Update: German police raid ‘Islamists’ suspected of violent attack plot

German police carried out raids on suspected Islamist militants across the country early Tuesday, over allegations they were plotting a violent attack, Berlin prosecutors said.

Update: German police raid 'Islamists' suspected of violent attack plot
A raid took place in this building in the Berlin district of Marzahn-Hellersdorf. Photo: DPA

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 probe “targets suspects of Chechen origin from the Islamist scene,” it later added.

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 mobile phone 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 centres as possible targets, said the magazine.

Some 180 officers took part in the raids, during which they confiscated cash, hard drives and knives.

“Based on the current information, there was not yet any concrete danger of an attack,” police said.

Germany's deadliest attack was a truck rampage through a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016 that left 12 people dead.

READ ALSO: Extra measures in place for terror-hit Berlin Christmas market

The attacker, Tunisian asylum seeker Anis Amri, hijacked a truck and murdered its Polish driver before killing another 11 people and wounding dozens more by ploughing the vehicle into a festive market in central Berlin.

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, according to the head of the Federal Crime Office (BKA), Holger Münch.

Most recently, police in the western city of Offenbach arrested three men in November 2019 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, some 680 who 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.

READ ALSO: Terror in Germany: Investigators have foiled 13 attacks since 2010

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German police under fire for using tracing app to find witnesses

German police drew criticism Tuesday for using an app to trace contacts from bars and restaurants in the fight against the pandemic as part of an investigation.

A barcode used for the Luca check-in app to trace possible Covid contacts at a Stuttgart restaurant.
A barcode used for the Luca check-in app to trace possible Covid contacts at a Stuttgart restaurant. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

The case stemming from November last year began after the fatal fall of a man while leaving a restaurant in the western city of Mainz.

Police seeking possible witnesses made use of data from an app known as Luca, which was designed for patrons to register time spent in restaurants and taverns to track the possible spread of coronavirus.

Luca records the length of time spent at an establishment along with the patron’s full name, address and telephone number – all subject to Germany’s strict data protection laws.

However the police and local prosecutors in the case in Mainz successfully appealed to the municipal health authorities to gain access to information about 21 people who visited the restaurant at the same time as the man who died.

After an outcry, prosecutors apologised to the people involved and the local data protection authority has opened an inquiry into the affair.

“We condemn the abuse of Luca data collected to protect against infections,” said the company that developed the Luca app, culture4life, in a statement.

It added that it had received frequent requests for its data from the authorities which it routinely rejected.

Konstantin von Notz, a senior politician from the Greens, junior partners in the federal coalition, warned that abuse of the app could undermine public trust.

“We must not allow faith in digital apps, which are an important tool in the fight against Covid-19, to disappear,” he told Tuesday’s edition of Handelsblatt business daily.