BERLIN, (Reuters) – Germany’s decision to step up security measures this week was prompted by discovery of militant plans to break into the Reichstag parliament building and shoot hostages, a German magazine said on Saturday.
The weekly Der Spiegel, citing security officials, said a jihadist living abroad had informed them in recent telephone calls of a plan for armed militants to enter the 19th century building in central Berlin and open fire. It said police considered the information credible.
Germany’s Federal Crime Office (BKA) had no immediate comment on the report, but later announced its chief, Joerg Ziercke, would hold a news conference at 1600 GMT.
The information, the magazine said, had prompted officials to announce on Wednesday they were raising security, especially at public places including airports and train stations.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said on Thursday authorities were on guard against threats of an armed attack of the kind that killed 166 in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008.
The parliament building has strong symbolic importance in Germany. An arson attack there in 1933 highlighted Nazi moves to assume complete control over Germany. The image of a Soviet soldier planting the red flag atop its ruin in 1945 marked the end of World War Two for many.
It was formally restored as the country’s legislature soon after the 1990 reunification of Germany and is visited daily by hundreds who walk around its glass dome looking down on debates.
The jihadist, Der Spiegel reported, said the group of attackers was to be made up of six people. Two had already arrived in Berlin and another four, including a German, a Turk and a North African, were under way.
Germany maintains a contingent of forces in Afghanistan and has been the target of threats on Jihadist websites.
The timing of the reported parliament plot, for February or March, differed however from de Maiziere’s warnings that attacks were planned sometime before the end of November.
At a news conference convened at his ministry in Berlin on Wednesday, de Maiziere said intelligence services had received concrete indications attacks were planned in the next two weeks.
Der Spiegel said another plot could also have contributed to the alarm — one signalled two weeks ago by U.S. authorities involving an Indian Shiite group that had dispatched two men who aim to arrive in Germany near the end of the month.
According to the magazine, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation told the BKA that the group, a recent ally of al Qaeda known as “Saif,” or sword, had obtained European visas for the men, who would stop in the United Arab Emirates on Nov 22.
German afternoon news broadcasts led on the Reichstag report, adding to the climate of concern that has spread across the country during a week of increased police presence.
In several incidents across the country, police have cordoned off abandoned packages that turned out to be false alarms in the past days. Authorities temporarily closed the airport in the northeastern city of Rostock on Friday after a laptop set off an explosives detector.
Chancellor Angela Merkel moved to reassure the population, telling the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that security forces were doing everything in their power to protect the country.