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German police draw blank in terrorist search

German police published grainy pictures of three possible terrorist suspects on Friday but said they had so far failed to locate them despite a huge manhunt in the northern port city of Hamburg.
/ Source: Reuters

German police published grainy pictures of three possible terrorist suspects on Friday but said they had so far failed to locate them despite a huge manhunt in the northern port city of Hamburg.

More than 1,000 police were deployed overnight in Germany’s second city to search for three men who were overheard at a bus stop by an Arabic-speaking witness, speaking of becoming “heroes before Allah”. One was carrying a backpack.

Fuzzy pictures of the three men, captured by a surveillance camera aboard a crowded bus, were posted on the Internet, shown on television and splashed across newspaper front pages.

A police spokeswoman said overnight roadblocks around the city had now been lifted but the investigation to trace the three men was continuing, with the help of clues from the public.

“We have 25 clues so far but there is no hot lead,” she said, adding no arrests had been made.

The spokeswoman said security authorities had judged the large-scale public manhunt to be justified and it was too early to speak of a false alarm.

At a Thursday evening news conference, Hamburg state interior minister Udo Nagel said: “We don’t know at this point whether there is something to the tip or not.” He added there were no concrete clues pointing to an imminent attack.

The alert came less than a week after a Hamburg court sentenced a Moroccan man, Mounir El Motassadeq, to seven years in jail for belonging to the group of Hamburg-based Arab students who led the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

He was friends with three of the suicide pilots who carried out the 2001 attacks, including Mohamed Atta, the man who rammed the first of four hijacked planes into the World Trade Center.