A Syrian refugee arrested in Germany on Monday was ready to strike imminently with attacks similar to those in Brussels and Paris, and the suspect was probably inspired by the Islamic State militant group, investigators said.
German police discovered 1.5 kg of extremely dangerous explosives in a flat in Chemnitz before detaining 22-year-old Jaber al-Bakr in Leipzig on Sunday, ending a manhunt that lasted almost two days, the German general prosecutor said. A specific target was as yet unknown, he said.
“His approach and behavior suggest an ISIS context,” said Joerg Michaelis, the president of the Saxony crime office, referring to the Islamic State.
Jaber Albakr, 22, arrived in Germany in February last year during a migrant influx into the country and was granted temporary asylum in June 2015. Officials said he had not previously aroused suspicion.
Al-Bakr was captured after two other Syrian men tied him up in their apartment in Leipzig and alerted police. Leipzig is about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Chemnitz.
Al-Bakr had met the men at Leipzig’s train station on Saturday, Michaelis said, and asked if he could stay with them. The men took in the stranger but realized on Saturday night through social media that he was wanted by police. They tied al-Bakr to their sofa and alerted the police via social media, asking them to come detain him.
For security reasons, police would not identity the two men who turned in al-Bakr.
Part of a larger network
Police identified a second suspect as 33-year-old Khalil A., who was also from Syria and entered Germany in November last year. He was arrested at Chemnitz train station on Saturday and has been remanded in custody.
A spokesman for the federal interior ministry said it was too soon to say whether Albakr was part of a larger network. Two other suspects detained on Saturday were released on Sunday.
In July, the Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for two attacks in the western German state of Bavaria – one on a train near Wuerzburg and the other at a music festival in Ansbach that wounded 20 people.
Praise for the two Syrians
Speaking during a news conference after talks in Niger’s capital Niamey, Merkel lauded German police for the arrest and hinted her government could tighten security laws. “We have to do everything possible, also if necessary change the laws in order to ensure safety of the people in Germany,” she said.
Merkel also praised the initiative of the two Syrians for informing the police of al-Bakr’s whereabouts.
“Our thanks and our recognition go out to the (men) from Syria who informed the police about the suspect’s whereabouts,” said Ulrike Demmer, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
More than a million asylum seekers arrived in Germany last year, when Angela Merkel opened the borders to Syrians fleeing the country’s brutal civil war.
The decision has been heavily criticised by right-wing and anti-immigration groups gaining increasing popularity amid concern over terrorism and the mass sexual assaults in Cologne.
German authorities have urged the public not to confuse migrants with “terrorists”, but have acknowledged that more jihadists may have entered the country among the one million asylum-seekers who arrived last year.
Europol estimates that up to 5,000 European jihadists may have undergone training at terror camps, with an unknown number exploiting refugee routes to return the continent as it faces its “biggest terror threat in more than a decade”.
Substances more dangerous than TNT
Stephan Mayer, a senior lawmaker with Merkel’s Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), said Germany’s security agencies needed to be consulted more intensively in the authorities’ handling of refugees.
“Germany is in the crosshairs of Islamist terror, just like France, Belgium or Britain,” Mayer told television station n-tv. “We must be very careful.”
Al-Bakr had taken concrete steps earlier this month to plan the attack and was possibly planning to use an explosive vest. authorities said.
Police on Saturday said they had found a highly explosive mix of substances more dangerous than TNT in a raid on what appears to be al-Bakr’s apartment in Chemnitz. They said the mix could cause significant damage in small amounts.
The material found was likely TATP, or acetone peroxide, which was used in recent terror attacks in Brussels and Paris, Michaelis said.
Interior Minister Tomas De Maziere released a statement Monday saying: “The preparations in Chemnitz are similar from everything that we now know to the preparations for the attacks in Paris and Brussels.”
Following the raid, authorities began searching for al-Bakr, who is from the Damascus area.
“Tired but overjoyed: we captured the terror suspect last night in Leipzig,” Saxony police announced on Twitter on Monday.
Police said the explosive substance could not be easily transported, so they dug several holes and safely detonated it.
Syrian refugees refusal
Syrian refugees in Germany expressed their refusal for al-Bakr actions, saying that anyone who tries to harm the country that welcomed them must be severely punished.
“We came to Germany looking for safety, for a new life and to help in building this country. We didn’t come here looking for trouble. We refuse any action that may harm this land, those terrorists don’t resemble neither us or Islam,” Hasan, a Syrian refugee from Aleppo told Middle East Observer.
“This country and its people welcomed us, provided us safety and gave us a chance to start again. How can anyone think of harming it? We refuse these actions, we seek no harm here,” Abu Ahmad, a Syrian refugee from Homs told MEO.
“We will try to identify ant threat and to isolate the ones who use our refugee state as a cover for their crimes. We will tell the authorities about this for sure,” Abu Ahmad added.
“We are glad that al-Bakr was identified and caught before he does any harm. We hope his arrest can reveal other members in his network to foil their plans,” Firas, a Syrian refugee from Latakia said.
“We ask the German authorities to apply the harshest ounishments against al-Bakr and the ones like him,” Firas added.
“These lowly actions were plotted by ones who claims to Muslims and spread terror in the name of Islam but truth that Islam refuses these actions. They are a bunch of brainwashed ignorants who are used to spread fear and hate amongst humans, and to foil any chance for more rapprochement between religions and cultures,” Saleh, a Syrian student in Germnay said.
“Islam is the religion of peace and mercy. We and our religion refuse these actions and deny any connection with these criminal plots,” He finalized.