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Anger in Chemnitz amid bomb suspect hunt

October 9, 2016

Police continue a nationwide hunt for a man suspected of plotting a bomb attack. The suspect has been on the run since police stormed his flat in Chemnitz on Saturday. Naomi Conrad reports from the east German town.

Deutschland Polizeieinsatz in Chemnitz nach Sprengsatzfund
Image: DW/N. Conrad

Three elderly residents were collecting chestnuts under a spindly tree in the communist-era housing estate in Chemnitz on Sunday morning. They laughed and joked as they jostled for the choicest chestnuts. "They're supposed to keep away fruit flies," a woman in a gray coat said, grinning. "At least that's what the newspaper said this morning."

But their merriment quickly turned to anger when they were asked about the Syrian man suspected of plotting a bomb attack in a drab block of flats just a few meters from the tree.

The woman, clutching several chestnuts in her hand, shook her head: "It's hard not to hate these people," she said, launching into a xenophobic tirade against refugees. "Who knows what else they're up to?" she asked darkly.

She was referring to the events on Saturday, when police stormed the flat following a tip-off from security services that the 22-year-old Syrian was preparing a bomb attack.

Deutschland Polizeieinsatz in Chemnitz nach Sprengsatzfund
Police have cordoned off the areaImage: DW/N. Conrad

Reported Islamist links

The suspect, Jaber A., it has now emerged, narrowly escaped the special unit's raid, after a warning shot was fired by police. A nationwide manhunt is under way. Two of three associates who were arrested on Saturday have been released, while one remains in custody.

The Syrian national reportedly has an Islamist background, according to German news agency DPA - possibly links to the self-proclaimed extremist group "Islamic State."

It's a claim that Stefan Mayer, spokesman for Germany's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which gave the tip-off, was unwilling to confirm, citing ongoing operations. He also wouldn't comment on whether the young man was indeed a registered refugee, as reported by several media outlets.

"We'll have to wait until they catch the guy," he told DW in a phone interview, adding that he hoped it wouldn't take "too long."

Suspect Jaber al-Bakr
Police say suspect Jaber al-Bakr had been granted asylum in GermanyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Polizei Sachsen

Anti-refugee sentiments

It's a hope that Jürgen Bader, a 74-year-old resident who was inspecting the police tape which cordoned off the block of flats, didn't share: "I'm sure he's long gone." He himself hadn't slept very well, he said.

He, like many residents DW interviewed, expressed virulently anti-refugee sentiments. "That's what happens when you let those people in," one elderly man, who refused to give his name, grumbled, voicing a view that many here seem to share. Some, though, admit that the refugees who have been housed in the estate are polite. But contact, they agree, is minimal.

The man was referring to Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision last year to open the borders to refugees stranded along the Balkans route, which resulted in a record influx of refugees.

German police in Chemnitz
Police found several hundred grams of explosives in the apartmentImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Meyer

He gestured to a muddy patch behind the police tape cordoning off the site where police yesterday conducted a controlled explosion of the highly explosive substance found in the flat. "It's the government's fault for letting everyone into the country."

The explosion, residents say, reverberated round the housing estate, which boasts a small beauty salon and the small, dingy "Asia grill," where several men drinking cheap beer were playing cards on Sunday.

While most of the more than 100 residents who were evacuated on Saturday have since been able to return to their homes, the block of flats remains off-limits. A group of four residents, who refused to talk to the media gathered outside the flat, slowly made their way to the police cordon. A policewoman shook her head: "Fingers crossed you can go home today." But, she added, she couldn't promise anything.

And, indeed, police later said residents would not be allowed back into the block of flats until Monday morning.

Editor's note: Deutsche Welle follows the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims and obliges us to refrain from revealing full names in such cases.