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Frankfurt Shooting: Friends, Family Remember Slain Airmen

BORIS ROESSLER/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As details emerged Friday in the deadly assault on U.S. servicemen at an airport in Frankfurt, Germany, friends and family of the fallen spoke out about the slain airmen.

U.S. Air Force servicemen Zachary Cuddeback, 21, and Nicholas J. Alden, 25, were killed when the suspected gunman, 21-year-old Arid Uka from Kosovo, opened fire in a bus at the airport. German prosecutor Rainer Griesbaum told reporters Friday that Uka asked Alden if the troops were heading to Afghanistan while he was standing outside the bus. When he said yes, Uka allegedly pulled out a handgun and shot Alden in the head before entering the bus and shooting Cuddeback in the back of his head.

The gunman's weapon jammed after he wounded two more servicemen and, when he tried to flee, he was chased down and subdued by the other servicemen who were apparently the target of the attack, Griesbaum said. Uka reportedly shouted "Allahu Akhbar!" (God is great! in Arabic), as well as the word "Jihad!"

Cuddeback, the bus driver, had never feared for his safety in Germany, his best friend told ABC News.

"Zach enjoyed his life and he was proud to be fighting for his country," said Erin Jones, who met Cuddeback when they were 12-years-old.

Jones said the last time they spoke, on Monday, the two were planning Jones' twenty-first birthday party. "I didn't know it was going to be the last time I spoke with him or I would have told him that I loved him," Jones said.

In a statement, Cuddeback's parents called him an "Army brat" whose "love for the Air Force; cars and hockey were paramount in his life."

Cuddeback's uncle and godfather, Dan Cuddeback, told ABC News Cuddeback was one of the youngest in a long line of Cuddebacks who served the nation, from Zachary Cuddeback's great-grandfather in the Second World War to his cousin who is currently serving in the Army.

Cuddeback, from Stanardsville, Virginia, was in the 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. There, he was "always joking about something, but ready always willing to help out and be there for whatever was needed," one fellow serviceman at Ramstein said.

Alden, who was stationed with the military police at the 48th Security Forces Squadron at the Royal Air Force base in Lakenheath, England, was heading to Afghanistan with his fellow airmen before the attack.

Though he was from Indiana, Alden, 25, lived in South Carolina, where he met his wife. The couple recently had their second child, according to a report by ABC News' Indianapolis affiliate WRTV.

"The thing that I'm going to miss the most is being able to talk to him, being able to see him. It hurts even worse because he's got two children and they won't get to fully know him and what a great person he was," Nicholas Alden's brother, Joe, told WRTV.

Gunman Confessed, Charged With Murder

Uka, the suspected gunman, was subdued after the attack and arrested. He has been charged with murder and attempted murder.

Thursday, authorities in Europe called the shooting an act of Islamic terrorism, though U.S. investigators said it is too soon to tell.

Uka, an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo who was described as a long-time resident of Germany, had been apparently radicalized over the last few weeks, Boris Rhein, Interior Minister for the German state of Hesse, said Thursday. Rhein said that while in detention, Uka confessed to the shooting. The suspect has ties to known radicals, authorities say, but they believe he acted on his own.

Though U.S. officials were hesitant to label the incident as a terror attack, a senior U.S. intelligence official told ABC News the attack was likely terror-related.

Uka is another "dot in the matrix" of a rising threat of fundamentalist terror originating in the Balkans, the official said Thursday. Another man from Uka's home town in Kosovo was among those arrested in Raleigh, North Carolina, on terrorism charges in July 2009.

President Obama made an unscheduled appearance before reporters Wednesday to say he was "saddened and...outraged by this attack" and that U.S. investigators would work with German authorities and "spare no effort" to ensure that "all of the perpetrators are brought to justice."

He added that the killings were a "stark reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices" of American service members.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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