German police arrest Islamist terror cell said to be targeting Berlin synagogue

Spiegel reports suspects had video of Jewish place of worship, shopping centers; police won’t comment on reported targets but say no concrete danger of attack

Illustrative: Police close the streets around a Christmas market after a suspicious object was found in Potsdam, Germany, on Dec. 1, 2017. (Julian Staehle/dpa via AP)
Illustrative: Police close the streets around a Christmas market after a suspicious object was found in Potsdam, Germany, on Dec. 1, 2017. (Julian Staehle/dpa via AP)

German police carried out raids on suspected Islamists and made arrests across the country early Tuesday over allegations they were plotting an attack, Berlin officials said.

German authorities are on high alert for Islamist threats to Europe’s most populous country, which has in recent years suffered several attacks.

“On suspicion of planning a serious violent act endangering the state, search warrants are being executed in Berlin, Brandenburg, North Rhine-Westphalia and Thuringia,” the Berlin attorney general’s office said via Twitter.

The alleged militants, of Chechen origin, are aged between 23 and 28 and “suspected of having scouted locations for a possible Islamist attack,” Berlin police said in a statement.

The suspicions were prompted by pictures found on the cellphone of one of the suspects during a routine police check, it added.

German news magazine Spiegel said the suspects may have had a synagogue in Berlin in their sights after video material of the building was found.

The suspects also allegedly scouted out several shopping centers as possible targets, said the magazine.

Some 180 officers took part in the raids, confiscating cash, hard drives and knives.

Police would not confirm Der Spiegel’s report on possible targets.

But they added that “based on the current information, there was not yet any concrete danger of an attack.”

The aftermath of a terrorist attack is seen on December 20, 2016 after a lorry smashed into a busy Christmas market in central Berlin. (AFP Photo/Odd Andersen)

Germany’s deadliest attack was a truck rampage at a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016.

The attacker, Tunisian asylum seeker Anis Amri, hijacked a truck and murdered its Polish driver before running over another 11 people. He was shot dead by Italian police in Milan four days later while on the run.

Since then, German authorities have thwarted nine attacks believed to have radical Islamist motives.

Most recently, police in the western city of Offenbach arrested three men in November for allegedly planning a bomb attack in the name of Islamic State.

That same month, a Syrian was arrested in Berlin accused of having procured key components for an explosive device and discussing bomb-making tips with other suspected Islamists in an online chat group.

Germany’s security services estimate there are around 11,000 Islamic radicals in Germany. Of them, some 680 are deemed particularly dangerous and capable of using violence — a five-fold increase since 2013.

Around 150 of these potentially dangerous individuals have been detained for various offences.

Two women light candles among others and flowers next to the entrance of the synagogue in Munich, during a protest against anti-Semitism on October 11, 2019, two days after a deadly shooting outside a synagogue in Halle. (Christof STACHE / AFP)

An anti-Semitic bloodbath was narrowly averted in October when an armed assailant tried to blast his way into a synagogue in Halle, Germany, where scores of worshipers were attending services on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism.

Unable to break through a locked door, the gunman went on a rampage in nearby streets, killing two people and wounding two others.

Authorities said the 27-year-old German man who has confessed to the attack had posted an anti-Semitic screed before the assault and broadcast the shooting live on a popular video game site.

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