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UPDATE: Four held over foiled ‘Islamist’ attack on German synagogue

German police on Thursday arrested four suspects, including a Syrian teenager, over a foiled attack at a synagogue on the holiest day of the Jewish year, a plot officials said was likely Islamist motivated.

UPDATE: Four held over foiled 'Islamist' attack on German synagogue
Police standing outside the synagogue in Hagen on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Sauerlandreporter | Markus Klümper

The case revived memories of an attack two years ago outside a synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle, when a neo-Nazi gunman sought to storm the
Jewish temple while worshippers were inside marking Yom Kippur.

There was a huge police deployment late Wednesday at the synagogue in the western city of Hagen, which was forced to cancel an event over the threat.

A 16-year-old Syrian was among four people detained Thursday over the case.

“It appears that prior to today on Yom Kippur, a Islamist motivated attack was averted,” said Armin Laschet, the state premier of Germany’s most populous region North Rhine-Westphalia, where Hagen is located.

“We will do everything we can to clarify which networks may have been behind” the plot, added Laschet, who is also running to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel as Germany’s leader.

The region’s interior minister Herbert Reul added that officials had “concrete” details about the plot.

“Time of action, intended crime scene and perpetrator were clearly cited,” said Reul.

Investigators were still searching sites in the city, said police.

Both Spiegel weekly and Bild daily had reported without quoting sources that a foreign intelligence service had passed on a tip that a 16-year-old Syrian was planning an explosives attack on a synagogue.

In the 2019 attack, a bolted door at the synagogue was the only thing that prevented the assailant from carrying out the bloodbath.

After failing to gain entry, he shot dead a female passer-by and a man at a kebab shop.

The gunman, Stephan Balliet, was sentenced to life in prison in 2020 over the assault that nearly became the country’s worst anti-Semitic atrocity since World War II.

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 ‘Biggest threat’ 

Anti-Semitic crimes have risen steadily in Germany in recent years, with 2,032 offences recorded in 2019, up 13 percent on the previous year.

They have sparked soul-searching in Germany, which has placed a huge emphasis on atoning for the murder of six million European Jews by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime during World War II.

The arrival in parliament of the far-right AfD, whose leaders openly question Germany’s culture of historical remembrance, has contributed to the change in atmosphere.

The influx of more than a million asylum seekers, many from Muslim countries such as Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq, has also played a role in growing hostility against Jews in recent years.

In an assault that sparked revulsion in Germany, a Syrian migrant was charged for lashing out with a belt in April 2018 at an Israeli man wearing a Jewish kippa skullcap.

Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said this month that German security services had thwarted 23 terrorist attacks since 2000.

Islamists have committed several violent attacks in Germany in recent years, the deadliest being a truck rampage at a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016 that killed 12 people.

The Tunisian attacker, a failed asylum seeker, was a supporter of the Islamic State jihadist group.

More recently, one man was killed and another seriously injured in an Islamist knife attack in the city of Dresden last October. A 21-year-old Syrian man with a known Islamist background was convicted in May over the homophobic attack.

The number of Islamists considered dangerous in Germany rose sharply between 2015 and 2018, according to security services.

But numbers have declined since then, with just 615 considered dangerous by the latest count – compared with 730 in January 2018.

At the same time, Germany was also battling a wave of far-right violence.

The number of crimes committed by right-wing extremists in post-war Germany jumped to its highest level ever recorded in 2020, according to official
figures in May.

Police recorded 23,604 crimes of a far-right nature last year, a jump of over five percent on the previous year, and the highest figure since records began in  .

Seehofer has called right-wing extremism the “biggest threat” to Germany.

By Hui Min NEO

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PROTESTS

Calls for special police tactics to be available across Sweden

The chairwoman of the Police Association West Region has said that police special tactics, known as Särskild polistaktik or SPT, should be available across Sweden, to use in demonstrations similar to those during the Easter weekend.

Calls for special police tactics to be available across Sweden

SPT, (Särskild polistaktik), is a tactic where the police work with communication rather than physical measures to reduce the risk of conflicts during events like demonstrations.

Tactics include knowledge about how social movements function and how crowds act, as well as understanding how individuals and groups act in a given situation. Police may attempt to engage in collaboration and trust building, which they are specially trained to do.

Katharina von Sydow, chairwoman of the Police Association West Region, told Swedish Radio P4 West that the concept should exist throughout the country.

“We have nothing to defend ourselves within 10 to 15 metres. We need tools to stop this type of violent riot without doing too much damage,” she said.

SPT is used in the West region, the South region and in Stockholm, which doesn’t cover all the places where the Easter weekend riots took place.

In the wake of the riots, police unions and the police’s chief safety representative had a meeting with the National Police Chief, Anders Tornberg, and demanded an evaluation of the police’s work. Katharina von Sydow now hopes that the tactics will be introduced everywhere.

“This concept must exist throughout the country”, she said.

During the Easter weekend around 200 people were involved in riots after a planned demonstration by anti-Muslim Danish politician Rasmus Paludan and his party Stram Kurs (Hard Line), that included the burning of the Muslim holy book, the Koran.

Police revealed on Friday that at least 104 officers were injured in counter-demonstrations that they say were hijacked by criminal gangs intent on targeting the police. 

Forty people were arrested and police are continuing to investigate the violent riots for which they admitted they were unprepared. 

Paludan’s application for another demonstration this weekend was rejected by police.

In Norway on Saturday, police used tear gas against several people during a Koran-burning demonstration after hundreds of counter-demonstrators clashed with police in the town of Sandefjord.

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