Austria became the latest European country to grapple with the threat of terrorism as it arrested three people with links to al Qaeda who posted an online video threatening attacks against Austria and Germany.
Austrian Interior Minister Günther Platter said on Wednesday, Sept. 12, that the trio suspected of producing the video had confessed to having links to al Qaeda. The video demanded German and Austrian soldiers leave Afghanistan.
The three, however, had not established an independent terrorist cell, and at no time was Austria directly in danger, he added.
"Austria was not under threat of an attack at any time," Platter told a news conference. "We could determine that based on the actions of the three."
Video relates to Afghanistan mission
The three, who were under covert police surveillance for months, were arrested by anti-terror forces in Vienna. All of them are second-generation Austrian citizens with Arab origins. They include a 20-year-old man, his 21-year-old wife and another man of 26.
The online video, aired in March this year, showed a masked speaker urging Austria and Germany to cease their support of the United States in Afghanistan.
The speaker said Austria, reliant on tourism for an important part of its revenue, would be damaged if it were targeted by militants, and asked why Germany would risk its economic interests to help US President George W. Bush.
Austria had four military officers in Afghanistan at the time the video was posted. Germany has around 3,000 troops stationed in the country.
Denmark, Germany, now Austria
The arrests in Austria are the latest in a string of Islamist terrorism plots uncovered by authorities in European countries. Since the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the US six years ago, Europe has suffered far more than the United States from new attacks and reported plots.
Earlier this month, Danish security officials arrested eight men in and around Copenhagen on suspicion of preparing a terrorist bombing inside the country or abroad.
Jakob Scharf, head of Danish security intelligence service (PET), told reporters that the eight men were "militant Islamists with international connections including to leading al Qaeda members."
A week ago, Germany said it foiled an Islamist militant plan to carry out "massive bomb attacks" on US installations in the country which authorities said could have created worse carnage than attacks in Madrid and London in recent years.
Germany arrested three men in connection with the attempted attacks. On Tuesday, the Islamic Jihad Union, a group affiliated to al Qaeda and with roots in Uzbekistan, claimed responsibility for the foiled plot.
Platter said he was not aware of any links between the German and the Austrian suspects, but said surveillance had produced evidence the Austrians had contacts to al Qaeda.
"The technical [surveillance] measures of the last months have shown that the persons were in touch with the terror network al Qaeda," he said, but he declined to elaborate on how or with whom contact had been made.
Terrorism the main challenge to Europe
In a sign that Europeans are increasingly nervous about their vulnerability to terrorism, a recent survey by the German Marshall Fund of the United States showed a sharp increase in the number of Germans who fear international terrorism.
The survey said that 70 percent of Germans felt they might suffer a terror attack, a 32 percent increase over 2005. That brings the fear of terror among Germans close to the level of fear among Americans, which stood at 74 percent in a similar survey.
On Wednesday, a report by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) gave further cause for concern.
The growth of international terrorism will remain one of the main challenges for 2008 after the recent discovery of terrorism plots in Europe, the report said. The plots showed that "core" al Qaeda was "adaptable and resilient," it added.
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