BERLIN (AP) — A 16-year-old Syrian boy and three other people were detained on Thursday in connection with a suspected plan for an Islamic extremist attack on a synagogue in the German city of Hagen, authorities said.
The case revived memories of an attack two years ago outside a synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle, when a neo-Nazi gunman sought to storm the building while worshippers were inside marking Yom Kippur.
Police cordoned off the Hagen synagogue on Wednesday and the Yom Kippur service planned for the evening was called off.
Officials had received “very serious and concrete information” that there could be an attack on the synagogue during Yom Kippur, said Herbert Reul, the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia state, where Hagen is located. The tip pointed to “an Islamist-motivated threat situation,” and named the possible timing and suspect, he added.
“It appears that prior to today on Yom Kippur, an Islamist motivated attack was averted,” said Armin Laschet, the state premier of Germany’s most populous region North Rhine-Westphalia, where Hagen is located.
“We will do everything we can to clarify which networks may have been behind” the plot, added Laschet, who is also running to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel as Germany’s leader.
Police using sniffer dogs found no dangerous objects in or around the synagogue, Reul said.
On Thursday morning, the 16-year-old, a Syrian national who lives in Hagen, was detained. Three other people were detained in a raid on an apartment, and authorities are investigating whether they were involved in the suspected plan, the minister said.
Reul said that searches were ongoing in Hagen, but gave no details and took no questions. He didn’t say where the tip came from.
News magazine Der Spiegel reported, without identifying sources, that the tip came from a foreign intelligence service. It said that the teenager told someone in an online chat that he was planning an attack with explosives on a synagogue, and the probe led investigators to the 16-year-old, who lived with his father in Hagen.
Two years ago on Yom Kippur, a German right-wing extremist attacked a synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle. The attack is considered one of the worst anti-Semitic assaults in the country’s post-war history.
The terrorist, Stephan Balliet, repeatedly tried, but failed, to force his way into the synagogue with 52 worshippers inside. He then shot and killed a 40-year-old woman in the street outside and a 20-year-old man at a nearby kebab shop as an “appropriate target” with immigrant roots.
He posted an antisemitic screed before carrying out the October 9, 2019 attack in the eastern German city of Halle and broadcast the shooting live on a popular gaming site.
Balliet was jailed for life last December.
German Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht sharply condemned the foiled Hagen attack.
“It is intolerable that Jews are again exposed to such a horrible threat and that they cannot celebrate the start of their highest holiday, Yom Kippur, together,” the minister said.
Antisemitic crimes rising
Antisemitic crimes have risen steadily in Germany in recent years, with 2,032 offenses recorded in 2019, up 13 percent from the previous year.
They have sparked soul-searching in the country, which has placed a huge emphasis on atoning for the murder of six million European Jews by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime during World War II.
The arrival in parliament of the far-right AfD party, whose leaders openly question Germany’s culture of historical remembrance, has contributed to the change in atmosphere.
The influx of more than a million asylum seekers, many from Muslim countries such as Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq, has also played a role in growing hostility against Jews.
In an assault that sparked revulsion in Germany, a Syrian migrant was charged for lashing out with a belt in April 2018 at an Israeli man wearing a kippah.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said this month that German security services had thwarted 23 terrorist attacks since 2000.
Islamists have committed several violent attacks in Germany in recent years, the deadliest being a truck rampage at a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016 that killed 12 people.
AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.