Shortly before the Christmas services, the police increased security measures at Cologne Cathedral due to indications of a possible attack plan by an Islamist group. Police searched the cathedral with sniffer dogs and announced that they would check all visitors on Christmas Eve.
In Vienna, too, the police increased their protective measures. According to dpa information, security authorities had indications that a church in Vienna was also a possible target of the group. “Bild” had previously reported.
The police in Cologne wanted to comment generally on the investigation this morning. At the same time, it was said that the authority would not comment on details due to the ongoing investigation. According to dpa information, the group could possibly have a connection to an offshoot of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist network, which calls itself the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISPK) and has been in an armed conflict with the militant Islamist Taliban in Afghanistan for several years carries out.
Cologne police increase protective measures
According to "Bild", the first arrests were made by special forces in Vienna and one in Germany on Saturday. The State Security and Intelligence Directorate in the Austrian Interior Ministry did not want to comment on possible arrests. “We ask for your understanding that we do not comment on current ongoing investigations,” said a spokesman in Vienna late on Saturday evening when asked.
The Cologne police justified the increase in their protective measures with a warning about danger, without giving any details. The state security agency, which is active in politically motivated crimes, has started an investigation. Church worshipers at Cologne Cathedral and tourists will have to prepare for increased security standards in the next few days.
"Even if the reference refers to New Year's Eve, we will already do everything we can this evening to ensure the safety of cathedral visitors on Christmas Eve. In coordination with the security officer of the cathedral chapter, the cathedral will be searched with sniffer dogs after the evening mass and then locked," said the head of the Cologne criminal police, Michael Esser, according to the statement. In the evening, police vehicles drove up to Cologne Cathedral, as dpa reporters observed. Police sniffer dogs were also on duty.
Precautionary measures in Vienna
A statement from the Vienna police previously said that the security authorities in Austria had increased their protective measures in view of calls for terrorist attacks against Christian events across Europe, especially on Christmas Eve. The police said that due to a current risk assessment by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, there is generally an increased risk situation during the Christmas holidays. As a precautionary measure, there will be increased surveillance of endangered places in Vienna and the federal states, including churches and Christmas markets.
Civilian and uniformed forces with special equipment and rifles will therefore be deployed. “Police attention is focused primarily on churches and religious events, especially church services, and on Christmas markets,” the police continued. The police explained that the terror alert level in Austria remains elevated. The additional precautionary measures serve to maintain general safety in Austria, it said.
Since the terrorist attack by the Islamist Hamas on Israel on October 7th, fears have been increasing that attacks could also occur in Germany.