German authorities Friday launched a manhunt for several suspects who officials believe planned suicide bombings at rail stations, as full rail transportation service in Munich resumed after being temporarily shut down as a safety precaution on New Year’s Eve.
Bavaria state Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann said officials had received warnings from foreign intelligence services about suicide bombings by Islamic State extremists that were set to take place at midnight as hundreds of thousands of revelers were out and about in the country’s third-largest city celebrating the start of 2016. The information included the names of several suspects, said Herrmann, who did not provide additional details.
“The tips included specified times and locations of the assailants from IS and we quickly came to the conclusion that we couldn’t just ignore the warnings from the intelligence agencies,” Herrmann told Bavaria's BR public television network. “We’re working hard right now to try to establish the whereabouts of these people named and whether they are in Germany or Europe.”
Citing a “serious terror threat,” police shut down the central rail station, Hauptbahnhof, and the Pasing rail station in western Munich shortly before midnight Thursday and some 600 heavily armed police guarded the evacuated buildings through the night.
Rail traffic resumed about 4 a.m. Friday but some 100 police armed with automatic rifles remained posted at the stations, Munich Police Chief Hubertus Andrae told a news conference. He said that there were five to seven suspects and police had obtained the identities of several of them.
The late-night terror warning didn’t stop tens of thousands of people from celebrating in Munich and more than a million people rang in the new year in Berlin without incident at the country’s largest open-air party.
Police officials in Munich were quoted in German media reports saying that suspects may have been deployed in pairs to detonate their suicide attacks at different locations. Germany’s Bild newspaper reported that the attacks were to take place in two waves with the second detonations coming as rescuers arrived at the scene to treat victims.
“We’re under attack by IS around the world and we’ve got to take this as a serious threat,” said Herrmann, who is responsible for the police in all of Bavaria.
He dismissed any suggestions that it was an overreaction to close the rail stations. “No one has seen or heard these suspected terrorists but the French don’t just dream these things up,” he said, referring to a tip that came from French foreign intelligence. “But we can’t let this kind of warning drive us crazy and we’ve got to go on continuing to live our lives in freedom.”
The feared attack in Munich followed an attack in Paris in November that killed 130 people. Last week, police in Vienna issued a warning from an allied foreign intelligence agency that there could be attacks in European cities before the new year. In Brussels, authorities canceled the city’s New Year’s Eve fireworks display as a precaution amid fears of a militant attack.
Kirschbaum is a special correspondent.