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German police arrest Syrian bomb plot suspect

AFP , Monday 10 Oct 2016
Germany police attack
A barrier tape and a police vehicle of the criminal technology block the access to an house in the district of Paunsdorf in Leipzig, eastern Germany on October 10, 2016 (Photo: AFP)
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German police Monday arrested a Syrian man suspected of plotting a jihadist bomb attack after a two-day manhunt, in a case that has sparked fresh calls for greater checks on asylum seekers.

Authorities tightened security at airports and train stations after Jaber Albakr, 22, slipped through the police net Saturday when they raided his apartment and found several hundred grams of "an explosive substance more dangerous than TNT".

Police finally got their man with the help of another Syrian, whom Albakr approached at the train station in the eastern city of Leipzig, seeking shelter, according to Spiegel Online.

The Syrian man allowed Albakr to stay at his apartment but when police arrived, they found the suspect tied up.

"We've succeeded, really overjoyed," tweeted police early Monday. "The terror suspect Albakr was arrested overnight in Leipzig."

Albakr was believed to have had online contact with the Islamic State group, reported the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily.

According to security sources quoted by the Sueddeutsche, he had built "a virtual bomb-making lab" in the flat in a communist-era housing block and was thought to have planned an attack against either one of Berlin's two airports or a transport hub in his home state of Saxony.

Police had said that "even a small quantity" of the explosives "could have caused enormous damage".

Local media reported that the material was TATP, the homemade explosive used by jihadists in the Paris and Brussels attacks.

Acting on a tip-off from the domestic intelligence agency, police commandos had sought to swoop on the Syrian early Saturday at his apartment building in the eastern city of Chemnitz, about 85 kilometres (53 miles) from Leipzig.

But he narrowly evaded police, local media said.

Albakr's flatmate in Chemnitz was formally taken into custody Sunday, a day after being detained, as a suspected co-conspirator of a "serious act of violence".

Police commandos on Sunday also raided the Chemnitz home of another suspected contact of Albakr, blasting open the door and taking away a man for questioning.

Spiegel said Albakr had entered Germany on February 18, 2015 and two weeks later filed a request for asylum, which was granted in June that year.

Germany has been on edge since two IS-claimed attacks in July -- an axe rampage on a train in Wuerzburg that injured five, and a suicide bombing in Ansbach in which 15 people were hurt.

The bloodshed has fuelled concerns over Germany's record influx of nearly 900,000 refugees and migrants last year.

Heightening public fears, German police say they have foiled a number of attacks this year.

In late September, police arrested a 16-year-old Syrian refugee in Cologne on suspicion he was planning a bomb attack in the name of IS.

A week earlier, they detained three men with forged Syrian passports who were believed to be a possible IS "sleeper cell" with links to those behind the November Paris attacks.

German authorities have urged the public not to equate refugees with "terrorists" but have acknowledged that more jihadists may have entered the country among the asylum seekers who arrived last year.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative CDU party on Monday called for greater rights for secret services to carry out checks on asylum seekers.

"We see that the German secret service and federal intelligence service have no access currently to the main files of applicants," the deputy leader of CDU's parliamentary group, Michael Kretschmer, told local broadcaster MDR.

"That needs to change, we want the German secret services to have access to these files," he added.

Separately, the vice-chief for Germany's Federation of Police Officers, Sebastian Fiedler, urged the EU to improve its information exchange system.

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