Police nab 2 brothers over plot to attack major German mall

Candles, flowers and letters of condolence were placed at the Breitscheidplatz Square in remembrance of the victims of the Berlin Christmas market attack on Monday, which killed 12 people and injured 48 others.
Candles, flowers and letters of condolence were placed at the Breitscheidplatz Square in remembrance of the victims of the Berlin Christmas market attack on Monday, which killed 12 people and injured 48 others.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Arrest of duo - aged 28 and 31 - originally from Kosovo follows tip-off from intelligence services

BERLIN • Police have arrested two brothers on suspicion of planning to attack one of Germany's biggest shopping centres, the authorities said yesterday, four days after a militant killed 12 people at a Berlin Christmas market.

Police said they had arrested two men, aged 28 and 31, originally from Kosovo, and were trying to establish how advanced the plot was and whether other people were involved.

Acting on a tip-off from the intelligence services, police were deployed to the shopping complex and a nearby Christmas market in the western city of Oberhausen late on Thursday, they said. The mall that was targeted, CentrO, is one of the largest in Germany with around 250 shops that are usually packed in the run-up to Christmas.

The arrests come as Italian police killed a Tunisian suspect, Anis Amri, accused of ploughing a truck through crowds packing one of Berlin's most popular Christmas markets on Monday, killing 12.

Terror group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the assault - its deadliest yet carried out on German soil.

A police spokesman said there was no connection between the arrests in Duisburg, about 15km from Oberhausen, and the Amri case.

Germany had until now been spared the Islamist militant carnage that has struck neighbouring France and Belgium. But it has suffered a spate of smaller attacks, including two in July that left 20 people injured, both committed by asylum seekers and claimed by ISIS.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany had "known for a long time that we are in the crosshairs of Islamic terrorism. And yet, when it happens... it is a totally different situation".

The two young men were arrested in the city of Duisburg, police said, as reported by CNN.

The arrests were made hours after officers received "a relevant tip from security circles", a statement from Essen police said yesterday.

The Berlin Christmas market attack has raised the debate on the state of readiness of Germany's security agencies, with the huge influx of refugees.

Germany took in more than a million refugees last year, many of them fleeing violence in Syria, North Africa and the Middle East.

"It is clear that a lot went wrong... It was a systemic failure," said Dr Peter Neumann, professor of security studies at King's College London.

Dr Neumann argued that German security services lacked the manpower to maintain around- the-clock surveillance of the 550 known radical Islamists in Germany. "Germany's anti-terrorism structure is failing to match the scale of the problem," he told news channel NTV.

While the security debate rages and is set to intensify with an election next year, many Germans were still looking forward to Christmas Eve today, ahead of the country's most important festival.

On Thursday, Berliners flocked to the reopened Breitscheidplatz Christmas market that was targeted in Monday's carnage. The government has made an appeal for people to carry on as normal and not give in to fear.

However, organisers dimmed festive lights and turned down the Christmas jingles as a mark of respect for those killed.

The victims were also honoured with candles, flowers, letters of condolence and signs reading "Love, Not Hate".

Among the dead were six Germans, 60-year-old Israeli Dalia Elyakim and a young Italian woman named Fabrizia Di Lorenzo.

Some 48 others were injured.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2016, with the headline 'Police nab 2 brothers over plot to attack major German mall'. Print Edition | Subscribe