BERLIN - A Turkish man and his American fiancee were arrested Thursday night with explosive chemicals and five pipe bombs in their apartment, and they were held on charges of planning a terrorist attack on a major American military base in Heidelberg on or near Sept. 11, German authorities announced last night.
The man, 25, had a picture of Osama bin Laden in the apartment, near Heidelberg, along with Islamic literature and a book about building bombs, said Thomas Schaeuble, the chief prosecutor for the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.
The arrested woman, a 23-year-old who held joint German and American citizenship, worked at a supermarket for American military personnel and dependents at the military base in Heidelberg, the prosecutor said.
The two were arrested at their apartment in Walldorf. The apartment contained 287 pounds of what were described as explosive chemicals and five pipe bombs.
"We suspect that they intended to mount a bomb attack against military installations and the city of Heidelberg," Schaeuble said at an evening news conference in the state capital, Stuttgart. "We have evidence that an attack was planned for Sept. 11," the anniversary of the attacks in the United States.
But there was no information released last night that indicated whether the couple were in communication with any al-Qaida cell, like the one in Hamburg that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks.
Heidelberg is the headquarters for the U.S. Army in Europe and for the Army's V Corps. About 16,000 American military personnel, their families and civilian employees live and work in the area - a significant portion of the roughly 62,000 American soldiers based in Europe, said Col. Carl Kropf, chief spokesman for the U.S. Army Forces, Europe.
Base employees, like the woman arrested, have special passes and can normally enter base facilities without extensive searches.
The plot, if the allegations are proved, would be one of the most serious efforts to attack American targets since Sept. 11.
The names of the two suspects were not released. Schaeuble said the man was a strict Muslim who "seems to be a follower of Osama bin Laden, who is deeply religious, and harbors a hatred for Americans and Jews." The woman had also shown a hatred of Jews, Schaeuble said.
Schaeuble said that American investigators produced information that led to the arrest of the couple. But Kropf and other American officials reached in Germany last night refused to comment further on the case, saying that the suspects are under German jurisdiction.
German federal authorities working for the federal prosecutor, Kay Nehm, said last night that they would not comment on the case, which is being handled by state authorities. But they said they were following the investigation.
All American installations in Germany have been at a high state of alert for some time.
Senior European officials say that they expect al-Qaida to be planning attacks on Americans and American targets, whether in the United States or around the world. As the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaches, they say, they also expect al-Qaida sympathizers and cells cut off from central authority - with bin Laden and some leading lieutenants missing - to try to operate on their own.
Intelligence officials say that American sites abroad are likely to be easier targets than those in the United States.
In what appeared to be an arrest not related to the explosives case, an Afghan-born German citizen from Hamburg was taken into custody in New York and is being held in Alexandria, Va., the German federal prosecutor's office said yesterday. It said that the man, 39, left Germany for the United States in mid-July and was arrested in mid-August.
American officials told the Germans that there was evidence that the man, who was not publicly identified, was planning terrorist attacks. German authorities said they began an investigation of the man Aug. 20 on possible charges of membership in a terrorist organization.
This week, Ulrich Kersten, chief of Germany's federal investigative agency, said officials were sure "that in Europe and in Germany there are people who are ready to commit violence in a jihad." He said he could not rule out the existence of other al-Qaida cells in Germany and elsewhere.
German authorities have opened investigations into at least 100 Islamic militants who live in Germany and who are suspected of having fought in Afghanistan, Chechnya or Bosnia or of having been trained in terrorist camps in Afghanistan.
Some of the investigations are of Turkish groups that want to overthrow the secular Turkish government and that have no apparent connection to al-Qaida. But investigators worry that al-Qaida is infiltrating or using other groups or that other groups are putting their assets and networks at its service.
Germany has passed laws to undercut some of its traditional protection of privacy to improve its ability to combat terrorist groups and sleeper cells, who often used mosques as cover. New laws allow authorities to go after finances of groups bent on terrorist attacks, to prosecute hate speech even in a mosque, and to investigate people suspected of being members or supporters of terrorist groups, even if they are not engaged in planning criminal action on German territory.