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German Arrest in Bomb Plot Prompts High Alert

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Over the weekend, German authorities arrested a 21-year-old student from Lebanon who's been living in Germany for two years. He's suspected of being connected to two bombs found hidden in suitcases on trains last month. Neither bomb exploded. Authorities are still looking for another suspect. The discovery of the suitcases got little attention at the time. But now that investigators have revealed details of the plan and the student has been arrested, German ministers are warning of a heightened risk of a terrorist attack. NPR's Emily Harris is covering this story from Berlin. Hello, Emily.

EMILY HARRIS reporting:

Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Tell us more about the alleged bomb plot there in Germany.

HARRIS: Well, three weeks ago two suitcases were left behind on regional trains and they were found by rail employees. Both of them had propane gas tanks inside - according to German authorities - and timers that were made from simple clocks. Neither of these apparent homemade bombs did go off, but officials say they appear to have been meant to explode, and at about the same time. One was found in Koblenz Station, about 60 miles southeast of Cologne, and the other was found in Dortmund - that's about the same distance from Cologne - but to the northeast.

MONTAGNE: And this student that was arrested, tell us more about him and why he was arrested.

HARRIS: He was arrested, authorities say, because DNA of his and his fingerprints were linked to clues that they found on at least one of the suitcases. They arrested him Saturday morning in the main train station in Kiel. That's in the far north of Germany where he's been studying. He came here from Lebanon two years ago and has been studying a combination of electronics information technology and mechanics. On Friday, authorities had a news conference where they showed video of him and another suspect, and also displayed clues that they said that they found among clothing in the suitcases and made them think that there was a connection to Lebanon associated with this incident. They showed small packages of starch which were made in Lebanon but also for sale Germany, and a grocery list that was handwritten in Arabic that included olives and Lebanese yogurts which are also available in Germany. And then there was a telephone number in Lebanon. The arrest was just made less than 24 hours after this big news conference. And again, it was the DNA samples and fingerprints that officials say link directly to this suspect.

MONTAGNE: And Germans have not been so worried about an attack there in Germany. What's the fallout from this?

HARRIS: The most immediate fallout is obviously a heightened discussion about how to improve security here. There's in particular a debate going on about ways to improve information sharing between security services. There are 16 states in Germany, and then also the Federal Security Services. And there's - it's difficult, officials say, to share information because of the constitutional division of powers. And there's an idea on the table to create sort of a one-click database where information entered by any agency is available to all. The interior minister is pushing hard. He's been supportive of this already, but is pushing harder for it now, saying that the threat to Germany was never so close as this incident shows. There are concerns about privacy, however. And, for example, there seems to be wide support for more video monitoring, but one opposition politician, for example, has said that that alone certainly would not have stopped this attack.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much, Emily.

HARRIS: Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Emily Harris, speaking from Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Harris
International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.
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