Another shoe drops: "Massive" terror attack thwarted in Germany; Update: New background from Spiegel; Update: Suspects received unemployment benefits; Update: Intercepted e-mails?

As predicted in the update to yesterday’s post about the Danish terror busts. I’ll be shocked if these three aren’t connected in some way to the eight pinched in Copenhagen. Both groups are alleged to have connections to Al Qaeda in Pakistan and, per the L.A. Times’s report on the arrests in Copenhagen, “[police chief Jakob] Sharf pointedly avoided confirming whether the attack would have been carried out in Denmark, thereby leaving open the scenario of a plot staged for execution in a neighboring country.” Like Germany, maybe? CNN:

Three terror suspects held in Germany planned to carry out “imminent” and “massive” bombs attacks on a U.S. air base and Frankfurt’s international airport, according to officials.

“They were planning massive attacks,” Federal Prosecutor Monika Harms said.

“As possible targets … the suspects named discotheques and pubs and airports frequented by Americans with a view to detonating explosives loaded in cars and killing or injuring many people,” Harms told a news conference on Wednesday.

The suspects, two Germans aged 22 and 29 and a 29-year-old Turk, received terrorist training in Pakistan and had close ties to al Qaeda, according to Jorg Ziercke, president of Germany’s Federal Criminal Investigation Office.

Ziercke said the group was united by a “hatred against American citizens” as it planned attacks against Frankfurt airport, a popular international travel hub, and Ramstein air base, a major transit point for the U.S. military into the Middle East and Central Asia.

Harms said the group had amassed 680 kg (1,500 pounds) of hydrogen peroxide to make bombs that would have been among the biggest yet on German soil. Possible scenarios would have been car bombings used in simultaneous attacks.

The arrests came not today but yesterday, the same day as the Copenhagen arrests, which is another reason to think they’re connected. The cops in both countries probably coordinated the timing to minimize the risk that one group would get spooked and run. HA readers hopefully will recall that warnings about a plot in Germany have been bubbling up since May, first in a report about a threat to the U.S.’s Patch Barracks base (possibly by the Iraqi group Ansar al-Sunna), then, five days later, in a story from the Blotter about U.S. air marshals “flooding” German flights for fear of an attack like the one planned for Britain last year, and then again in July in a Newsweek article about the growing threat from AQ. Quote:

The stepped-up movement of suspected Islamic militants between Iraq and Europe has proven so troubling that the German government recently set up a special interagency team to track the flow of suspected jihadi recruits to and from that war-torn country, two German sources told NEWSWEEK.

Over the past few months, U.S. officials said, the U.S. Embassy in Berlin has issued a number of warnings that Islamic militants associated with Al Qaeda may be plotting an attack on U.S. military facilities and personnel in Germany. The suspected plots are believed to be linked to an obscure terrorist network known as the Islamic Jihad Union. The group originated in Uzbekistan, but its German network has recently attracted recruits of other nationalities. Investigators also suspect it may have established contact with Al Qaeda’s high command

German sources, who agreed to discuss the matter in exchange for anonymity, said the number of suspects whose movements are being tracked by the [Iraq travel movement] project is classified; that figure is also the subject of some debate in government circles. But it is “more than a handful,” according to one source. Another source said German authorities know “for sure” that there have been movements from their country to areas in Iraq where jihadi groups like AQI are believed to hold sway. “A number” of jihadi suspects who have returned to Germany after spending some time in Iraq are on the travel project’s radar screen, the source says…

German authorities are taking few chances. Over the last few weeks, they have issued a series of increasingly anxious public warnings about growing intelligence indicating possible Islamic terror attacks inside Germany. At a press conference last month, August Hanning, a deputy Interior minister who previously headed the Federal Intelligence Service, said that the intelligence picture German agencies were seeing was reminiscent of what intelligence agencies saw in the months before 9/11.

The surprising part of today’s news is that they’re linking the three to AQ’s Pakistani camps, not to Iraq. Stay tuned to see if that changes, and if there are any more arrests. I bet MI5’s taking a hard look at its suspect list right now.

Update: According to Spiegel, the suspects include one Turk and two Germans who converted to Islam. There were converts among the suspects arrested in the British plot last year, too. Quote: “The investigators spontaneously made the arrests on Tuesday afternoon after the men were observed moving chemicals that could be used to make bombs from one storage location to another. Police believe that the men wanted to experiment in the coming days and weeks with the chemicals and possibly start building a bomb. They were, however, far away from making a bomb that could be detonated.” Shots were reportedly fired during the arrest.

Update: If you follow only one link here, follow this. Spiegel’s got the whole story, from the size of the planned bomb — as powerful as 1,200 lbs. of TNT, a blast bigger than London or Madrid — to the first suspicions — New Year’s Day 2006, when the ringleader was spotted doing surveillance on a U.S. base — to the fact that while they had all the components they needed to make a bomb onhand, including detonators, German cops had secretly swapped the potent brand of hydrogen peroxide they ordered for a weaker solution. Money:

All three of the men had intensive contacts with Pakistan, likely to the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) which is active there. According to authorities, Daniel S. visited a terrorist training camp in Pakistan in March 2006. According to information obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE, the other two were likewise in Pakistan at the end of 2006 and it is thought that they too spent some time in a training camp. Since then, investigators have intercepted numerous phone calls between the suspects and contacts in Pakistan. The IJU was responsible for a deadly 2006 attack in Uzbekistan but is now primarily active in Pakistan.

Does the Islamic Jihad Union appear anywhere else in this post? Scroll up.

Update: “American officials, who have spoken publicly about Al Qaeda’s growing abilities to attack western targets, also say that the group in Germany likely has ties to Al Qaeda operational figures in Pakistan.”

Update: CJ spots a familiar meme — the western welfare state bankrolling mass murderers while they plot.

Update: Via reader Niko K., here’s a photo set at Spiegel. And via Weasel Zippers, here’s the predictable reaction at HuffPo.

Update: The Daily Mail reports that German intel reportedly first broke the plot through intercepted e-mails. Supposedly the suspects have confessed, and cops are now looking for their associates to ensure there’s no second wave attack.