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Suspected anniversary attack plot busted

Berlin, Sept. 7 (Reuters): An indiscreet remark helped police seize a suspected Osama bin Laden follower and his American fiancee who worked at a US base as they plotted a September 11 anniversary attack, officials said on Saturday.

German police arrested a 25-year-old German-born Turk suspected of building five bombs near the tourist city of Heidelberg. They also detained his American fiancee, 23, a civilian who works at a government-run store on the city’s US army Europe headquarters.

“We have evidence that an attack was planned for September 11,” Thomas Schaeuble, interior minister for the southwest German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, said last night. “He seems to be a follower of Osama bin Laden who is deeply religious and harbours a hatred for Americans and Jews.”

“According to our information she hated Jews as well.”

The scenic Heidelberg area is home to 16,000 Americans who are soldiers, family members and support staff for the US army Europe headquarters, base spokesman Sandy Goss said.

Officials said the American woman warned a friend working there to stay away from the store, which is on the closed military base, in the coming days. The friend told law enforcement officials who were then able to unravel the plot.

“One of her co-workers made the decision to go to the authorities,” said Mitchell Edgar, a spokesman for the Army & Air Force Exchange Service. “We applaud her for that.”

The AAFES, chartered by the department of defence, runs stores on US military bases. Edgar said the woman had worked there for several years and was an assistant facility manager. Schaeuble said the attacks would have been aimed against US military installations and sites in Heidelberg's centre.

Five bombs

Security has been tightened across Europe ahead of the first anniversary of the attacks on the United States in which about 3,000 people died. The Heidelberg case appears to be the first involving a September 11 anniversary attack.

Washington has blamed Saudi-born dissident bin Laden and his al Qaida network for the attacks with hijacked airliners, which destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and hit US military headquarters at the Pentagon.

Schaeuble said police had found shells for five bombs and 130 kg of chemicals and electrical material. The suspect worked as a warehouse employee in a chemical factory.

Police also found a picture of bin Laden in the apartment of the man, who had a criminal record involving theft and drugs. He lived with his fiancee in the city of Walldorf near Heidelberg. “As far as we now know, we are dealing with an individual who has no known links to a terror network,” interior minister Otto Schily told the Antenne Bayern radio station today. “It involves a dangerous person with an Islamic background.”

Heidelberg is a popular destination for American tourists and students studying in Germany, and has a long connection with the US military.

Separately, the German prosecutor’s office said late yesterday that US authorities had arrested an Afghan-born German from the city of Hamburg, where three September 11 hijackers once lived, also on suspicion of planning attacks. The prosecutor’s office in Karlsruhe said US officials had arrested an Afghan-orn German in New York in late August.

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