Video: German suspect said to be Islamic radical

  1. Transcript of: German suspect said to be Islamic radical

    MATT LAUER, co-host: All right, let's begin, though, on a Thursday morning with that deadly attack on US airmen in Germany . NBC 's Anne Thompson 's at the airport in Frankfurt . Anne , good morning to you.

    ANNE THOMPSON reporting: Good morning, Matt. German federal authorities are now taking the lead into this investigation because they say there is reason to believe that this was an Islamist -motivated attack. The suspect is a 21-year-old Frankfurt man who relatives in Kosovo describe as a devout Muslim. Authorities are now looking into his background to see if there is anything that explains why he would open fire on a busload of American servicemen. The blue bus towed away by German police last night visibly scarred by the bullets that ended the lives of two American servicemen and wounded two others. Wednesday afternoon the bus was stopped outside terminal two at Frankfurt airport . It was picking up a group of US airmen on their way from the Lakenheath Air Field in England to Ramstein Air Base . Frankfurt police say the attacker got into an argument with the servicemen outside the bus and then started shooting. He killed one airman that entered the vehicle, and killed the driver. At the White House , President Barack Obama said he is saddened and outraged at the attack, and promised to spare no effort in figuring out how it happened.

    President BARACK OBAMA: But this is a stark reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that our men and women in uniform are making all around the world to keep us safe.

    THOMPSON: The shooter is identified by family in Kosovo as Arid Uka . At a relative's home in Frankfurt this morning, a visibly shaken man answered the door saying he is sorry for what happened, but would not say anything more. Now, this morning a German television network caught up with Uka 's father, who said that his son worked at the airport post office here, but he was not aware of any connection that his son had to Islamic groups. As for the two wounded servicemen, they are in a Frankfurt hospital today, one of whom is in critical

    condition. Matt: Anne Thompson in Frankfurt , Germany , for us this morning. Anne , thank you very much .

    LAUER:

NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 3/3/2011 9:45:48 PM ET 2011-03-04T02:45:48

The suspect in the slaying of two U.S. airmen at Frankfurt airport has confessed to targeting American military members, a German security official said Thursday as investigators probed what they considered a possible act of Islamic terrorism.

German federal prosecutors took over the investigation into Wednesday's shooting, which also injured two U.S. airmen, one of them critically. They are working together with U.S. authorities.

In a written statement, the General Prosecutor's Office in Karlsruhe announced it had taken up the investigation. "Due circumstances of the incident there is cause to believe that the attack was an Islamist-motivated act," the statement read.

A federal judge in Karlsruhe on Thursday ordered the suspect held in prison on two counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder pending further investigation. A fifth American was apparently targeted but not injured in the attack.

Hesse state Interior Minister Boris Rhein told reporters in Wiesbaden that the suspect, identified as a 21-year-old ethnic Albanian from Kosovo, was apparently radicalized over the last few weeks. The attacker's family in northern Kosovo identified him as Arid Uka, whose family has been living in Germany for 40 years.

The suspect opened fire on a busload of U.S. airmen on their way from their base in England to serve in Afghanistan, said Marine Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman.

The Air Force The Air Force identified the victims late Thursday as 25-year-old Senior Airman Nicholas J. Alden of Williamston, S.C., and Airman 1st Class Zachary R. Cuddeback of Stanardsville, Va.

Alden was assigned to the 48th Security Forces Squadron at RAF Lakenheath in England. Cuddeback was assigned to the 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

The German news agency DPA reported that in recent weeks Uka is thought to have established contact with radical Islamist preachers including the Moroccan Sheik Abdellatif and German Muslim extremist Pierre Vogel.

Investigators said that only trouble with his pistol jamming and his quick apprehension by a U.S. airman and two police officers hindered a larger bloodbath, DPA added.

Uka's family said he worked at Frankfurt airport and was a devout Muslim. He was taken into custody immediately after the shooting and is to appear later Thursday in federal court in Karlsruhe.

There was disagreement Thursday between German and American officials whether the suspect may have had help. So far, German investigators thought he did not, but Americans were not ruling that out yet.

"From our investigation so far we conclude that he acted alone," Rhein said. "So far we cannot see a network."

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Though the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo's capital of Pristina referred to "the act of a single individual," Lapan at the Pentagon said was still not clear whether others could have been involved in planning the attack.

"One of the key focuses if the investigation will be to determine whether others were involved in the incident besides the shooter," Lapan said.

Federal prosecutors said the suspect was accused of killing two U.S. military personnel and seriously injuring two others.

"Given the circumstances, there is a suspicion that the act was motivated by Islamism," they said in a statement, without elaborating.

Facebook evidence
Rhein said the suspect's apartment and his computer have been searched and investigators were looking to shed further light on his motives. He said investigators believe the suspect had contact with other radical Muslims on Facebook "but there is no network in the sense of a terror cell."

"There are signs that this is about a radicalized Muslim," he said.

The suspect's Facebook photo features a silhouette of Kosovo, with the phrase "There is no God but God and Mohammad is his prophet" written above it on Arabic. Rhein said the suspect recently changed his profile name from his real name to the nom de guerre "Abu Reyyan."

One of his Facebook friends said he knew little about him, though the magazine Der Spiegel reported that two weeks before the attack he linked a jihadist fighter song on his Facebook pinwall.

The magazine also cited neighbors as saying he never wore a beard or traditional clothes.

Video: Obama: 'Saddened, outraged' by attack in Germany (on this page)

"He was very unremarkable and low-key," Kerem Kenan wrote to The Associated Press. "We had no personal contacts. I'm appalled by the incident."

One airman remained in critical condition after being shot in the head and the another wounded airman was not in a life-threatening condition, Frankfurt police spokesman Juergen Linker told the DAPD news agency. None of the victims have been publicly identified, pending notification of next of kin.

At his father's home in Frankfurt on Thursday, a man yelled at reporters to "go away," threatening to call police. Neighbors described Uka as a loner who kept to himself, but never seemed unfriendly.

"I do think he was religious, but he is just a normal young guy — completely normal," neighbor Katharina Freier told AP Television News. "We were all shocked."

Kosovo is mostly Muslim, but its estimated 2 million ethnic Albanians are strongly pro-American due to the U.S.'s leading role in NATO's 1999 bombing of Serb forces that paved the way for Kosovo to secede from Serbia.

The U.S. Embassy in Pristina said the attack "will in no way affect the deep and abiding friendship between our two countries."

Uka's uncle, Rexhep Uka, said the suspect's grandfather was a religious leader at a mosque in a village near the Kosovo town of Mitrovica, and that Arid Uka was a devout Muslim himself. But he also said the family was pro-American and was also having a hard time imagining that their nephew was involved.

"I love the Americans because they helped us a lot in times of trouble," he told the AP in Kosovo. "I had an American neighbor and we never had a problem. What happened in Germany is beyond me."

Behxhet Uka, a first cousin of the suspect, said he had spoken to the gunman's father in Frankfurt by telephone several times. The family told him that all they knew was that their son did not come home from work Wednesday at the Frankfurt airport.

Image: Aftermath of attack on US soldiers at Frankfurt Airport
Frank Rumpenhorst  /  EPA
Plastic flowers lie at a terminal, where two US soldiers were shot and two others were injured on Wednesday at the airport in Frankfurt Main, Germany on Thursday.

"We heard about this from the local police," he said. "I would hope that this is not true, but if it is true, it will be very hard for us here in Kosovo. We could not imagine something like this would happen because Americans are our brothers."

Former mining town
Mitrovca, a former mining town, has also been the focus of reports that it breeds radical Islamic extremists.

Frankfurt airport spokesman Alfred Schmoeger said he had "no information" about Uka working at the airport, but said it was being checked.

"We have 70,000 people who work here at 500 businesses," he said.

Police said the attacker had an altercation with U.S. military personnel in front of a bus outside the airport's Terminal 2. They said the man started shooting, then boarded the bus briefly and was apprehended by police when he tried to escape.

The airmen, based in the Lakenheath airfield in eastern England, were bound for Ramstein Air Base, from where they were to have been sent to Afghanistan.

The U.S. has some 50,000 troops stationed in Germany. It operates several major facilities in the Frankfurt region, including the Ramstein Air Base, which is often used as a logistical hub for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In Washington, President Barack Obama promised to "spare no effort" in investigating the slayings.

"I'm saddened and I'm outraged by this attack," he said.

The Associated Press, NBC's Andy Eckhardt and Reuters contributed to this report.

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