Germany terror attack plot foiled by Syrian refugees
London - German police arrested a 22-year-old Syrian refugee on suspicion of planning a bomb attack in Germany after other migrants recognised the suspect from a picture on a wanted poster and detained him, authorities said.
Jaber al-Bakr, a Syrian believed to have ties to the Islamic State (ISIS), was the target of a nationwide manhunt after 1.5 kilograms of explosives and bomb components were found in an apartment he was staying in in Chemnitz in eastern Germany.
Two days into a nationwide manhunt, a Syrian man entered a police station with a photo of Bakr on his phone, saying that he and his two roommates had caught him. Police went to an apartment in Leipzig, about 100km from Chemnitz, and found Bakr tied up.
Saxony police confirmed the circumstances surrounding Bakr’s arrest but would not reveal much more. “The people who gave the tip are, of course, in danger,” the police chief acknowledged.
Details of the alleged bomb plot were scarce but, if some of the claims are true, a major terror plot was averted. Bakr committed suicide in his cell and questions were asked as to how he was able to kill himself while in custody and what information, if any, he gave to the police before his death.
“His [Bakr’s] approach and behaviour suggest an ISIS context,” Joerg Michaelis, president of the Saxony crime office, said. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Bakr appeared to be planning a terror attack similar to those in Brussels in March and Paris last year.
Hans-Georg Maassen, head of German’s domestic intelligence agency, told local media that initial investigations suggested the target was one or more of Berlin’s airports. Bakr was not thought to be working alone and police arrested another Syrian, a 33-year-old identified as Khalil A., who rented the apartment where police found the explosives.
Bakr and Khalil A. arrived in Germany among the 890,000 asylum seekers who flooded into the country last year as part of the open-door refugee policy championed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel that has been facing increasing criticism. The three “Syrian heroes of Leipzig” — as a headline by German broadcaster Deutsche Welle referred to them — who captured Bakr probably arrived in the same wave.
“Ninety-nine percent of Syrians in Germany are good people and would fight against terrorists for Germany any time. There is an Arabic saying: ‘If you offer me your house, I will offer you my blood.’ The Germans have helped us — in a hundred years we won’t forget that,” Syrian refugee Jihad Darwech, who lives in Leipzig close to where the Bakr was detained by other Syrian refugees, told Deutsche Welle.
“It is meaningful that this has become a feel good story after it was revealed that it was other refugees who stopped him,” said security expert Olivier Guitta, managing director of GlobalStrat, a risk consultancy firm.
Many Germans, including Merkel, thanked the three Syrians for their efforts, pointing to them as a sign of the success of her refugee policy. Others, however, point to Bakr and Khalil A., in addition to previous attacks carried out by refugees, as the epitome of the threat represented by Merkel’s open-door refugee policy.
The Chemnitz terror plot and how it was foiled illuminate both sides of the refugee debate in Germany. There have been calls for the three Syrian refugees who foiled the plot to be awarded Germany’s Order of Merit, the only federal decoration of Germany. Others flouted theories that the three unnamed Syrians are being hailed as part of a government conspiracy to change the national mood in the refugees’ favour.