More details about the suspected gunman in the March 2 attack
on U.S. military personnel in Frankfurt, Germany, were released March 3. The suspect, 21-year-old Arif (or Arid) Uka, attacked a bus transporting the military personnel to the U.S. Air Force's Ramstein Air Base on their way to Afghanistan. Various reports indicate he yelled either, "Allahu Akbar," or, "Jihad jihad," while shooting his victims. The suspect is an ethnic Kosovar Albanian. Kosovar Interior Minister Bajram Rexhepi said Uka is a citizen of Kosovo from the town of Mitrovica. However, Uka's uncle told AP that he was born and educated in Germany and that his family moved to Frankfurt around 40 years ago. His uncle also said Uka worked at the airport. Uka reportedly was largely radicalized in Germany and decided to attack a soft target he might have learned about at his job. German investigators said Uka's Facebook page indicated that he did have some sort of jihadist connections, but it is unclear if he was merely inspired by jihadist rhetoric or if he had direct connections to jihadist groups. Despite conflicting reports on Uka's place of birth, he appears to be a longtime resident of Frankfurt, where U.S. servicemen and servicewomen would be a familiar sight. The U.S. Air Force's Rhein-Main Air Base on the south side of the Frankfurt am Main International Airport closed only recently, in 2005. The large commercial airport itself remains an important destination for both U.S. forces in transit and for the nearby Ramstein Air Base (135 kilometers, or 83 miles away) and Spangdahlem Air Base (about 230 kilometers away). Uka reportedly admitted to German police that he acted alone, and his method of attack appears to support this claim. However, some reports indicate that Uka communicated with a Moroccan imam, 39-year old Sheikh Abdellatif, whose apartment in Germany was raided during the week of Feb. 20. Abdellatif has been known to encourage German Muslims to carry out jihadist attacks overseas. Given his tactics, Uka might have followed advice propagated by those like al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
to carry out simple armed assaults on soft targets rather than bombings on well-protected ones. It is increasingly clear, however, that he intentionally targeted members of the U.S. military. The bus attacked was a marked U.S. Air Force bus with identifiable license plates. Both the vehicle and its passengers would have been readily identifiable to most Germans in the area as U.S. military. Uka chose to strike while the U.S. military personnel were vulnerable — after leaving the secure area of the Frankfurt airport and on their way to the secure environment of the Ramstein base. Uka might have conducted pre-operational surveillance
for his attack and noticed this vulnerability while he worked at the airport. Such surveillance would make him very familiar with patterns of behavior and operations of U.S. troops in the area and their supporting transportation. Many questions about the attack remain, but since the national prosecutor general in Karlsruhe has taken over the case, the Germans apparently believe it was an act of terrorism. The investigation will focus on whether Uka acted alone, in case there are any other related plots in the works. Investigators will try to understand how he planned the attack, and they will try to find out how he was radicalized to see if he can be traced to other potential jihadists. Uka is the first ethnic Albanian involved in a jihadist attack in Europe, although Albanians have been involved in planning attacks in the United States and elsewhere. Most Albanians are Muslim, but they tend to practice a moderate version of Islam. Albanians fighting in Kosovo generally have not shown a tendency toward radicalization, and many Kosovars are grateful to the United States and NATO for protecting them and helping them gain independence. The risk of radicalization is a concern for the 7,000 foreign troops still based in Kosovo, where large parts of the population have fighting experience and access to arms. But the fact that Uka was not radicalized in Kosovo will help allay these concerns. Attacks similar to the March 2 shooting have happened before, such as the 2001 plan by Jemaah Islamiyah
to attack U.S. naval personnel boarding a bus to a base in Singapore. The Frankfurt attack was also reminiscent of the 2002 attack on the El Al ticket desk at the Los Angeles International Airport
. As major militant groups have lost operational capability, we can expect more simple attacks by grassroots operatives
like the armed assault on a soft target in Frankfurt.