ESSEN: German police have sealed off a major shopping centre in the central city of Essen, citing the threat of a terror attack, with media reports suggesting a link to the Islamic State group.
The country is on high alert following scenes of carnage at a Christmas market in Berlin in December, when an IS jihadist rammed a truck into a crowd of pedestrians, killing 12 people. The German domestic security agency BfV believes the IS group was "almost definitely" behind the threat, local media reported. According to the Bild daily, IS called for an attack and got a message to Syrian supporters in the Essen region to attack a shopping centre yesterday. Security services quoted by Bild described the threat as a potential multiple suicide bombing at the mall, one of the biggest in the country.
"The shopping centre will be closed all Saturday due to security concerns. The police have concrete information regarding a possible attack," local police said in a statement published on social media. Local car parks and the underground train station were also closed. Though there was no announcement of arms or explosives being found, police said two men had been picked up for questioning. Both men were arrested in the town of Oberhausen near Essen but later police said in a statement that the pair "are not suspects" in the case. "Many agents are deployed onsite.
This is a major operation," a local police spokesman told AFP, indicating the lockdown included the 200-store Limbecker Platz in downtown Essen, nearby parking garages and an underground rail station. Sniffer dogs were also been deployed at the site. Essen, which is in the industrial Ruhr region, has a population of approximately 500,000. The police said they had been alerted to the threat by "another department" but no German agency has confirmed if it was involved.