German investigators were trying to build a case on Thursday against a handful of suspects beyond the three arrested in connection with a foiled terrorist attack by Islamic militants, and German officials prepared to debate whether security services should be given wider surveillance powers.
Officials know the identities and whereabouts of several of the seven suspects still at large, some still in Germany, according to the federal prosecutor’s office. Their homes were among about 30 properties raided this week, said Andreas Christeleit, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office in Karlsruhe.
“They are not fugitives; we know where they are,” Christeleit said. But the authorities lacked the evidence to arrest them, he said, without adding any specifics. Others, he said, are abroad, and two are known only by aliases.
The three men arrested Tuesday — two German citizens who had converted to Islam and a Turkish resident of Germany — remained in custody. Information that surfaced during about nine months of investigation, which included the monitoring of phone calls and the tracking of the suspects’ movements, led the authorities to conclude that the possible targets included the Ramstein Air Base, a crucial transportation hub for the American military, and Frankfurt International Airport.
August Hanning, state secretary at the Interior Ministry and the former director of Germany’s foreign intelligence service, said the suspects were part of the cell that for months had been planning to carry out attacks against American targets.
“This is the network that we are aware of at the moment,” Hanning told the ARD public television channel. He added that the cell had been splintered and no longer posed a direct security threat. Nevertheless, he warned that Germany remained a target for Islamic terrorists.
Among the suspects still at large are German converts to Islam, Turkish residents of Germany and citizens of other countries, he said.
According to an official close to the investigation, at least one of the men is Pakistani and another is Lebanese. At least one of them left Germany to go to Turkey, but since then he may have traveled elsewhere, the official said. He declined to be identified because the investigation was still active.