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Gunman kills 2 U.S. airmen at Frankfurt airport

The gunman opened fire on a U.S. military bus waiting at a terminal at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, killing the airmen and injuring two, officials say. Police arrest a 21-year-old man from Kosovo.

March 03, 2011|By Kim Willsher, Los Angeles Times
  • Police stand around a covered U.S. military bus at Frankfurt airport after the shooting.
Police stand around a covered U.S. military bus at Frankfurt airport after… (Boris Roessler, AFP/Getty…)

Reporting from Paris — Two United States airmen were killed and another two injured Wednesday when a lone gunman opened fire on an American military bus outside a terminal at the international airport in Frankfurt, Germany.

A 21-year-old suspect from Kosovo was arrested in a terminal building while trying to escape, according to local police. Authorities said they were investigating whether the man was part of a terrorist plot.

The four were U.S. military personnel stationed at the Royal Air Force base at Lakenheath in Britain and had just arrived in Germany en route to an unspecified overseas deployment. Their names were being withheld until their families had been notified.

German police said 15 airmen had boarded the bus to travel to Ramstein, a huge American military facility 60 miles southwest of Frankfurt and the headquarters of the U.S. Air Force in Europe.

The gunman walked up to the blue and gray U.S. Air Force bus outside Terminal 2 of the international airport Wednesday afternoon and began arguing with some of the American military personnel, police said.

He then reportedly fatally shot the driver and an airman who was standing in the open doorway of the bus before boarding the vehicle and shooting two other passengers. The two wounded airmen — one was hit in the head and the other in the chest — were taken to the Sachsenhausen hospital.

Maj. Beverly Mock, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Air Force, confirmed that two airmen had been killed. She said one of the two injured airmen was in serious condition.

Bajram Rexhepi, Kosovo's interior minister, reportedly identified the suspect as Arif Uka, a Kosovo citizen from the northern town of Mitrovica.

Mitrovica has been a flashpoint for tensions between Serbians and ethnic Albanians since the city was divided after a North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombing campaign in 1999. Although U.S. troops are based in the southeast of Kosovo, they have been called to help alliance forces and local security forces restore order in Mitrovica in recent years.

"This is a devastating and a tragic event," Rexhepi said. "We are trying to find out was this something that was organized or what was the nature of the attack."

The U.S. is thought to have about 40,000 military personnel stationed in Germany at up to 50 bases. The Defense Department refused to give exact numbers.

In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged that Germany would do everything in its power to investigate the shooting.

"I would like to express how upset I am," she said at a news conference. "We have to do everything we can to find out what happened."

In a surprise appearance before reporters at the White House, President Obama expressed the nation's condolences.

"I am saddened and outraged by this attack that took the lives of two Americans and wounded two others. I think the American people are united in expressing our gratitude for the service of those who were lost," Obama said. "I want everybody to understand that we will spare no effort in learning how this outrageous act took place."

Frankfurt police have formed a special investigative unit to examine the shooting, and Germany's equivalent of the FBI, the Bundeskriminalamt, said it would be called in if the killings were found to be politically motivated.

Other attacks against the U.S. forces in Germany included a 1986 bombing at a Berlin disco that killed two soldiers and a civilian and injured 230 people, including 44 Americans.

Willsher is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Michael Muskal in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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