German plot links seen in Syria, Europe

WASHINGTON Mon Sep 24, 2007 10:16pm BST

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting in Berlin September 5, 2007. The network of the suspects arrested last month in an al Qaeda-linked bomb plot in Germany may have extended to Syria and other countries in Europe, Schaeuble said on Monday. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting in Berlin September 5, 2007. The network of the suspects arrested last month in an al Qaeda-linked bomb plot in Germany may have extended to Syria and other countries in Europe, Schaeuble said on Monday.

Credit: Reuters/Tobias Schwarz

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The network of three suspects arrested this month in an al Qaeda-linked bomb plot in Germany may have extended to Syria and other countries in Europe, the German interior minister said on Monday.

"They worked in a very conspirative and high(ly) professional conspirative manner," Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told reporters as he met U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in Washington.

German police earlier this month arrested the three men, said to have trained at militant camps in Pakistan, on suspicion of plotting large bomb attacks on U.S. installations in Germany. U.S. electronic surveillance played a key role in disrupting the plot, authorities have said.

The suspects had an international network that ranged to "not only Pakistan (but also) Syria, and even there are links maybe to other European countries," Schaeuble said.

There were also possible additional contacts in Germany but authorities lacked sufficient evidence to prosecute, he said.

Schaeuble, whose aggressive push against terrorism has underscored strengthening German-U.S. security ties, met with Chertoff for talks on a broad range of security issues.

In a speech after the Chertoff meeting, Schaeuble called for an overhaul of international law and suggested a "trans-Atlantic security area" to collectively fight terrorism.

"Since the boundaries between internal and external security are becoming blurred, the distinction between international law in peacetime and international law in wartime is no longer really helpful, and even the distinction between combatant and noncombatant seems to be no longer sufficient," he said.

Schaeuble has drawn criticism from Germany's Social Democrats, partners of Chancellor Angela Merkel's "grand coalition" government, for warning this month there was a risk of nuclear attack by militants.

Chertoff said in response to a question that he agreed with Schaeuble's concern over a radiological "dirty bomb." But he added, "I don't have any information that suggests there's a threat that's imminent."

Schaeuble dismissed the criticism from the Social Democrats as political manoeuvring.

"It's nothing new. I didn't say 'next week we will get a nuclear bomb in Germany,'" he said in his speech to the German Marshall Fund.

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