiny minority among the total Muslim population of 3.5 million.

The terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center in New York last September lived in Germany for years without attracting suspicion. This week it was revealed that the man who may have recruited them also lived in Germany until October. He has been identified as a Syrian who now has German citizenship, 41-year-old Mohammad Haydar Zammar.

German officials confirmed this week that he was questioned after the 11 September attacks but was released for lack of evidence. He left Germany on 27 October for Morocco. His present whereabouts are unknown.