DORTMUND, Germany, April 13, (Agencies): German federal prosecutors said Thursday they had cleared the sole suspect in custody for a bomb attack against the Borussia Dortmund football team bus of involvement. The announcement marked a setback for investigators, who described the three blasts late Tuesday as a “terrorist” act and said they are focusing on suspects in the “Islamist spectrum”. “The investigation has not found evidence that the suspect took part in the attack,” the prosecutors office said in a brief statement.
It said it was nevertheless seeking an arrest warrant for a 26-year-old Iraqi national, identified only as Abdul Beset A, for alleged ties to the Islamic State group. Investigators had zeroed in on two suspects believed to belong to the large jihadist scene in the Ruhr region, after three identical letters claiming responsibility for the attack were found at the scene. Only Abdul Beset A. was detained. The letter demanded that Germany stop its Tornado reconnaissance missions in the international anti-IS coalition and close the US air base at Ramstein in western Germany.
The daily Bild newspaper said that police had placed Abdul Beset A under surveillance for several months and believed, based on tapped telephone conversations, that he might be hiding explosives in his flat. However a raid on his home Wednesday drew a blank, the report said, adding that investigators were still pursuing leads in the extremeright and far-left scenes.
Bild also quoted a security expert, Peter Neumann, raising doubts about an IS link to the letter found at the scene because some of its formulations were atypical for the group. Even as the probe appeared to be in the preliminary stages, Dortmund officials criticised the decision to play its postponed Champions League match just 24 hours after the attack, with the perpetrator or perpetrators still at large.
The roadside blasts left Dortmund’s Spanish international Marc Bartra and a policeman injured, with the bombs “containing metal pieces” detonating minutes after the team bus set off to a planned game against Monaco.
The quarter-final, first leg match was held in Dortmund 24 hours later in a packed stadium with tight security, with Monaco winning 3-2. Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel angrily accused UEFA of treating the bomb attack as if a “beer can” had been thrown and claimed they were informed by text message that they would have to play their Champions League game. Former German international Lothar Matthaeus said it was “irresponsible” to get the players to go through with the game so soon after the attack. “From what I heard from team sources, many players didn’t want to play today. But UEFA put on pressure and politicians urged Borussia Dortmund to counter terror,” he told Sky News, referring to the European football federation.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday she was “horrified” by the “repugnant act”, which Dortmund city’s police chief described as a “targeted attack” against the team. Germany has been on high alert since a series of jihadist attacks last year, including a Christmas market truck rampage in Berlin. Merkel said Thursday that “highly varying” laws for each region under Germany’s federalist system were undermining the country’s fight against terrorism.
She cited differing policies on surveillance as one weakness and called for their harmonisation, in an interview with the Funke media group. “We know that we are threatened like many other countries and will do everything in our power to ensure security in freedom for our citizens, in close consultation between the federal government and the states,” she said. Before the match began Wednesday, fans chanted “Bartra! Bartra!”, in support of the injured defender. Dortmund’s chief executive Hans- Joachim Watze vowed that his side would “play not only for ourselves today. We will play for everyone … we want to show that terror and hate can never determine our actions”.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who attended the match, said the “fascination” surrounding football drove terrorists to try to disrupt it. “That’s why it’s right that we do as much as we can to protect it, and not allow criminals to take the fascination away from us.” Meanwhile, Sometimes, it’s hard to focus on a soccer game. Borussia Dortmund players had to, though, less than 24 hours after a bomb attack on their team bus. And they will have to do so again on Saturday, when Eintracht Frankfurt visits in the Bundesliga.
“It comes in waves. Today feels the worst,” Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel said Thursday. “We have to find a way to deal with it. But we don’t know yet how that’s supposed to happen.” Dortmund midfielder Nuri Sahin made it clear that his thoughts were far from the field in the rescheduled Champions League quarterfinal match against Monaco on Wednesday — a game Dortmund lost after an uncharacteristically hesitant start. “Until I was on the pitch in the second half, I didn’t think about football, to be honest. Because last night I didn’t realize what happened, and when I was at home and my wife and my son were waiting in front of the door, there I felt how lucky we were,” the visibly shaken Sahin told former Norway international Jan Aage Fjortoft, now a journalist.
“I know football is very important. We love football. We suffer with football. We love football. I know we earn a lot of money, we have a privileged life, but we are human beings. There’s so much more than football in this world. Last night we felt it.” Dortmund defender Marc Bartra was hit by shrapnel as three explosions hit the bus. The Spaniard was taken to the hospital and had surgery on a broken bone in his wrist. A spokeswoman for federal prosecutors, Frauke Koehler, said metal from one of the bombs lodged in a headrest. It could easily have been a lot worse. “I can’t forget the faces,” Sahin said of his teammates, who ducked for cover when the explosions hit. “I will never forget these faces in my life for sure.
Oh yeah, when I saw Marc there and I saw Schmelle (Marcel Schmelzer), I sat next to Schmelle and I will never forget Schmelle’s face. It was unbelievable.” Schmelzer also highlighted the impact of the attack on his side. “We have to function like puppets,” the Dortmund captain said. “You read the whole time of an attack on our bus. But you shouldn’t forget there were 30 people sitting in it, so it’s an attack on us as people. It makes us incredibly sad but also incredibly fortunate to be standing here today, especially when you hear the details that are coming out (from the investigation). We’re just incredibly lucky no one else besides Marc was seriously injured.” On Wednesday, Tuchel was stinging in his criticism of UEFA for going ahead with the Champions League game so soon after the attack. “We had the feeling that we were being treated as if a beer can had hit our bus,” said Tuchel, who claimed he wasn’t asked about whether to proceed with the game.