terror threat

Chemnitz Plot Reignites Security Debate

LEIPZIG, GERMANY - OCTOBER 10: German police outside of the apartment building where hours earlier police arrested Syrian terror suspect Jaber Al-Bakr on October 10, 2016 in Leipzig, Germany. Al-Bakr is accused of planning a terror attack and having prepared high explosives for it at an apartment in Chemnitz. Police raided the Chemnitz apartment on Saturday but Al-Bakr managed to flee. According to media reports he approached two fellow Syrians at the main train station in Leipzig and asked if he could stay with them. The two men reportedly brought him to their apartment but then overwhelmed him and called the police. (Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images)
The police tracked down their suspect to Leipzig, with the help of two Syrian refugees.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    A foiled bomb plot is leading German politicians to consider stronger security policies but some fear these would restrict certain rights.

  • Facts


    • On Saturday police raided an apartment in Chemnitz, Eastern Germany, on advice from the intelligence agencies.
    • They found explosives but failed to arrest the man who is suspected of maintaining ties to IS.
    • Late Sunday, the police arrested the Syrian man, a refugee, who had been captured by two other refugees.
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The Christian Democrats were already calling for tougher security measures even before Sunday’s arrest of a man reportedly planning to bomb an airport in Berlin.

At the weekend, police raided a home in Chemnitz and found explosive materials. Apparently there is also evidence that the suspect, Jabr Al-Bakr, had been searching online for information on how to build a bomb. The security forces believe he had contact with IS and was planning a large explosion.

The governing CDU party now believes even stronger measures are needed to protect Germany from a terror attack.

Armin Schuster, the chairman of the Bundestag’s internal affairs committee and a CDU member, said his party now wants to extend data surveillance. At present, citizens’ phone and internet records of citizens may be legally stored for ten weeks. This material should be stored for up to six months, Mr. Schuster told Handelsblatt.

Evidence suggested that Jabr Al-Bakr had had contact with IS. Mr. Schuster said in this case, as with other terror suspects, holding such data would help investigators find out whether they had contact with commanders, supporters or sympathizers.

In Germany, data protection and privacy are fiercely protected.

But according to Mr. Schuster, holding onto telecommunications data would help security authorities reveal and understand terror threats.

During the night from Sunday to Monday, Mr. Al-Bakr, a 22-year-old Syrian refugee, was arrested after he initially escaped police in Chemnitz.

His arrest in Leipzig was greatly helped by two Syrian refugees, to whom Mr. Al-Bakr had initially appealed for help.

Mr. Schuster also called for the police force and intelligence agencies to become more involved in the asylum process and to reexamine cases involving Syrian refugees which had not included a hearing.

Last year, amid the refugee crisis, Germany took in hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and North Africa. The mass of people caught bureaucracy unprepared and officials scrambled to register everyone according to the processes. But despite haste to organize housing and integrate people into the system, there is still a backlog of unprocessed asylum applications. Usually, the application process includes an interview by the office for migration and asylum with a refugee before their application is approved or rejected.

As information emerges about who and what had been planned, politicians are taking a fresh look at several issues around migration.

Horst Seehofer, the chairman of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party to the CDU, said the weekend’s events demonstrated how important it was “to examine past immigrants from the standpoint of security with no exceptions, and also involve the intelligence services.”

In the future, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees plans to file criminal charges in the case of every counterfeit passport presented by an asylum seeker. Until now, the office simply informed the relevant authority in the state where the person comes from.

Meanwhile, investigators are busy uncovering further details about Mr. Al-Bakr and his intentions.

At the raid of his apartment in Chemnitz, police seized “1.5 kilograms of extremely dangerous explosives,” according to the federal prosecutor’s office. While the security authorities say Mr. Al-Bakr was preparing an attack, the prosecutor’s office said there is currently no indication that he had selected a concrete target. Police continue to hold a possible accomplice, a 33-year-old for questioning.

So far, the investigators assume that the suspect had been in contact with IS, based on Mr. Al-Bakr’s behavior.

“According to everything we currently know, the preparations in Chemnitz resemble the preparations for the attacks in Paris and Brussels,” said Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU). He said that just like the attacks in Ansbach and Würzburg, the case showed “that Germany continues to be one of the targets of international terrorism.”

News emerged Monday that the police were able to track down Mr. Al-Bakr in Leipzig thanks to a tip from a Syrian man.

The suspect had initially evaded police and asked a Syrian at Leipzig’s train station whether he could spend the night in his apartment. The man invited Mr. al-Bakr to his home, where he overpowered him together with a roommate and called the police.

This detention, along with collaboration between Germany’s intelligence services and police force, helped foil the plot.

“Once again, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution did an excellent job in preventing terrorism,” Mr. Schuster, the CDU politician, said.

He also said this was further cause for the intelligence services to also have access to citizens’ stored telecommunications data even if this access is strictly controlled. In Germany, there is widespread concern about access to data by intelligence agencies based on people’s experiences during the Nazi period and in the GDR.

While the CDU is wants to extend how long people’s IT data is retained, their governing partner in the coalition, the Social Democrats, opposes this.

The parties also disagree on how to handle the detention of people who might present a danger to the country.

After the attacks earlier this year in Ansbach and Würzburg, Mr. de Maizière had suggested the “endangerment of public security and order” to be a new reason for detention. The party’s spokesman on internal affairs, Stephan Mayer, called for this proposal to be implemented rapidly.

But the Social Democrats and other opposition parties have constitutional misgivings about preventive detention, meaning debate is likely to continue on many of these measures.


Frank Specht writes about security and politics. To contact the author: specht@handelsblatt.com

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