Germany: Dodging a Bullet -- This Time

3 MINS READAug 26, 2006 | 00:03 GMT
German police in the southern town of Konstanz arrested another suspect Aug. 25 in connection with a plot to ignite timed incendiary devices (TID) aboard two German trains. The arrest brings to four the number of people taken into custody in Lebanon and Germany in connection with the plot, though it is unclear whether one of them is a material witness or a suspect. Although there is no indication the failed operation was run by either al Qaeda prime or Hezbollah, the number of people allegedly involved and the progression of the plot suggests Germany dodged a bullet. The plot began to unfold July 31 after an unattended suitcase found aboard a train traveling between Cologne and Hamm was turned in to the Dortmund station's lost-and-found department. When a search of the contents revealed a TID, German authorities issued a notice to examine all unclaimed suitcases at rail stations. This led to the discovery the next day of another TID in a suitcase that had been removed from a train in Koblenz. After reviewing video taken from security cameras at German rail stations, police identified two suspects and subsequently posted stills from the video on the Internet. Within hours of the postings, one suspect was identified. Youssef Mohammed el-Hajdib was arrested at the Kiel train station in northern Germany on Aug. 19, possibly while attempting to flee the country after seeing his picture on the Internet. On Aug. 24, Lebanese authorities announced they had a second suspect, Jihad Hamad, in custody in Tripoli. It is believed that Hamad fled Germany for his native Lebanon after the plot fell apart. Lebanese authorities also said they detained a relative of el-Hajdib's on Aug. 25 who may have information about the plot. Lebanese officials claim that files recovered from Hamad's laptop computer suggest he has ties to al Qaeda. However, this attempt appears much more the work of amateurs, and probably was not a full-blown al Qaeda operation. Although the plotters focused on mass transit targets, a favorite of al Qaeda's second- and third-tier operatives, only two trains are known to have been targeted, rather than the four or more targeted in the jihadist network's more elaborate operations. In addition, there appear to have been no "martyrs" involved in this scheme, because the TIDs were intended to be detonated by timers rather than by suicide bombers. Finally, none of the suspects offered any resistance when arrested. Hamad, in fact, was turned over to police in Tripoli by his father. Perhaps the biggest indicator that this plot was not hatched by al Qaeda prime or Hezbollah is the devices themselves. First, rather than improvised explosive devices (IED) favored by both groups, these were incendiary bombs meant to send a huge fireball through the train cars. Second, the devices were poorly designed and constructed. The London Underground bombers and the Madrid train bombers — who were linked to al Qaeda — were able to obtain powerful explosives and construct effective IEDs. And, as we have said, Hezbollah has never had problems manufacturing effective IEDs or obtaining explosives in Europe and elsewhere. Even though the German train plot was not a full-blown al Qaeda or Hezbollah operation, the fact that it might have involved at least four people should give German authorities plenty to worry about. The plotters were able to plan the attack, communicate about it and obtain materials without being noticed. Only the shoddy design and construction of the devices prevented a disaster on the German rail system.

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