BERLIN — German police searched nationwide Sunday for a 22-year-old Syrian man believed to have been preparing a bombing attack, who slipped through their fingers as they were closing in on him, and were questioning a second Syrian man on suspicion he was involved in the plot.
The man in custody was one of three apprehended in the eastern city of Chemnitz on Saturday. He was the renter of the apartment that police raided in their search for the main suspect, Jaber Albakr from the Damascus area of Syria, Saxony police spokesman Tom Bernhardt told The Associated Press. The other two men have been released.
He said the man in custody was Albakr’s “countryman,” but wouldn’t give other details.
“We believe he is a possible co-conspirator,” Bernhardt said.
Another man who knew Albakr was taken into custody for questioning Sunday afternoon in a raid on his Chemnitz apartment.
On Saturday morning, as police prepared to raid the apartment building, Albakr was observed leaving the premises. Police fired a warning shot but were unable to stop him, Bernhardt said, confirming German media reports. They thought he had turned back into the building but wasn’t the case, he said.
Bernhardt also confirmed reports that Albakr had come to Germany in the flood of 890,000 migrants who entered the country in 2015 and had been granted asylum.
Nobody was in the apartment when police SWAT teams blew down the door Saturday, but investigators found “several hundred grams” of a volatile explosive hidden in the flat, enough to cause significant damage, Bernhardt said.
“With this highly volatile explosive, even a few hundred grams is no trifle,” he said. “For an explosive of this type, it was a considerable amount.”
He said experts were still trying to determine whether it was the same explosive used in the deadly Nov. 13 attacks in Paris and the March 22 attacks in Brussels known as TATP, or triacetone triperoxide.
“It’s comparable to that,” he said.
TATP has been used in many attacks over the years, and is favored by violent extremists because it’s fairly easy to make and detonate.
The explosives were destroyed Saturday in a controlled detonation by bomb squad experts in a pit dug outside the five-story apartment building because they were considered too dangerous to transport.
The raid came after Saxony police were given a tip from Germany’s domestic intelligence service that Albakr may be planning an attack. He had been on the agency’s radar, but Bernhardt said it was not clear how long.
German media have reported that Albakr is believed to be connected to Islamic extremist groups, but Saxony police have not commented on his possible motivation or the bomb plot’s target.
Germany has been on edge since two attacks this summer claimed by the Islamic State in which multiple people were injured and both assailants died. Two other attacks unrelated to Islamic extremism, including a deadly mall shooting in Munich, have also contributed to fears.
Federal police have increased security around the country, particularly around “critical infrastructure” like train stations and airports, as authorities search for Albakr.