Syrian refugee terror attack averted in Germany — by refugees

(USA TODAY) -- A Syrian refugee accused of planning a terrorist attack here was on the run for nearly two days until his capture — by fellow Syrian refugees.

Jaber al-Bakr's apartment in the eastern city of Chemnitz was raided Saturday by special forces because authorities feared he was on the verge of launching a bomb attack. During the police operation in a busy residential area, he escaped.

Now, new details have emerged about the circumstances that led to the apprehension early Monday of al-Bakr, a 22-year-old asylum seeker who investigators believe may have links to the Islamic State and been planning to detonate a bomb at one of Berlin's airports.

"He offered us 1,000 euros ($1,115) and $200 if we let him go. He had that in a backpack together with a knife," a Syrian refugee identified by German media as Mohamed A, one of the men whose actions led to al-Bakr's arrest, told the newspaper Bild on Tuesday.

Germany's domestic security chief Hans-Georg Maaßen said Tuesday that al-Bakr's apartment was raided — intelligence officers had been watching him for several months — because they were convinced he needed just one last chemical ingredient to make a bomb: glue, which he had been seen purchasing in a local store on Friday.

"From everything we know, the preparations in Chemnitz are similar to the preparations for the attacks in Paris and Brussels," German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said.

Yet while al-Bakr's detention is significant, so is the manner in which it unfolded. A string of attacks by migrants in Germany has fueled an ongoing backlash against German Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to let in nearly 900,000 asylum seekers last year. Al-Bakr was one of them. So were the three men who would overpower him.

"I was so angry at him. I won't accept such a thing —  especially here in Germany, the country that opened its door to us," Mohamed A told German TV.

When police arrived at al-Bakr's residence early Saturday they were preparing to storm it when he fled. As he ran off, a warning shot was fired into the air but because there were bystanders around police could not fire directly at him. They also had trouble chasing him because they were weighed down by protective suits.

At the time "we were not certain if that person was al-Bakr," said Joerg Michaels, the area's police chief. And so the suspect vanished, leaving behind about 3 pounds of highly explosive materials in his apartment and setting in motion a manhunt that would end 50 miles south in Leipzig, with Mohamed A and two other Syrian refugees.

Fearful of reprisals, authorities have not released the full names of the men involved in the daring capture of al-Bakr. "Other people may not share the view that they were doing something good and might try to kill them, particularly people sympathetic to the Islamic State," said Volker Rasch, a spokesman for Leipzig's mayor's office.

After posting in an online message board used by refugees in Germany that he was looking for a place to stay, al-Bakr approached Mohamed A and his compatriots at Leipzig's main train station. He asked them if he could sleep at their apartment. They said yes, not out of charity or pity, but because they knew exactly what he was accused of — police had circulated al-Bakr's image on Facebook after the bungled raid and the trio knew there was a Syrian fugitive wanted in connection with a plot to stage an attack.

Once they took him back to the apartment, the Syrians overpowered and constrained al-Bakr with electric chords. Then, after repeatedly failing to make themselves understood to police on the phone, one of them took a picture of the suspect — who tried to bribe his captors — and went to a local police station. Al-Bakr was arrested Sunday night.

"I am so grateful to Germany for taking us in. We could not allow him to do something to Germans," Mohamed A told Bild.

The men have been hailed as heroes. "This is an immense success against terrorism and shows that a large majority of the foreigners and asylum seekers who live here want nothing to with this form of radical Islamism," Leipzig Mayor Burkhard Jung said.

Writing in Bild on Tuesday, columnist Franz Josef Wagner addressed the Syrians directly: "I don’t know how good your German is and whether you know our constitution (women and men are equal, freedom of religion, etc.). But beyond language and tradition, you know what good and bad are. That makes you friends."


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