Social media almost came to Jaber Albakr’s rescue. But in the end it proved to be his downfall.
On Saturday morning, the 22-year-old Syrian narrowly escaped the clutches of police in the eastern town of Chemnitz when they raided his apartment. Officers from a specialist SEK unit found highly dangerous explosives there, but Albakr was nowhere to be found.
A few hours later, he had made his way north to the central train station in Leipzig, the largest city in the eastern state of Saxony, Bild newspaper reports.
There he sent out a request via a Syrian social media network for a place to stay. Syrian refugee Mohamed A., 36, who has been living Leipzig, responded and along with two friends picked Albakr up from the station.
“We went to the train station and then brought him to a friend’s house where we ate rice and lamb. Then we went to another friend's. The terrorist slept there,” Mohamed told Bild.
Albakr told the men that he had recently arrived in Germany and was trying to set himself up with a job.
The young Syrian, who authorities believe was planning an attack on a Berlin airport, spent the next day with the Syrian men too, asking them to cut his hair, which former barber Mohamed did.
Later in the day though, the friends came across the police's manhunt information while searching social media.
Despite barely being able to speak German, Mohamed was helped out by the fact that other members of Germany’s Syrian community shared the information in Arabic and English.
A virtual chain
There are several Facebook pages specifically for Syrian refugees living in Germany, some with as many as 100,000 likes, Die Welt reports.
Some are support forums to discuss day-to-day matters such as German bureaucracy, others places for discussions on everyday goings on in their adoptive country.
One popular page, German LifeStyle, is run by three young men who post offbeat videos and news to their 90,000 followers. But on Sunday the content was more serious, urging followers to keep a look out for the fugitive.
“We as Syrians need to fight against those among us who want to do harm to the people here who support us and all other people who live here,” the post stated above the police description and a photo of Albakr.
Two other Syrian-run Facebook pages, with a combined following of several hundred thousand people, also shared the police manhunt information, Die Welt reports.
After Albakr had gone to bed, Mohamed and one of his friends discussed with other Syrians via Facebook whether he was the hunted terrorist. When they were convinced, they tied him up, Bild reports.
“He offered us €1,000 and $200 to let him go, He had the money in his bag along with a knife,” Mohamed told Bild.
Instead the men went to the police and told them they had caught the fugitive. When the police turned up at the scene, they found the man they had been hunting for the past 36 hours tied up with electric cables.
For many Germans the story of how Syrians worked together to catch Albakr is a lesson for members of the far right, who have grown rapidly in popularity by presenting refugees as a general threat to German society. The German media, meanwhile, have been quick to call Mohamed and his friends “heroes”.
But the Syrians who run German LifeStyle warned on Tuesday that people should not get carried away simply because Syrians did their civil duty.
“We have had media interview requests because we acted like normal members of a society by spreading the manhunt information. Isn't this where the problem lies? Is it weird that we as Syrians act normally, that we showed civil courage?
“Every society has good and bad people and it is wrong to make generalizations either against Syrians or against Germans. Generalizations are bad, whether they are positive or negative.”