Germany is investigating about 180 terror suspects who have returned from Syria or have links to militant groups there, the Justice Ministry said on Friday, a day after three Syrians were arrested on suspicion of plotting attacks for ISIS in the Western city of Duesseldorf.
An Interior Ministry spokesman said it was still too early to draw conclusions about the seriousness of the threat after the arrests over plans for a large-scale attack in the city. But the security alert remained high, he said.
“At present the Chief Federal Prosecutor is conducting some 120 investigations into more than 180 suspects in connection with the civil war in Syria due to membership or support of a terrorist group,” a Justice Ministry spokesman said.
German media have quoted security officials as saying that the three arrested Syrians were registered at shelters for asylum seekers.
Federal prosecutors said the men intended to carry out an attack in Duesseldorf, but hadn’t made concrete plans yet. The plot was uncovered when a fourth suspect informed French authorities earlier this year.
The three men were identified as Hamza C., 27; Mahood B., 25; and Abd Arahman A. K., 31. The suspect in custody in France was identified as Saleh A., 25, also from Syria. Their full names weren’t released in keeping with German privacy rules.
German officials said they consider 499 Islamic extremists in the country to be a potential security threat.
But Germany’s police union chief Rainer Wendt cautioned against any temptation to place all migrants under suspicion after the arrests.
“We know since the attacks of Paris and Brussels that the Islamic State wants to influence the migration debate in Europe and to whip up sentiment against refugees,” Wendt told Reuters.
“This is part of their strategy. We must not fall into their trap,” he said.
The influx of more than one million mainly Muslim migrants into Germany last year has raised concerns about both its ability to integrate them and possible security threats especially after attacks in France and Belgium by IS militants who had easily crossed open European borders.