Deaths Of 2 U.S. Airmen Investigated In Germany

In Germany, a lone gunman is accused of walking up to a U.S. military bus outside a main terminal at Frankfurt airport Wednesday and fatally shooting two American airmen. Two others were seriously wounded.

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President Obama is calling the shooting deaths in Germany of two American airmen an outrageous act. Investigators there are now trying to determine if it was a terrorist act. The gunman walked up to an American military bus at the Frankfurt International Airport yesterday and opened fire. In addition to the two dead, two other airmen were wounded. It was the first fatal attack in years on U.S. military personnel in Europe. The man arrested is a 21-year-old, originally from Kosovo.

From Frankfurt, NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT: A dozen or so U.S. personnel, part of an Air Force security team, had just arrived from their base in Britain and were waiting outside Frankfurt's terminal two to be driven to Ramstein Airbase, when the gunman approached.

Police here say some kind of argument broke out before the attacker opened fire with a handgun. The shooter then briefly boarded the military bus and shot again before attempting to flee into the terminal, where German police and a U.S. airman wrestled the suspect to the ground.

The Interior Minister for the German state of Hesse, Boris Rhein, spoke to reporters at the scene.

Minister BORIS RHEIN (Interior Ministry, Hesse): (German spoken)

WESTERVELT: Whether this was a terrorist attack or had jihadist or Islamist links, I can't say right now, Rhein said. But what is clear is that it was an utterly senseless, criminal act.

At the White House, President Obama expressed condolences and said he was saddened and outraged by the attack.

President BARACK OBAMA: I think the American people are united in expressing our gratitude for the service of those who were lost. Michele and I have their family and their friends in our thoughts and prayers, and we are praying for a speedy recovery for those who were injured.

WESTERVELT: The gunman is apparently a 21-year-old year Kosovo native of Albanian descent named Arif Uka, but the U.S. military here could not confirm those details. German police here say he was born in Kosovo, but his relatives in Kosovo tell the Associated Press he's a devout Muslim who was born and raised in Germany and worked at Frankfort airport.

German federal prosecutors today said they suspect the gunman was motivated by extremist, Islamist ideology. A U.S. law enforcement official says the shooter shouted God is great in Arabic as he opened fire.

The Air Force says most of the airmen attacked were part of a force protection team passing through Germany, on their way to a deployment in Afghanistan.

Lieutenant General Stephen Mueller, vice commander of the U.S. Air Force in Europe, said so far, it appears the gunman acted alone, but that it's too soon to know that for sure, or what his motive was. General Mueller also pledged a full probe of any breakdown in security.

Lieutenant General STEPHEN MUELLER (Vice Commander of U.S. Air Force in Europe): We'll dig into this from every possible angle to say: Did we have a lapse in security? Was there something we could have done different to avoid this? You know, it's almost impossible to say we're going to stop every possible individual that's on the planet. So you take the best, prudent measures that you can, the balance of doing security and living your life.

WESTERVELT: There have been several attacks on American forces in Germany over the years, including the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco, which killed two U.S. servicemen. A German court ruled that Libya was behind that attack. And last year, German authorities convicted five members of a Muslim extremist group on charges of supporting terrorism in foiled plots to attack U.S. military installations here.

(Soundbite of ambient airport sounds)

Unidentified Woman: (German spoken)

WESTERVELT: Germany and other European countries bolstered security at airports and transportation hubs in November, following intelligence of possible terrorist attacks plotted from the tribal areas of Pakistan. But those beefed-up security measures were reduced last month in Germany, in a move that drew criticism for its lack of clarity. This morning, terminal two at Frankfurt International was back to business and bustling, with few visible signs of any heightened security.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Frankfurt.

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