German police arrest 'Salafist couple' over suspected attack plan

Berlin (AFP) - German authorities said Thursday they had foiled a suspected Islamist attack after arresting a German-Turkish married couple who had a pipe bomb and other weapons at their home.

Investigators raided the suspects' house near Frankfurt after being alerted this month the couple had bought a large quantity of chemicals that can be used to make explosives, police and prosecutors said.

The male suspect had contact with the ultra-conservative Islamic Salafist community, authorities said at a press conference.

After keeping the suspects under surveillance for days, police decided to move in on the eve of a professional bicycle race to be held Friday in the area, said the head of Frankfurt's public prosecutor's office, Albrecht Schreiber.

"We assume that we... were able to prevent an attack through this," Schreiber told a press conference in Wiesbaden, though he said it was not clear yet whether the cycle race would have been the target.

Race organisers announced later Thursday that the event which runs between Eschborn and the financial capital Frankfurt had been called off by security authorities because of the arrests.

Authorities said they were prompted to arrest the couple after police spotted the male suspect near the race route.

The man, a 35-year-old German-Turkish dual national, was arrested around midnight Wednesday outside the couple's home in the town of Oberursel, and his Turkish wife, 34, was detained several hours later inside, authorities said.

Two small children who were in the home at the time of the raid have been placed with child protection services.

- 'Functioning pipe bomb' -

Police said they discovered a "functioning" pipe bomb, ammunition and various liquids in the cellar of the building.

The search also turned up parts from a G3 Heckler & Koch assault rifle, 100 rounds of 9mm ammunition, as well as hydrogen peroxide, methylated spirits and diesel.

Police were tipped off earlier this month when the couple bought three litres of hydrogen peroxide in a building supply shop in Frankfurt, officials said.

Despite being asked for identity documents by shop staff, they did not provide them and gave false identity details.

Police in western Hesse state have asked federal police to take over the case to help determine if the suspects are part of a bigger operation.

Stefan Mueller, head of West Hesse police, said it was still unclear if it was a case of "a lone individual, a cell, (or) whether we have to assume co-perpetrators".

"The evidence that was discovered, in conjunction with the person's background, clearly indicates that this event is related to the Islamist extremist spectrum," Mueller told reporters.

He said the male suspect had previously come to police attention on 15 occasions for a wide range of offences, ranging from assault to illegal weapons charges.

German news agency DPA quoted Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere as praising the police action.

"Today's arrest in Hesse is proof of the effective work of federal and state security authorities," he was quoted as saying.

It showed that "we are alert and we are well fortified."