Armed police boarded a plane minutes before takeoff Friday and arrested a pair of ethnic Somalis who they say wrote a suicide note proclaiming their desire to fight in a holy war and die in a terrorist attack.
A 23-year-old Somali and a 24-year-old German born in Somalia were removed from KLM Flight 1084 to Amsterdam after the early morning raid at Cologne-Bonn Airport, police said.
Authorities said they did not think the men planned to hijack the plane. An airport spokesman said the two were unarmed.
German media, citing unidentified security sources, widely reported that their final destination was Pakistan, likely a terrorist training camp in the border region with Afghanistan. Neither police nor the Federal Criminal Office, the German equivalent of the FBI, would confirm the destination.
Germany has been threatened with terrorist attacks by radical Islamic groups – largely because of its troops serving with NATO in Afghanistan – but none have succeeded.
Germany was still in the “crosshairs of terrorism,” Interior Ministry spokeswoman Daniela-Alexandra Pietsch said, but there are no indications any specific attacks are planned. Despite Friday's arrests, the threat level in Germany did not change.
German media identified the 24-year-old as Omar D. and the other man as Abdirazak B.; authorities would not confirm the names. The German newspaper Bild reported the men had been under observation for months. KLM said they were booked to fly to Uganda from Amsterdam.
The Fokker 50 turboprop was at the point of departure when police grabbed the suspects, KLM said.
“It was completely unspectacular,” airport spokesman Walter Roemer said. “The men were arrested in their seats.”
Police spokeswoman Katharina Breuer would not reveal how authorities knew the men were on board, but said the raid took place because of the alleged suicide note. The men lived near Cologne, she added.
It was not immediately known where the note was found or who discovered it.
The 46 remaining passengers had to leave the plane and identify their bags.
KLM said the flight took off just over an hour later. No other flights at the airport were affected. Still, some people at the airport were rattled by the arrests. “I saw a couple of policemen running out pretty quickly,” said Antonietta Puzio, an airport cafe worker.
After the plane's arrival at Schiphol Airport, passengers told the Dutch newspaper Trouw that there was confusion during the raid, and some thought at first that the armed and uniformed police were hijacking the plane.
The arrests in Cologne were not related to two other men linked this week to terrorist suspects, said Frank Wallenta, a spokesman for federal prosecutors in Germany. On Thursday, prosecutors said the pair could be headed to Germany after leaving a terrorist camp on the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Those two men are believed linked to the group involved in a foiled plot last year to attack American targets in Germany.
In 2006, terrorists planted bombs in two trains at a railway station in Cologne, but their detonators failed. Three of the four Sept. 11 suicide pilots, including Mohamed Atta, lived and studied in the northern port city of Hamburg, organizing much of the plot on German soil.