It looks as if a jihad bombing attack has been thwarted in Germany, where CNN reports the authorities arrested a “radicalized” couple who were evidently planning to set off homemade explosives at a bicycle race near Frankfurt.
The suspects are described as “a 35-year-old Turkish-German man and his 34-year-old Turkish wife,” who lived in the town of Oberursel. Police observed the man scouting out the route of the May Day race between Eschborn and Frankfurt, which would normally involve some 200 contestants and thousands of spectators.
The race has been canceled out of fears the couple might have been able to plant some bombs before they were arrested or might have accomplices standing by to carry out the attack. Police are said to be carefully searching the race route for explosive devices. German news service Deutsche Welle reports that “a group of amateur cyclists still intended to ride the route,” while the official hosts of the race, the German Cyclists’ Federation (ADFC), said it understood the cancellation as “regrettable but necessary due to security.”
Comparisons were inevitably made to the Tsarnaev brothers’s attack on the Boston Marathon. Chief of Police Stefan Mueller explained that all marathons and bike races in Germany have been given enhanced security since the Boston bombing.
The suspected bombers got on the police radar screen by purchasing a large quantity of hydrogen peroxide from a hardware store under an assumed name in mid-April. This chemical certainly has legitimate uses, but it’s also a popular ingredient in homemade bombs. CNN writes that the hardware store clerk became suspicious because “the woman was covered in a full veil,” and because the couple said they wanted to clean out the fish pond in their garden, but they bought enough hydrogen peroxide to clean “dozens of such ponds.”
When police conducted their overnight raid, they found “a pipe bomb ready to be used, 100 rounds of 9mm ammunition, a gun, and the essential parts of a G-3 assault rifle” in addition to the hydrogen peroxide, according to CNN. The pipe bomb is said to be very similar to the Tsarnaev’s weapons of choice, which were in turn based on designs published in al-Qaeda’s magazine, Inspire.
Although the identity of the suspects has been kept officially confidential in accordance with German policy, a German journalist and terrorism researcher told CNN their names were “Halil and Senay D.” He described the couple as having ties to “radical Islamist circles in the Frankfurt area,” while the chief prosecutor in Frankfurt more specifically identified them as “extreme Salafists.” Deutsche Welle says four members of this Salafist group have previously been convicted for planning terrorist attacks.
While the police would not state whether they suspected the couple of acting on the direct orders of an international terrorist organization, they had an impressive set of jihad connections, according to CNN’s sources:
German police established that the couple had recently traveled to Spain, where they met with members of Sharia4Spain, a radical pro-jihadist group linked to Al Muhajiroun in the United Kingdom. Spanish police had monitored the meeting in Spain. They also established that the couple had links to radicals who had gone to fight with AQIM, al Qaeda’s North African affiliate.
And they found the couple were in contact with a young radical Islamist from Frankfurt who had gone to fight in Syria at the end of last year and was recently killed.
The German police are playing this story fairly cool, but they deserve congratulations for taking swift and effective action. It was a hair-raising close call, with only a few weeks elapsed between initial detection of the plot and raids conducted just hours before the bombing would have been carried out.