LEIPZIG, Germany (UPDATED) – A Syrian man suspected of plotting a jihadist bomb attack was arrested Monday, October 10, by German police with the help of two of the fugitive’s compatriots, in a case that sparked fresh calls for greater checks on asylum seekers.
Jaber Albakr, 22, had narrowly slipped through the police net Saturday, October 8, when commandos raided his apartment and found several hundred grams of “an explosive substance more dangerous than TNT”.
After a manhunt over the weekend, police finally got their man with the help of two “compatriots of the suspect Albakr, who had detained him in their apartment” in the eastern city of Leipzig.
Police added that they would not give further details on the circumstances of the arrest for fear of reprisals against the Syrian informants.
But German media reported that the fugitive had approached the two Syrians at the main train station in Leipzig, seeking shelter.
The men invited Albakr to their apartment, but later realized that their guest was being sought when police broadcast an appeal for help in Arabic, the Bild newspaper said.
One of the two hosts quickly telephoned police while another tied Albakr to the sofa he was sitting on in the living room.
When they noticed that Albakr had almost managed to undo the knots, the Syrians rang police again.
When police stormed the apartment, the officers found one of the Syrians kneeling on Albakr to hold him down, said Bild.
Albakr was believed to have had online contact with the Islamic State group, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported.
According to security sources quoted by the newspaper, he had built “a virtual bomb-making lab” in the flat in a communist-era housing block.
He was thought to have planned an attack against either one of Berlin’s two airports or a transport hub in his home state of Saxony.
Police had said that “even a small quantity” of the explosives “could have caused enormous damage”.
Local media reported that the material was TATP, the homemade explosive used by jihadists in the Paris and Brussels attacks.
Acting on a tip-off from the domestic intelligence agency, police commandos had sought to swoop on the Syrian early Saturday at his apartment building in the eastern city of Chemnitz, about 85 kilometers (50 miles) from Leipzig.
But he narrowly evaded police and ran off carrying a backpack, local media said.
Albakr’s flatmate in Chemnitz was formally taken into custody Sunday, October 9, a day after being detained, as a suspected co-conspirator.
Police on Sunday also raided the Chemnitz home of another suspected contact of Albakr and took away a man for questioning.
Albakr had entered Germany on February 18, 2015 and two weeks later filed a request for asylum, which was granted in June that year.
Germany on edge
Germany has been on edge since two ISIS-claimed attacks in July – an axe rampage on a train in Wuerzburg that injured 5, and a suicide bombing in Ansbach in which 15 people were hurt.
The bloodshed has fueled concerns over Germany’s record influx of nearly 900,000 refugees and migrants in 2015, heightened by a number of foiled attack plots this year.
Last month police detained three men with forged Syrian passports who were believed to be a possible ISIS “sleeper cell” with links to those behind the November Paris attacks.
They also arrested a 16-year-old Syrian refugee in Cologne on suspicion he was planning a bomb attack in the name of ISIS.
German authorities have urged the public not to equate refugees with “terrorists” but have acknowledged that more jihadists may have entered the country among the asylum seekers who arrived last year.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU party on Monday called for greater rights for security services to carry out checks on asylum seekers.
“We see that the German secret service and federal intelligence service have no access currently to the main files of applicants,” said the deputy leader of the CDU’s parliamentary group, Michael Kretschmer.
“That needs to change, we want the German secret services to have access to these files,” he told local broadcaster MDR.
Separately, the vice chief of Germany’s Federation of Police Officers, Sebastian Fiedler, urged the EU to improve its system of exchanging information on attack suspects. – Rappler.com