BERLIN/MAINZ, (Germany) (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans not to be cowed by the threat of Islamist attacks, saying a concrete security threat had forced officials to cancel Tuesday’s soccer match against the Netherlands.
With security worries running high in Europe after Islamist shootings and bombings in Paris last Friday which killed at least 129 people, Merkel gathered top ministers for a special meeting on the situation.
“I was just as sad as the millions of fans that the match was canceled. But the security officials took a responsible decision,” Merkel said in a brief statement.
“These are difficult decisions, perhaps the most difficult given the conflicting priorities of freedom and security. But yesterday it was right to decide based on security,” she said.
The state premier of Lower Saxony Stephan Weil said a firm indication about a “concrete danger” based on secret information had prompted the cancellation of the match, which Merkel had been due to attend in state capital Hanover.
His Interior Minister Boris Pistorius said indications of a security threat had hardened up during Tuesday but he declined to confirm or deny media reports that a tip-off came from a foreign intelligence agency, possibly from France.
In the end, no arrests were made and no explosives found.
Pistorius sought to reassure the public, saying the security situation in the Hanover area had stabilizes and there was no sign that Christmas markets might be targets for an attack, something that is worrying many Germans.
Weil urged people to continue with their normal lives.
“I will certainly not retreat into my shell, neither in my position as office holder, nor as a private person unless I receive concrete recommendations by those who deal with these issues intensively,” he told reporters.
Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told a security conference in Mainz that the Paris attacks would probably not be the last of their kind in western Europe.
“There cannot be absolute protection or 100 percent security in an open, pluralistic society, people know that,” he said.
Germany has so far been spared a major attack on the scale of those experienced by Paris, London and Madrid in the last decade or so but security services and voters are on alert.
The head of Germany’s BfV domestic intelligence agency stressed that while Germany is an enemy of Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, it should not cancel public events in response to security fears.
The head of the federal police, Holger Muench, warned that the ranks of potential Islamist attackers are growing, posing an increasingly difficult challenge to German security.
Muench said police know of about 750 people from Germany who have traveled to Syria and Iraq, possibly to military training camps, and about one third of them have returned.
“We are sticking to our assessment that there currently is a serious threat in Germany but we now have no concrete evidence for a further (terrorist) target,” he said.
Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Catherine Evans, Noah Barkin and Giles Elgood