A widespread online campaign led to three Syrian 'heroes' capturing a Syrian refugee suspected of planning a terror attack in Germany. The trio turned to Facebook to identify him.
After escaping a police siege of his explosives-laden apartment, Jaber Albakr, the Syrian refugee suspected of planning a terror attack on a Berlin airport, traveled the 80-kilometer (50-mile) journey from Chemnitz to Leipzig in eastern Germany.
Meanwhile, police authorities from the state of Saxony published a wanted poster online. The pictures of Albakr, who sported a light beard and a dark, hooded sweatshirt, started circulating on social media in Germany on Saturday, October 8.
Crucial to the ultimate capture of the suspect was the involvement of numerous Facebook pages for Syrian refugees in Germany. These pages not only shared the poster but also translated that information into Arabic and disseminated it amongst Syrians living in Germany.
With nearly 200,000 followers, the "Syrische Gemeinde in Deutschland", or "Syrian Community in Germany," informed followers in Arabic that the 22-year-old suspect might be armed and dangerous, posting emergency phone numbers for anyone with information on his whereabouts.
On October 9, a group calling itself "Strassen Deutschland," or "German streets," posted a video about the manhunt and asked followers to contact them directly with any information prior to contacting police. In doing so, they could then act as a middleman between concerned Syrians and German authorities.
The message resonated. As one Facebook user responded in Arabic: "This country made the effort to assist and receive refugees from everywhere - not only from Syria. We love and respect this country, and we will pay back the country with our charity."
On the same day, "German Lifestyle GLS," a self-styled news outlet for Syrian refugees in Germany, posted an urgent plea to its nearly 100,000 followers.
"As Syrians, we must fight those of us who want to do something bad to the people who support us here and to all people who want to live here," the group posted.
A telephone call
The messages had reached what was perhaps the most relevant community in the search for the wanted suspect, Syrians living in Germany. In the end, this was the same group Albakr reached out to when seeking a place to stay.
It is not clear yet whether Mohamed A., the Syrian who provided accommodation to the suspect in Leipzig, had seen these wanted posters in advance of meeting Albakr at the Leipzig train station or whether he saw them thereafter.
In an interview with German broadcaster RTL, Mohamed said he received an unsolicited phone call from the suspect, who asked for accommodation. German daily "BILD," after interviewing Mohamed, reported that the terror suspect originally posted a request for accommodation on a social network used primarily by Syrian refugees. Which social network that is, or how he obtained Mohamed's phone number, remains unknown.
Regardless, Mohamed and his two roommates became suspicious of the suspect after noting his resemblance to pictures that had come across their own Facebook feeds.
Mohamed told "BILD" that he then posted an image he'd taken of of young man to his own Facebook account to see if others could confirm his suspicions.
Then, in an act that has led to them being hailed as "heroes" in Germany, the three Syrian men overpowered the suspect in their apartment and bound his hands and feet.
After contacting police but failing to explain their predicament due to language issues, one of the three men went to a local police department, phone in hand, and showed police the photographic evidence. The police in Leipzig immediately took action.
After the arrest, photographs of the bound suspect leaked and began circulating once again on social media. Many noted the fact that the roommates, lacking ropes, had used a power cable to bind Albakr's hands and feet.
In a Facebook post that was shared widely, Monis Bukhair, who founded the non-profit "Syrisches Haus" in Germany, praised the Syrians' courage in apprehending the suspect.
"We came to Germany fleeing war and violence, seeking peace and safety. As long as we're solving our problems by ourselves, no one can reject our existence," he wrote.