A specific intelligence warning from Israel led German authorities to call off a soccer game between Germany and the Netherlands on November 17, German media reported on Wednesday.
According to the Stern news site, the German security authorities received serious warnings about a terror threat on the Monday before Tuesday’s scheduled match in Hannover, and more specific information was relayed in the course of Tuesday.
So concrete were the details, Stern reported, that the German authorities saw no alternative but to cancel the game, which was called off 90 minutes before kickoff.
Members of the German government including Chancellor Angela Merkel were in Hannover en route to attend the match at the time, intending to send a signal that Germany would not bow to terrorism in the wake of the deadly Paris attacks the previous Friday. A France-Germany soccer match at Paris’s Stade de France was among the targets attacked by Islamic State terrorists on November 13 in a multiple terror spree that killed 130 people. Three suicide bombers blew themselves up at the stadium, killing one bystander. The bombers had sought unsuccessfully to enter the stadium.
The Israeli warnings including details of times and targets, said Stern. According to a second, unconfirmed, German media report, cited by Israel’s Hebrew-language Ynet news site, an explosive device was subsequently found in a vehicle disguised as an ambulance outside the stadium.
Announcing that the game had been abandoned, Hannover police chief Volker Kluwe told German TV: “We had concrete evidence that someone wanted to set off an explosive device in the stadium.”
Referring to another bomb threat about an hour earlier that turned out to be a false alarm, Kluwe said, “After the first object turned out to be harmless, we got a tip that had to be taken seriously that an attack was being planned.”
Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere took responsibility for calling off Tuesday’s game. He said indications of a planned attack became stronger as the match approached, and the decision was made shortly after Merkel and her ministers landed.
De Maiziere said at the time that he could give few details because he needed to protect the source of information, and because “part of these answers would upset the population.”
Lower Saxony Interior Minister Boris Pistorius, speaking at the same late news conference November 17, said no explosives had been found by then, and no arrests had been made. Pistorius said there was no confirmation of rumors that an explosive device was placed in an ambulance or another vehicle inside or outside the stadium.
One of two caretaker presidents in charge of the German football federation, Reinhard Rauball, said the German team was about five kilometers away from the stadium when he called and told them to turn around.
Rauball also told two Dutch ministers and the country’s ambassador of the threat and the decision to cancel the game.
“It’s a sad day for German football,” Rauball said.
Rauball added that the German players left Hannover by late evening through various means, and that the Dutch team was flying out.
“My impression is that football in Germany has taken a different turn in every facet as of today,” Rauball said.
A bomb disposal unit secured a suspicious package from a train in Hannover and the search was on for the man who left it there. A fellow passenger informed him he left something behind but he failed to react and left the train, police spokeswoman Sandra Perlebach told news agency dpa. The train had been on the way from Bremen to Oldenburg.
Police had shut down parts of the main Hannover train station and several subway stations while searching the area around the stadium. A jazz concert at which around 900 concert-goers were expected was also canceled.
Spectators had only just started entering the Hannover stadium when the evacuation order was given, which affected mainly stadium staff, match workers, VIP guests, and media.
Security at the stadium was very tight, with police armed with machine guns and maintaining a very obvious presence in the city. Reporters arriving for the game were searched, while a sniffer dog was deployed to check their bags.
That same night, a soccer friendly between England and France in London did go ahead as planned, despite major concerns over safety following the deadly attacks in Paris.
But another game planned for that same night, between Belgium and Spain, was called off the day before following a Belgian government recommendation. The Belgian Football Association said it was “in the context of a new elevated terrorist alert and the current pursuit of a suspect.”
Head German coach Joachim Loew had called Tuesday’s planned match “a clear message and symbol of freedom and a demonstration of compassion, as well as sorrow, for our French friends — not only in France, but throughout the world.”
Before the match, players had been practicing the French anthem “La Marseillaise,” which they had been set to sing in a sign of solidarity with the shaken neighboring nation.