German police were on Friday investigating a possible explosive device close to a Christmas market in Potsdam, reviving fears of a repeat of last year’s terror attack that struck at the height of the festive season.
The device was uncovered in a package found at a pharmacy just off the Christmas market in central Potsdam, a picturesque city near Berlin.
Police said a pharmacist had sounded the alarm after finding a canister with wires inside the package.
Investigators initially said on Twitter that “suspicions of an unconventional explosive device have been confirmed.”
However, Brandenburg State Minister of the Interior Karl-Heinz Schroeter later said a probe was still ongoing to determine “whether the device was actually capable of causing an explosion or not.”
Police found a canister filled with nails, powder, batteries and wires, as well as a powerful firework of a type not allowed in Germany.
However, investigators said that there was no sign of a detonator inside.
After clearing parts of the city center and Christmas market, bomb disposal units defused the device shortly before 6pm.
Officers were combing the area to check if other similar packages had been deposited, Schroeter said, adding that it was unclear whether the pharmacy or the market were the target.
“Both options are possible,” he added.
What is clear is that the incident, coming on the eve of the first Advent weekend, has sparked fear.
“It’s not easy when you’re on the scene, we’re shocked, but the people here understand what’s going on and take the measures very seriously,” Christmas market organizer Peter Klemm told broadcaster NTV.
“I’ve always felt safe in Potsdam. Now that feeling of security is ebbing away,” local resident Ingeborg Reetz told newspaper Bild.
Baker Erich Schroeter kept his shop open for people displaced by the evacuation.
“We wouldn’t just put people out into the cold,” he said.
Germany has been on high alert for possible extremist attacks after a deadly assault at a Christmas market in central Berlin in December last year.
The attacker, Tunisian asylum seeker Anis Amri, hijacked a truck and murdered its Polish driver before killing another 11 people and wounding dozens more by plowing the heavy vehicle through the market.
Four days later, while on the run, he was shot dead by police in Milan, Italy.
Germany has since been targeted by attackers with radical Muslim motives.
In July, a 26-year-old Palestinian asylum seeker wielding a knife stormed into a supermarket in the northern port city of Hamburg, killing one person and wounding six others before being detained by passersby.
German prosecutors said the man likely had a “radical Islamist” motive.
At the end of October, German police arrested a 19-year-old Syrian identified only as Yamen A., who was suspected of planning a “serious bomb attack” using powerful explosives.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a number of attacks last year, including the murder of a teenager in Hamburg, a suicide bombing in the southern city of Ansbach that wounded 15 and an axe attack on a train in Bavaria that left five injured.
Germany remains a target for militant groups, in particular because of its involvement in the coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and its deployment in Afghanistan since 2001.
German troops in the anti-Islamic State coalition do not participate in combat operations, but support it through reconnaissance, refueling and training.
Germany’s security services have estimated that there are about 10,000 Muslim radicals in Germany, about 1,600 of whom are suspected of being capable of using violence.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has come under fire for allowing in more than 1 million asylum seekers over the past two years.
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