BERLIN - Three militants from an Islamic group linked to al-Qaida were planning 'imminent' bomb attacks against Americans in Germany when an elite anti-terrorist unit raided their small-town hideout after months of intense surveillance, officials said Wednesday.
The men - two German converts to Islam and a Turkish citizen who prosecutors said shared a 'profound hatred of U.S. citizens' - allegedly obtained military-style detonators and enough chemicals to make bombs more powerful than those that killed 191 commuters in Madrid in 2004 and 52 in London in 2005.
Frankfurt International Airport and the nearby U.S. Ramstein Air Base reportedly were the suspects' primary targets.
Prosecutors indicated police defused the danger earlier in the six-month investigation by stealthily substituting a harmless chemical for the raw bomb material amassed by the suspects. They said police moved in Tuesday when the alleged plotters seemed ready to try to make bombs.
Coming less than a week before the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S., it was the second consecutive day that European authorities announced they had thwarted a major attack. Danish officials said Tuesday they had broken up a bomb plot by arresting six Danish citizens and two other residents with links to senior al-Qaida terrorists.
Security experts said the two purported plots are a reminder that Muslim extremists are not driven just by anger at the United States and its policies.
Islamic radicals 'treat the whole Western world as their enemy,' said Tadeusz Wrobel, an analyst of military and security issues in Warsaw.
Bob Ayres, a former U.S. intelligence officer who is an analyst at Chatham House, a London think tank, said the radical ideology embraced by Islamic militants outweighs national loyalty, noting that many of those arrested in alleged European terror plots in recent years grew up here.
'They're not Germans, Brits or French. They are radical Muslims living in these countries,' he said.
Prosecutors said the three men arrested in Germany underwent training at camps in Pakistan run by the Islamic Jihad Union and had formed a German cell of the al-Qaida-influenced group. Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding in Pakistan.
Officials described the Islamic Jihad Union as a Sunni Muslim group based in Central Asia that is an offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an extremist organization with origins in that former Soviet state.
'This group distinguishes itself through its profound hatred of U.S. citizens,' Joerg Ziercke, head of the Federal Crime Office, Germany's equivalent of the FBI, told reporters.
Federal Prosecutor Monika Harms said the three suspects intended to attack institutions and establishments frequented by Americans in Germany, including discos, pubs and airports. Her office said the plan was to set off car bombs.
'We were able to succeed in recognizing and preventing the most serious and massive bombings,' Harms said at a news conference. She declined to name specific targets.