German police nab Syrian refugee suspected of terrorist bomb plot after massive manhunt

Policemen in protective clothing stand in front of at a residential building in Chemnitz, eastern Germany, on Oct 8, 2016.
Policemen in protective clothing stand in front of at a residential building in Chemnitz, eastern Germany, on Oct 8, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN (AFP) - German police on Monday (Oct 10) arrested a Syrian man suspected of plotting a terrorist bomb attack, after a massive manhunt lasting almost two days.

Security had been stepped up at airports and train stations after Jaber Albakr, 22, went on the run on Saturday (Oct 8), when police raided his apartment and found several hundred grams of "an explosive substance more dangerous than TNT".

"We've succeeded, really overjoyed: the terror suspect Albakr was arrested overnight in Leipzig," police said on Twitter on Monday.

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

Local media reported that the material was TATP, the home-made explosive that was used by Islamists in the Paris and Brussels attacks.

Albakr was believed to have had Internet contact with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported.

According to security sources quoted, 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.

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

But he narrowly evaded police, local media said.

He was finally caught in the early hours of Monday after police learnt that he had sought help from two Syrians in Leipzig, Spiegel Online reported.

Meanwhile, Albakr's Syrian flatmate has been formally remanded in custody as a suspected co-conspirator of a "serious act of violence", while two other of his associates, who had been detained earlier, have been released.

Police commandos on Sunday (Oct 9) also raided the Chemnitz home of another suspected contact of Albakr, blasting open the door as they stormed the premises, and took 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 ISIS-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 bombing in the name of ISIS.

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

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