Arif Uka is a 21-year-old German-Albanian Muslim whose family came from the ethnically divided region of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo. He is being held by German police after the shooting deaths Wednesday of two U.S. Air Force members, and injury to two more—one seriously—in a group headed for Afghanistan via the sprawling Frankfurt International Airport and nearby American military base at Ramstein.
Last November, German authorities warned that Islamist terrorists were preparing attacks on airports and railroad stations. But German investigators said there was no clear motive in the Frankfurt shootings, although witnesses described Uka shouting “Allahu Akbar!” or “Jihad! Jihad!” before firing on the American military shuttle bus.
Public opinion in Kosovo was less cautious, blaming the atrocity in Frankfurt on the infiltration of radical Islamist agents among Muslims from the Balkan republic. Uka, lived in Frankfurt, had German citizenship, and worked at the airport. His grandfather was an Islamic cleric in the Mitrovica region. Uka’s relatives in Kosovo said on Wednesday that the gunman's father, Murat Uka, emigrated 40 years ago, and that Uka himself (whose name they gave as “Arid,” rather than “Arif,” as he was identified by the German police) was born and educated in Germany.
Mitrovica, a mining district in Kosovo, has long contended with a de facto partition between Albanians and Serbs, separated by the river Ibar. Ethnic clashes have broken out repeatedly in the town since the end of the Kosovo NATO intervention in 1999. But the turmoil in Mitrovica has also attracted Islamist agitators bent on exploiting Albanian resentments. Early last year, a moderate Muslim cleric, Isa Kamberi, who had taken the lead in exposing radical activities, was attacked and beaten in his mosque by a group of five men, led by an individual with the distinctive beard affected by adherents of the Saudi-financed Wahhabi sect. The radical group had previously attempted to remove Kamberi from his post as a prayer leader.
In the immediate aftermath of the Frankfurt deaths, denunciations of Uka exploded in the online comment section of the Kosovo daily Express, which has led local media in exposing the radical Islamist threat. Sem Luma, a Kosovar Albanian living in Germany, wrote, “This will be a heavy blow for all Albanians everywhere. The connection with religious radicalism should open people’s eyes and waken them, as well as the Kosovo government, from their slumber. Wahhabis must be told openly: there is no place here for those who insult and kill the supporters of Kosovo.”
A reader who used the screen-name “American pro,” in the southern town of Theranda, charged that Wahhabis from Kosovo had emigrated to Germany as refugees, and gained local citizenship, with the intent of attacking “Americans, who had helped Kosovo most.” Another, anonymous comment assigned blame to Islamist “charities” that have penetrated Kosovo, “planting the seeds of fanaticism and terrorism” in an effort to transform the republic into a Taliban state. A Kosovar émigré in France identified as Xhaferi declared, “Kosovo Albanians should be first in rising to protest against this criminal. All should express their anger.”
But the commonest term in the online discussion was “shame!” An individual from the Kosovo village of Kutullaq was emphatic: “It is a shame if he is Albanian and a shame if he is not an Albanian . . . GOD BLESS USA.” From Mitrovica, a man named Bekim also blamed the deaths in Frankfurt on Islamist radicalism and posted, “The Albanian bears the shame. . . . I’m ashamed that my fellow-Albanian would kill those who saved me.” As Ardian from the Kosovo capital of Pristina put it, “Today, I am ashamed of Kosovo!”
The USAF group had just arrived in Germany from Britain. The Wall Street Journal Europe reported that 10 to 15 people were inside the bus. According to the London Independent, the shooter, armed with a handgun, assaulted the vehicle when it stopped to pick up riders outside terminal 2 at the airport. Uka fled into the building but was apprehended by police and a U.S. airman.
President Obama said he was “saddened and outraged” by the deaths, and promised the United States would “spare no effort to insure that all the perpetrators are brought to justice,” suggesting the attack may have involved more than one person. German chancellor Angela Merkel pledged the full cooperation of her government in an investigation of the case. Kosovo authorities also expressed their “deeply-felt condolences to the American people, U.S. military, U.S. government, and the families of those killed” in “this evil act.”