A possible ISIS attack in Germany was prevented Tuesday when police learned of “serious plans for explosions” at the 49,000-seat Niedersachsenstadion soccer stadium in Hannover, Germany, before a scheduled international game between the German national team and the Netherlands.
But police said that the threat was not only directed against the soccer stadium, where the game was expected to be attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and about 34,000 ticket-buying fans — but against the entire city of Hanover, a city of more than 500,000 in central Germany that serves as the capital of the German state of Lower Saxony.
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Police told German television that they had learned of “serious plans for explosions” at the stadium. But as of 9:45 p.m in Hanover on Tuesday night, no arrests had been made and police had found no explosives. The cancellation was announced about 90 minutes before the Germany-Netherlands match was scheduled to kick off.
Watch a BBC report on the stadium evacuation in the video above, on this page.
A nearby, 14,000-seat multi-use arena where the 19-member German pop/soul band Söhne Mannheims was scheduled to perform a concert was also evacuated, as was the central Hanover train station on Tuesday evening.
Police in Hanover initially found a suspicious unattended suitcase in the stadium, but that find turned out to be false alarm — perhaps intended as a diversion, because police said they then received “concrete” information from a source they would not reveal about a planned terror attack against the stadium where the Germany-Netherlands game was supposed to take place.
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Police did not offer any speculation as to who might be behind the threatened attack, but after the multi-pronged, coordinated terror attack on Friday night in Paris, and the consensus among government officials that the Syria-based terrorist group ISIS was behind that bloodbath, ISIS appears also to be a prime suspect in the apparent thwarted attack in Germany.
The German newspaper, Bild, reported late Tuesday that a terrorist cell based in North Africa was suspected to have planned the thwarted attack with guidance from an Iraqi “sleeper agent,” in a report covered in English by Britain’s Daily Mirror.
Whether those alleged terror culprits would have been connected to ISIS was not clear, but the newspaper said that the attack was to have included shooting and suicide bomb attacks — the same methods used in the Friday Paris ISIS attack.
The soccer game, though scheduled months ago, took on a new meaning after the Paris ISIS attacks, and had been billed as a “freedom match.” But that went by the boards Tuesday when German officials felt they had no alternative but to call the game off.
“This was a bitter decision, especially for me as Minister of Interior and Sports, but we made it for the security of the people,” said Lower Saxony politician Boris Pistorius. “It would have been irresponsible, we had no doubt. We will have a greater police presence in Hanover all night.”
“There is a general threat. Regularly we receive information about threats against Germany, especially after an attack like in Paris. We have to analyze them, and need to judge them properly and fast,” de Maiziere said. “Ahead of this match we got more information that made us make the decision to cancel the game. The information came late, we couldn’t do it earlier.”
Fans attempting to enter the soccer stadium were turned away without incident by police armed with machine guns, who had sealed off streets leading to the facility.
German police late on Tuesday said that the Söhne Mannheims concert could proceed after all.
Meanwhile, in France and Belgium, the police investigation into the Friday ISIS terror attacks intensified, as police discovered what was described as a “chilling message” on a cell phone belonging to one of the terrorists. A soccer match between Germany and France was one of the multiple targets in the Friday attack.
[Photo By Dennis Grombkowski/Bongarts/Getty Images]