Oktoberfest Bust; Terror Fears Cut Attendance

A slew of terror threats from al Qaeda and other militant Islamist groups apparently spooked Oktoberfest celebrants this year as attendance dropped to its lowest since 2001 at Germany's annual brew-fest, where millions of locals and tourists gather each year to drink beer and enjoy southern German hospitality.

One of the videos released during the first week of Oktoberfest included pictures of the festival and threatened attacks on Germany in revenge for its military presence in Afghanistan.

The festival usually draws six million people, but this year numbers were down to 5.7 million, according to Gabriele Weishaeupl, chairperson of Oktoberfest.

Weishaeupl said 3.3 million visitors in the first week dwindled to about 2.4 million the second week, as the threats kept coming. She added that the economic crisis also contributed to the low numbers of revelers.

Heightened security at the Oktoberfest included bag checks, increased video surveillance and hundreds of additional police officers.

The usual 300 additional officers for Oktoberfest skyrocketed to 900 in Munich, according to Munich's police department spokesman Wolfgang Wenger.

Flights Banned

German authorities also banned all flights over Munich for the duration of Oktoberfest, a measure normally reserved for high-ranking state visits.

Oktoberfest ended yesterday but authorities "will still keep up additional security measures in town," said Wenger, especially at public transportation centers, train stations and airports until further notice.

A spokesman for the German Ministry of Interior said that the situation in Germany remains "high risk."

Just yesterday an al Qaeda website posted a threat announcing a brutal attack in Germany for a Sunday in October. No specific target was named in the text-only message.

Another German-language terror video came out yesterday from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) featuring five jihadist German nationals. The video showed training camps in Pakistan and young children learning to use weapons. The video also showed several western-European looking boys.

Arrests in Munich

Munich police last week detained two suspected Islamists in connection with the recently released videos of al Qaeda member Bekkay Harrach, who threatened an attack on Germany if the elections, which were held Sept. 27, did not result in a pull-out of German troops from Afghanistan. Current Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has pledged a continued presence in Afghanistan, was victorious.

German terrorism expert Guido Steinberg said Harrach's threats were particularly worrisome to authorities because they are so specific: "Harrach would lose credibility and al Qaeda would lose credibility if an attack does not happen," said Steinberg.

Oktoberfest has been targeted in the past — Saturday's festival opened with a minute of silence to honor the victims of a bomb attack that killed 13 people and injured 200 others on Sept. 26, 1980.

Christel Kucharz contributed to this report.

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