Germany cancels soccer match, citing bomb threat – Washington Post

Europe faced a new terror threat Tuesday, four days after devastating Islamic State attacks in Paris, when German officials evacuated a soccer stadium over an apparent plan to set off a powerful bomb.

Authorities in Hanover, Germany, abruptly called off a friendly soccer match between Germany and the Netherlands that Chancellor Angela Merkel had planned to attend to show resolve against terrorism and support for the victims of the Nov. 13 attacks that killed at least 129 people in Paris. One target of Friday’s attacks was a crowded soccer match at a stadium north of Paris.

Hanover Police Chief Volker Kluwe told local broadcaster NDR that officials received “a concrete tip that an explosives attack was planned against this international match in the stadium.” A high-level European security official said the evacuation, which took place shortly before the match was due to begin, was related to the Paris attacks.

The sudden appearance of another possible plot to wreak havoc at a crowded public event — the details of which were still emerging Tuesday evening — underscored the formidable challenge facing European nations as they seek to detect and prevent terrorist attacks.

In Brussels, a soccer match that was scheduled for Tuesday between Belgium and Spain was also canceled, and many fans expressed worry that the disruptions could threaten the European Cup next year.

The events in Germany took place as France unleashed a third night of intense airstrikes on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria. French Defense Minister Yves LeDrian told TF1 television that 10 French fighter jets were launching attacks on the city, the Associated Press reported. Raqqa is that now the central target of the United States and allied countries seeking to dismantle the extremist group’s vast realm across Syria and Iraq.

A local activist group, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, reported a series of explosions or airstrikes in the Syrian city Tuesday night.

At the same time, French authorities intensified their hunt for those responsible Friday’s bloodshed, the worst on French soil since World War II. On Tuesday, investigators launched a search for an additional suspect, bringing the total number of alleged attackers to nine. According to Reuters news agency, the new suspect was detected on surveillance video in a car that the attackers used to shoot diners at outdoor cafes and bars.

Kluwe, the Hanover police chief, said the “key warning reached us about 15 minutes before the gates opened.”

A senior European security official said late Tuesday that the information came from an unidentified “foreign service.” He said investigators had not yet finished their work on the ground but that they did not immediately find any explosives.

German news media reported that the threat was from a truck bomb disguised as an ambulance. Lower Saxony’s interior minister, Boris Pistorius, said he could not confirm reports that explosives were found in a vehicle outside the stadium.

Public broadcaster ZDF said on Twitter that all broadcasting vans around the stadium were seized and searched by police.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said at a news conference in Berlin that the decision to cancel the match was made after “evidence solidified” during the early evening that an attack against the match had been planned. De Maizière did not give any details about the source or extent of the threat, citing national security interests. He said the decision to cancel the match was a “bitter” one and that “the game was a special gesture” following the Paris attacks.

In Paris, a French official familiar with the investigation into the attacks Friday night said French authorities are now looking for a 9th suspect in direct connection to the massacres.

Also Tuesday, the French National Police issued an emergency bulletin appealing for witnesses who may be able to help them identify a “perpetrator” who died after detonating his explosive belt at the Stade de France stadium on Friday. Police tweeted a photo of the dead man. The man was previously identified tentatively as Ahmad Almohammad based on a Syrian passport that was found near his remains. But investigators now believe the passport was fake.

The strikes in Syria — which appeared to include Russian cruise missiles — took place as French police carried out dozens of additional raids, and investigations in France and Belgium revealed new details of the attackers’ movements prior to the coordinated assaults on Friday.

For days, a primary target of the raids has been a single fugitive, Salah Abdeslam, who is believed closely linked to the attacks. But a French official said Tuesday that a second person was also sought for possible direct involvement.

The Associated Press, citing three French officials speaking on condition of anonymity, said an analysis of the attacks pointed to another suspect besides Abdeslam. The officials told the AP that the suspect has not been identified and gave no other details on the person’s possible role in the attacks.

In addition, a French official familiar with the investigation said Tuesday that Abdeslam had rented a third car that has been located in Paris, a black Renault Clio found in the 18th Arrondissement.

Also on France’s wanted list is Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a 28-year-old Belgian of Moroccan descent who is believed to be in Syria. He is suspected to be a key figure behind the Paris attacks and other terrorist operations in Europe this year, including a foiled assault aboard a high-speed Paris-bound train in August.

French intelligence had identified Abaaoud as an important Islamic State figure and had been targeting him since late September, a French official said Tuesday. It was not immediately clear whether France was targeting him with airstrikes or by other means.

A U.S. defense official said an airstrike had targeted not Abaaoud but Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, a senior member of the Islamic State responsible for planning external attacks, about six weeks ago. The militant was believed to have been injured but survived the strike.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said authorities carried out 128 anti-terrorism police sweeps on Monday and Tuesday. This brought the total to nearly 300 raids since Monday across France and neighboring Belgium, where the attacks appear to have been at least partially planned.

Cazeneuve told local radio that 115,000 gendarmes and soldiers have been mobilized to protect French citizens. Belgium, too, said it would boost the number of security forces on its streets.

French President Francois Hollande — who has called the Paris attacks an “act of war” — is pressing for changes to France’s constitution that would make it easier to hunt down suspects in terrorism plots.

Meanwhile, further details emerged of the days before the bloodshed.

French media reported that Abdeslam — a suspected planner who is now the subject of an international manhunt — had reserved two rooms at a hotel outside Paris in the days before the attacks.

What we know so far on the 8 terrorists that carried out the Paris attacks

According to the French news magazine Le Point, investigators have searched the hotel rooms in Alfortville and located DNA traces of persons who stayed there. Police also confiscated the hard drive from the computer at the hotel reception, the publication’s Web site reported.

Among the objects police discovered was a batch of syringes and a set of short needles and plastic tubes. It was not immediately clear whether the syringes were intended for explosives or drug-related use.

More than two months ago, Abdeslam — a French citizen — was stopped in a routine traffic check while entering Austria from Germany, according to a French official familiar with the investigation.

He told Austrian police on Sept. 9 that he was going on vacation in Vienna. There were two other people in the car with him, according to a spokesman for the Austrian Interior Ministry. His movements have raised questions about whether he was seeking contact with migrants — many of them asylum seekers from Syria and Iraq — along the pathways from Greece to Central Europe.

Seven attackers — several of them French nationals — died in the assaults that killed at least 129 people and wounded more than 350 others.

On Tuesday, a French official said one of the other attackers appeared to have used a fake Syrian passport, raising fresh doubts about the man’s true identity and more questions about the extent to which migrant trails used by asylum seekers were also exploited by militants.

The name on the passport was Ahmad Almohammad, a 25-year-old born in Idlib. Officials have not been able to verify his true identity, but fingerprints taken from the body of one of the suicide bombers match those of a man who arrived on the Greek island of Leros along with 198 migrants on Oct. 3.

The same man was later processed in the Serbian border town of Presevo after crossing from Macedonia on Oct. 15.

In Germany, police detained and questioned at least seven people in connection with the Paris attacks, but they were later released, the German news agency DPA reported.

There were no “big fish” among those rounded up, said Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, according to the Reuters news agency. But he added: “The threat level is really high.”

As investigators followed various strands across Europe, it also appeared clearer that many of the trails could lead back to Syria and the country’s ongoing civil war — which has opened room for the Islamic State to hold territory.

France has quickly called on its allies and others to step up the fight, suggesting that more than a year airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition will not be enough.

Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, said the Paris attack was “organized, conceived and planned” from Syria. The French president said Syria has become “the biggest factory of terrorism the world has ever known, and the international community is still too divided and too incoherent.”

In Brussels, French Defense Minister Yves LeDrian invoked for the first time a European Union mutual aid pact, known as Article 42-7 of the Lisbon Treaty, which calls for members of the bloc to assist other member states if they are attacked.

“Today France requests the aid and assistance for all Europe,” E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters. “And today, all of Europe, united, responds yes.”

In a news conference with Mogherini, LeDrian said officials would now discuss the details of what such support would entail. It was not immediately clear to what extent European countries, constrained by budget pressures and by political divisions over military action, would agree to a significant increase in military action against the Islamic State.

Julie Smith, a former White House official who is now a director at the Center for New American Security in Washington, said that fellow European nations may decide to improve border security or information-sharing with France, but were unlikely to completely overhaul their military approaches to the Islamic State.

“It’s an expression of solidarity with no teeth,” added Jean Techau, director of Carnegie Europe, a Brussels-based policy research group.

Remembering the victims of Friday’s attacks in Paris

LeDrian spoke hours after France launched a second wave of airstrikes against the Islamic State. The French Defense Ministry said 10 Mirage and Rafale fighter jets hit a training and a command center in Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital in north-central Syria.

Also Tuesday, Russia conducted a “significant” number of strikes on Raqqa, possibly using sea-launched cruise missiles and long-range bombers, a U.S. defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Russian operation.

He said Russia, in keeping with a recent agreement to avoid accidents in the crowded skies above Syria, informed the U.S. military about the strikes in advance.

Those strikes follow the Russian government’s assessment that explosives brought down an airliner full of Russian tourists over Egypt last month. The Islamic State also claimed responsibility for that attack.

Hollande is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Obama next week to discuss the campaign against the Islamic State and urge the formation of a “grand coalition” against the group.

In Paris, however, Secretary of State John F. Kerry gave a cooler assessment of moves toward closer Western-led military coordination with Moscow. First, Kerry insisted, a cease-fire in Syria’s more than four-year civil war must take root and various sides must find some common ground.

Russia is a close ally of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The West and its allies say Assad must eventually step down.

Kerry said Washington believes gains are being made against the Islamic State even with the separate campaigns by Russia and the American-led coalition.

“The level of cooperation could not be higher,” Kerry said. “We agreed to exchange more information, and I’m convinced that over the course of the next weeks, Daesh will feel greater pressure. They are feeling it today. They felt it yesterday. They felt it in the past weeks. We gained more territory. Daesh has less territory,” Kerry said, using the Arabic name for the Islamic State.

Stephanie Kirchner in Berlin, William Branigin and Brian Murphy in Washington, Daniela Deane in London, Steven Mufson in Brussels and Cléophée Demoustier, Virgile Demoustier, Karla Adam, Monique El-Faizy and Karen DeYoung in Paris contributed to this report.

Read more:

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5 stories you should read to really understand the Islamic State

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Is the United States safe from a Paris-style Islamic State attack?

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