January 23, 2017 / 8:44 AM / 2 years ago

German police arrest man on suspicion of planning militant attack

BERLIN/VIENNA (Reuters) - A 21-year-old man arrested in Germany on suspicion of planning an Islamist militant attack has admitted links with a second suspect in Vienna who had been in touch with jihadists in Albania, German investigators said on Monday.

German security police arrested the man and a woman during a raid on a flat in the western city of Neuss on Saturday, the regional Criminal Investigation Office (LKA) said. The woman, identified by local media as the man’s wife, was later released.

German authorities have been on high alert since a Tunisian man whose bid for asylum had been rejected rammed a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin on Dec. 19, killing 12 people.

A spokesman for the Duesseldorf prosecutor’s office said the 21-year-old suspect admitted during questioning that a 17-year Austrian with Albanian roots who was arrested in Vienna had visited him for two weeks at the end of last year, though the purpose of the visit was not immediately clear.

Austrian officials initially said the Vienna suspect was 18.

A search of the suspect’s apartment in Neuss did not turn up any evidence of an imminent attack and no weapons or explosives were found, a prosecutor’s spokesman said.

Germany’s Focus magazine said the man was planning a bomb attack on police and soldiers. Both he and the suspect detained in Austria had experimented with materials to create explosives in the Neuss apartment, it said.

The Neuss arrest followed a tip-off from Austrian authorities, according to Frank Scheulen, spokesman for the LKA in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

The man, whose nationality was not given, was arrested on suspicion of planning to carry out a “serious act of violent subversion”, Scheulen said.

The Vienna suspect was arrested on Friday on suspicion of plotting an attack in the Austrian capital. The Austrian authorities did not specify the nature of the intended attack but said the suspect had expressed support for Islamic State and had been in contact with jihadists in Albania.

Austrian police were carrying out additional searches of homes and conducting interviews, Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka told ORF radio, adding that the suspect was part of a “communications network”, without elaborating.

A spokesman for the German interior ministry said German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere discussed the case with Sobotka on Friday. Scheulen said computers, mobile telephones and data storage devices were seized in the Neuss raid.

Reporting by Thorsten Severin and Andrea Shalal in Berlin, Matthias Inverardi in Duesseldorf, and Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich in Vienna; writing by Joseph Nasr and Andrea Shalal; editing by Mark Heinrich

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