Failed Attack on Bonn Station: German Police Still Searching for Bomb Suspects

A bag with explosive devices found at the Bonn central train station on Monday could have produced a "large fireball," police now say. They are searching for two men in connection with the case. Security officials warn that Christmas markets could be at risk.

From a surveillance video at the Bonn station: Police are looking for the man carrrying the blue bag. Zoom
DPA/ Polizei Köln

From a surveillance video at the Bonn station: Police are looking for the man carrrying the blue bag.

German police are searching for two men in connection with an explosive device found in a bag at Bonn's central train station Monday. Police now say the device could have caused a large explosion if it had detonated, and federal officials told Germans to be "calm" but "alert."

The bag, which contained a metal pipe filled with ammonium nitrate, four propane gas cartridges, three batteries and an alarm clock, was reported to station officials around noon Monday, and officials shut the station down. The bag was later opened with the help of a robot.

"The propane gas cartridges would have caused a very large and dangerous fireball," said Norbert Wagner, who is heading the investigation for the Cologne police. "The chemicals were highly explosive."

Two prior suspects who had been arrested Tuesday in the case have since been released, as police search for two different men, one of whom was seen in a surveillance video from a McDonald's restaurant at the Bonn station carrying a blue bag similar to the one found with the explosive materials. Another "dark-skinned" man was reported by witnesses to have pushed a bag like the one found almost in front of the feet of two teenagers waiting on the platform. The two men who were released had connections with the German Salafist scene and investigators initially thought the fundamentalists were behind the attack.

Rainer Griesbaum, a federal prosecutor in terrorism cases, now says it is too early to say if those who planned the attack were politically motivated. "To sum it all up, everything is possible," he said.

A False Alarm in Essen

The head of Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), Jörg Ziercke, told the German network ZDF Wednesday that the investigation is just beginning, that he has full faith in the officers investigating, and that speculation is premature.

"The overall threat of terror attacks had not changed," Ziercke said. He advised citizens to "keep a calm head and be alert."

On Wednesday, a suspicious bag was found at the central train station in Essen, about 50 miles (85 kilometers) away from Bonn, disrupting train travel. The entire station was closed after the bag was discovered at about 6:45 p.m. Police first x-rayed the bag, then used a water cannon to destroy it. They later reported that the contents of the bag were not dangerous, and included clothes and a pair of scissors.

The mass-circulation tabloid Bild reported Thursday that the Interior Ministry's "threat assessment" included warnings of an increased risk of attacks on German Christmas markets. With their open entrances and large number of visitors, the markets are "soft attack targets, which are difficult to protect," the paper quoted from the report.

mbw -- with wires

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