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UPDATE: Four held over foiled ‘Islamist’ attack on German synagogue

German police on Thursday arrested four suspects, including a Syrian teenager, over a foiled attack at a synagogue on the holiest day of the Jewish year, a plot officials said was likely Islamist motivated.

UPDATE: Four held over foiled 'Islamist' attack on German synagogue
Police standing outside the synagogue in Hagen on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Sauerlandreporter | Markus Klümper

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
Jewish temple while worshippers were inside marking Yom Kippur.

There was a huge police deployment late Wednesday at the synagogue in the western city of Hagen, which was forced to cancel an event over the threat.

A 16-year-old Syrian was among four people detained Thursday over the case.

“It appears that prior to today on Yom Kippur, a 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.

The region’s interior minister Herbert Reul added that officials had “concrete” details about the plot.

“Time of action, intended crime scene and perpetrator were clearly cited,” said Reul.

Investigators were still searching sites in the city, said police.

Both Spiegel weekly and Bild daily had reported without quoting sources that a foreign intelligence service had passed on a tip that a 16-year-old Syrian was planning an explosives attack on a synagogue.

In the 2019 attack, a bolted door at the synagogue was the only thing that prevented the assailant from carrying out the bloodbath.

After failing to gain entry, he shot dead a female passer-by and a man at a kebab shop.

The gunman, Stephan Balliet, was sentenced to life in prison in 2020 over the assault that nearly became the country’s worst anti-Semitic atrocity since World War II.

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 ‘Biggest threat’ 

Anti-Semitic crimes have risen steadily in Germany in recent years, with 2,032 offences recorded in 2019, up 13 percent on the previous year.

They have sparked soul-searching in Germany, 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, 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 recent years.

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 Jewish kippa skullcap.

Federal 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.

The Tunisian attacker, a failed asylum seeker, was a supporter of the Islamic State jihadist group.

More recently, one man was killed and another seriously injured in an Islamist knife attack in the city of Dresden last October. A 21-year-old Syrian man with a known Islamist background was convicted in May over the homophobic attack.

The number of Islamists considered dangerous in Germany rose sharply between 2015 and 2018, according to security services.

But numbers have declined since then, with just 615 considered dangerous by the latest count – compared with 730 in January 2018.

At the same time, Germany was also battling a wave of far-right violence.

The number of crimes committed by right-wing extremists in post-war Germany jumped to its highest level ever recorded in 2020, according to official
figures in May.

Police recorded 23,604 crimes of a far-right nature last year, a jump of over five percent on the previous year, and the highest figure since records began in  .

Seehofer has called right-wing extremism the “biggest threat” to Germany.

By Hui Min NEO

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POLICE

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.

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