Six Syrian asylum seekers suspected of being ISIS members and plotting an attack against a “public target” have been detained in a large-scale operation by police in Germany. Local media report that the suspects had targeted a Christmas market.
Some 500 officers took part in a joint raid on eight apartments in the cities of Kassel, Hannover, Essen and Leipzig early on Tuesday morning, police said in a statement.
The operation, led by Hessen Criminal Police and the attorney general’s office in Frankfurt am Main, targeted six Syrian nationals, aged between 20 and 28, who were asylum seekers in Germany since 2014-2015. These people “are suspected of being members of the foreign terrorist group, the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS).”
They are now being investigated over suspicion of plotting an attack “with weapons or explosives” on “a public target” in Germany, police said. While the official statement did not disclose a specific target, reports emerged in local media suggesting that the Syrians could have been eyeing an attack on a Christmas market in the city of Essen.
The location of the market had been marked on a map found among the confiscated items during the raids, Hessenschau reported. Photos showing the city’s central shopping mall are also said to have been found.
The International Christmas market in Essen starts on November 23 and will continue until December 23, according to the data on Essen tourism website. It was considered to be among top 10 Christmas markets across the country by the Local back in 2016.
Germany has already a grim record of a similar case after an IS sympathizer deliberately drove a truck into the Christmas market in Berlin last year, leaving 12 people dead and dozens injured. The perpetrator, Anis Amri, turned out to be a rejected asylum seeker from Tunisia. He was killed days later in a shootout with police near Milan, Italy.
Last October, Germany arrested a 19-year-old Syrian suspect who nurtured “concrete plans” to carry out an attack by detonating an explosive device with the aim of killing as many people as possible.
German secret services have recently warned that the country is likely to see more terrorist attacks carried out by IS. Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) chief, said back in July: “Islamist terrorism is the biggest challenge facing the BfV and we see it as one of the biggest threats facing the internal security of Germany.”