BERLIN – Police searched Thursday for seven people thought to have aided three Islamic radicals arrested for allegedly plotting massive bombings — a case that has ignited debate over whether investigators should have broader powers to probe the computers of terrorism suspects.
The additional suspects were being sought both in Germany and elsewhere, and the names of five were known to police, said Andreas Christeleit, a spokesman for federal prosecutors. He did not provide any details.
After months of surveillance, two German converts to Islam and a Turk were arrested Tuesday at a cottage that officials said was being used as a bomb-making hideout. Prosecutors said the plot was aimed at restaurants, pubs, discotheques, airports and other places frequented by Americans.
August Hanning, a deputy interior minister, said investigators believed the would-be bombers' network no longer posed a direct security threat.
Conservatives seized on the case as a reason to quickly approve more aggressive police powers for online searches, including a controversial proposal to let investigators send "Trojan horse" software in fake e-mails that would permit surreptitious searches of hard drives over the Internet.
Guenther Beckstein, the conservative state interior minister of Bavaria, cited authorities' knowledge that, while in Munich, one of the three bombing suspects had linked to a radical Islamic Web site.
"We would very much like to know what the contents were, what further links he had — for instance, if he also pulled up terror techniques, if he had other meetings," Beckstein said. "For that, an online search would have been needed, but we couldn't do that because, of course, there's no legal basis."
Opponents of the idea, including many from the left-wing Social Democratic Party that makes up half of conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition, said the arrests showed current powers are tough enough.
Dieter Wiefelspuetz, a parliament member who is the Social Democrats' spokesman on internal security issues, said traditional "technological means such as wiretaps" had allowed police to keep the suspects under intense surveillance for six months and thwart any attacks.
"I think it's wrong that this important success is tied to other current debates," he said.
The topic was expected to dominate a meeting Friday in Berlin of Germany's federal and state interior ministers, who are responsible for domestic security.
While the alleged plot was headed off, there was concern that two of the suspects were allegedly "homegrown" terrorists.
The typically German first name of one drew particular attention. "His name is Fritz — a German," said the announcer on ZDF television's late-evening newscast Wednesday.
That suspect, identified by police as Fritz Gelowicz, 28, was described as a German convert to Islam, as was one of his co-defendants, identified only as Daniel Martin S. The Turkish defendant was identified as Ayem Y., 28.
Prosecutors said the three trained at camps in Pakistan run by the Islamic Jihad Union and then formed a German cell of the Al Qaeda-influenced group.
Gelowicz's last known address was in Ulm, a city in Baden-Wuerttemberg where he studied business and engineering at a vocational college.
Ulm and neighboring Neu-Ulm have been described by officials as a hub of radical Islamic activity for years, dating from before the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Dozens of residents have been deported, and an Islamic center in Neu-Ulm was closed by authorities.