German Officials Look for Others in Terror Plot

After German officials arrested three men for what they called an imminent and major attack, Chancellor Angela Merkel said "it shows the terrorist threat is real." Security officials are now seeking 10 more men they say are part of the alleged terrorist plot.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

After German officials arrested three men for what they called an imminent and major attack, Chancellor Angela Merkel said, quote, "it shows the terrorist threat here isn't abstract. It's real." Now, security officials in Germany are searching for 10 more men they say were part of that alleged terrorist plot. They say that the three men arrested had enough materials to build a massive bomb.

NPR's Emily Harris joins us from Berlin to update on this story. And Emily, why did the Germans believe that the three men arrested yesterday had help in their alleged planning?

EMILY HARRIS: Most of their information comes from the intense six months surveillance they were doing of these three men. And also, yesterday, they searched about 40 different places in Germany - homes and apartments and an Islamic center - and took a lot of materials, including computers and so forth, that they hope will continue to provide information about whatever network might have been behind these three.

It appears that much of this may be directly connect - the belief that there was somebody helping them, maybe directly connected to their Internet use and other communications. I talked to a source quite close the investigation yesterday, who said that the three suspects seemed very confident that their email, for example, was not traceable - which he felt indicated that the three had some sophisticated technical help behind them that could help mask their communications.

MONTAGNE: And do you have any details on who they are looking for now?

HARRIS: Not specific details although it seems fairly wide-ranging. The deputy interior minister, said today, that they're looking for around 10 people - Germans, Turks, and other nationalities both in Germany and abroad.

MONTAGNE: Now two of the three men arrested yesterday are Germans, according to officials. They're not students from another country, you know, born and raised in Germany. What's the reaction to this there?

HARRIS: There's a lot of concern about that because these two Germans were converts to Islam and that had no upbringing in Islam or anything like that. And the apparent ringleader, in fact, was a German convert.

This has sparked lots of discussions here, about whether converts are particularly dangerous; whether Germany may be facing a situation similar to the UK, where people who were born and raised there actually feel like they want to attack society in some way.

It's also important to note that the Turkish man who was arrested, was a resident here. And the Turkish population - Germany has counted itself pretty lucky because the Muslim population here, which is about four percent of the total population, is mostly Turkish. And it's mostly been considered not dangerous or radical. It's rooted in workers that came here decades ago.

But the last couple of years, there's been a growing worry here that if the Turkish population became radicalized, that that would be a significant increase in the potential danger for Germany.

MONTAGNE: And Emily, when we talked yesterday - and there were many reports to this effect - we spoke about a major U.S. military base and the Frankfurt International Airport as targets - but now German officials have said they can't confirm that. Are there any more details about the alleged plot or what was being planned that have come out since then?

HARRIS: Both of those targets were mentioned in wiretapped conversations, but along with various other targets. So the sense here is that there was not a clear set target. And officials say they don't really know what exactly they had in mind. The thing they were more concerned about was the timing. It seemed that these three had really started to actually try to prepare a bomb.

MONTAGNE: Emily, thanks very much.

HARRIS: Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Emily Harris speaking from Berlin.

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