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article imageHonour Syrian 'heroes' who nabbed bomb plot suspect, German govt urged

By Hui Min Neo (AFP)     Oct 12, 2016 in World

Calls grew Wednesday for Germany to honour and reward three Syrian "heroes" who captured a compatriot suspected of plotting to bomb a Berlin airport in the name of the Islamic State group.

"The young men deserve the Federal Cross of Merit," Social Democrat defence expert Johannes Kahrs told Bild daily, referring to Germany's highest honour for civilians.

"What they've done is proof of their deep respect for their host country, Germany... It's hard to imagine greater integration (in the country). This is exemplary."

The top-selling Bild daily described the trio as "the Syrian heroes from Leipzig" and asked: "Will they be fast-tracked to become German citizens?"

More than 23,000 people signed an online petition on urging the eastern state of Saxony to honour the three for their valour.

The Syrians had unwittingly invited the 22-year-old fugitive Jaber Albakr to stay at their apartment in the state's city of Leipzig.

They only realised later that Albakr was on the run from police, who on Saturday raided his apartment and found 1.5 kilos (over three pounds) of TATP, the homemade explosive used by Islamic State jihadists in the Paris and Brussels attacks.

Map of Germany locating Leipzig  where a Syrian man suspected of plotting a bomb attack was arrested
Map of Germany locating Leipzig, where a Syrian man suspected of plotting a bomb attack was arrested

After seeing the police appeals for information in Arabic on Facebook, the Syrians quickly overpowered the fugitive, tied him up, and called in officers to take him away.

Albakr had offered them money to allow him to go free, they later said.

"He tried to bribe us, but we told him he could give us as much money as he wanted, we wouldn't free him," one of the men told RTL television, speaking with his back to the camera and identified only as Mohamed A., for fear of reprisals.

"Then we got an electrical cord and tied him up until the police got there," he said.

"I was furious with him, I couldn't accept something like this -- especially here in Germany, the country that opened its doors to us."

- 'Courageous action' -

Asked if the government would be willing to honour the Syrians with the Federal Cross of Merit, spokesman Steffen Seibert recognised their contribution and thanked them for their action, but said it was up to the president to make that decision.

The EU's revised migrant quotas
The EU's revised migrant quotas

"They acted courageously and decisively, and possibly prevented a major disaster," he said.

Noting that when it concerns foreigners, it is up to the foreign ministry to nominate possible candidates for the honour, spokesman Martin Schaefer said his ministry was likely "to take a positive view" on the suggestion.

The trio's courageous action was not only celebrated by Germans, but also particularly feted on social media by tens of thousands of fellow Syrians who have sought asylum in Germany.

Neighbouring France granted citizenship to an undocumented migrant from Mali, Lassana Bathily, after he saved shoppers' lives during a jihadist attack on a Jewish supermarket in Paris last year.

And three Americans who helped thwart a terror attack on a train in France last year were awarded the Legion of Honour, the country's highest decoration.

Germany's domestic intelligence chief Hans-Georg Maassen said his service had received information that Albakr "initially wanted to target trains in Germany before finally deciding on one of Berlin's airports".

Investigators said explosives found in Albakr's apartment were "almost ready or even ready for use," and that he was apparently preparing a "bomb, possibly in the form of a suicide vest."

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