With Syrians' help, German police arrest ISIS bomb plot suspect

Policemen in protective clothing stand in front of a residential building in Chemnitz, eastern Germany. Police found several hundred grams of "explosive materials" in the east German apartment of a Syrian man suspected of planning a bomb attack and h
Policemen in protective clothing stand in front of a residential building in Chemnitz, eastern Germany. Police found several hundred grams of "explosive materials" in the east German apartment of a Syrian man suspected of planning a bomb attack and have arrested him, thanks to help from other Syrians.PHOTO: AFP

LEIPZIG (AFP) - A Syrian man suspected of planning an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) bomb plot in Germany was arrested on Monday, thanks to three of his compatriots who restrained the fugitive and handed him to police.

Jaber Albakr, 22, had narrowly slipped through the police net on Saturday when commandos raided his apartment and found 1.5 kilogrammes of TATP, the homemade explosive used by militants in the Paris and Brussels attacks.

The explosives were "almost ready, or even ready for use", said Joerg Michaelis, chief investigator in the eastern state of Saxony, adding that the suspect was apparently preparing a "bomb, possibly in the form of a suicide vest".

After a two-day manhunt, police finally got their man with the help of three of Albakr's fellow Syrians in the eastern city of Leipzig.

One of them walked into a police station with a photo of Albakr on his mobile phone and told officers that "his flatmates had overpowered Albakr and tied him up, and that we should come to his apartment," Michaelis told reporters.

The Syrians had earlier been approached by Albakr at Leipzig railway station and asked for shelter. They took him home, only to find out in a police alert that he was the bomb plot suspect on the run.

"He tried to bribe us, but we told him he could give us as much money as he wanted, we wouldn't free him," one of the men told RTL television, speaking with his back to the camera and identified only as Mohamed A., for fear to reprisals.

"Then we got an electrical chord and tied him up until the police got there," he said, providing RTL with a smartphone picture of their detainee.

"I was furious with him, I couldn't accept something like this - especially here in Germany, the country that opened its doors to us." Police had first closed in on Albakr on Saturday in the eastern city of Chemnitz, about 85 kilometres south of Leipzig, acting on information from the domestic security service.

But he narrowly evaded police and ran off carrying a backpack, shortly before police found the explosives, sparking a nationwide manhunt.

Preliminary investigations suggest that Albakr was probably linked to ISIS, police said.

"The approach and behaviour of the suspect point to an ISIS context," said Michaelis.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the plot "resembles what we know of the preparations for the attacks in Paris and Brussels".

But there was no indication yet that the suspect had a concrete target, federal prosecutors said.

Albakr's Syrian flatmate in Chemnitz, named only as Khalil A., was formally taken into custody on Sunday, a day after being detained, as a suspected co-conspirator.

The 33-year-old is accused of allowing Albakr "to use his apartment and for helping to order the necessary material on the internet in full knowledge of his plans of attack," according federal prosecutors.

Police on Sunday also raided the Chemnitz home of another suspected contact of Albakr and took away a man for questioning.

Albakr 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 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 in 2015, heightened by a number of foiled attack plots this year.

Last month, police 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.

They also arrested a 16-year-old Syrian refugee in Cologne on suspicion he was planning a bomb attack in the name of ISIS.

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

Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative CDU party meanwhile called for greater rights for security services to check the files of asylum seekers.

"We want the German secret services to have access to these files," said the deputy leader of the CDU's parliamentary group, Michael Kretschmer.

Migrant Jihad Darwish, 47, who lives near the men who nabbed Albakr, stressed that "not all Syrians are like" the terror suspect.

Lauding the man who overpowered the suspect, Darwish, himself a Syrian, said: "That guy is a hero."