U.S. Airmen Shot Dead at German Airport

Two American troops were fatally shot Wednesday in an incident on a U.S. military bus at Germany’s Frankfurt Airport, authorities said.

Manfred Füllhardt, a city police spokesman, said that the busload of airmen had just arrived from England and had boarded the bus to go to the American military base at Ramstein, a few dozen miles southwest of the Frankfurt Airport. The suspect argued with some of the airmen before shooting one who was standing in the open door as well as the driver, Mr. Füllhardt said. The suspect was captured by a Hesse state police officer who was at the airport, which typically has heavy security. The attack occurred outside Terminal 2 at the airport, one of Europe’s busiest. In the aftermath of the shooting, the area was rapidly cordoned off, but the terminal continued operations. Mr. Füllhardt said that the dark blue-gray bus had regular German license plates, in line with American military policy to make vehicles less conspicuous, but that it still probably stood out from German vehicles.

Two others were wounded, U.S. President Barack Obama told reporters, saying he was “saddened and outraged” by the attack. “We will spare no effort in learning how this outrageous attack took place,” he said, adding that the United States is working with German authorities. “We don’t have all the information yet, and you will be fully briefed when we get more information, but this is a stark reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that our men and women in uniform are making all around the world to keep us safe, and the dangers that they face all around the globe,” Obama said. (CNN) Mr. Obama said that the investigation would “ensure that all the perpetrators are brought to justice… I think the American people are united in expressing our gratitude for the service of those who were lost.” (BBC)

A U.S. military official said initial reports were that two people had been killed, including the driver of the bus. They were U.S. Air Force airmen from Lakeheath base in the United Kingdom, said the official, emphasizing the information was preliminary. Two others are wounded, said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the incident. They were security forces on their way to a deployment, the source said, without saying specifically where they were heading. They were flying commercial, not on a military plane, according to the source.

“The names of the deceased are being withheld until 24 hours after notification of next of kin,” US Air Forces in Europe said in a statement. (BBC) Major Beverly Mock, spokeswoman for the U.S. Air Force at Ramstein air base in Germany, said the identities of the dead airmen had not yet been confirmed.

One person is in custody, police spokesman Juergen Linker told CNN. It is believed the German police have a young Kosovo national in custody, the U.S. official said. Tom Fuentes, a former FBI assistant director and CNN contributor, said he has been told the suspect is 21 years old. Police said they believe the suspect stormed onto the bus as it was waiting at the terminal and began shooting. “There was an incident today where two American soldiers were killed at Frankfurt airport,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. “We don’t know the details but I would like to say how upset I am.” She expressed her condolences to the soldiers’ families and stressed that Germany will “do everything we can to try and find out quickly what happened.” (CNN)

Kosovo Interior Minister Bajram Rexhepi said in an interview that German police had identified the suspect as a Kosovan citizen from the northern town of Mitrovica. “This is a devastating and a tragic event. We are trying to find out was this something that was organized or what was the nature of the attack,” Mr. Rexhepi said. (BBC)

“The government of the Republic of Kosovo is extremely touched and strongly condemns the killing of two American citizens and the wounding of two others by a citizen from Kosovo that happened today in Germany,” the government said in a statement. (Reuters)

Philip Murphy, U.S. ambassador to Germany, said in a statement he was “grateful for the assistance provided by German government officials in protecting U.S. servicemen and women, and in investigating this terrible act. In difficult times, Germans and Americans support each other.” (CNN)

As police investigated, the scene was covered with sheets, journalist Marc Kohibecher told CNN. The body of the bus driver remained on the bus, while the other body was in front of the bus, he said.

FBI agents were on the scene shortly after the shooting occurred, Fuentes said. The FBI’s main office in Germany is in Berlin, he said, but it has a sub-office in Frankfurt. The offense is a federal crime both in the United States and in Germany, he said, and could be prosecuted in either location, although that will be determined later. However, the investigation will meet U.S. constitutional standards, he said. Authorities will be investigating the suspect’s background and associates, likely subpoenaing telephone and e-mail records, Fuentes said.

The U.S. military base at Ramstein in Germany regularly runs shuttles to Frankfurt for commercial flights. Frankfurt is “the main hub of Europe,” Fuentes said, and “the gateway to the Middle East.” There have been terrorist plots in the past to attack U.S. service members on the Ramstein base or elsewhere nearby, he said. “All of those are possibilities of what motivated this particular person.” (CNN)

Four Islamic militants were convicted in March last year in Germany for plotting to bomb targets including Ramstein Air Base. Last month the German parliament extended by one year the military mission in Afghanistan. Germany has 4,860 troops there, despite domestic polls suggesting the mission’s unpopularity.

The United States has had troops in Kosovo since 1999, when a NATO bombing campaign pushed out Serbian forces. The U.S. troops there now are helping to oversee a fragile peace that has held since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

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