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Algerians arrested in Germany over suspected IS Berlin plot

Debate over refugee influx to Germany expected to be reignited after revelation that suspect entered the country as an asylum seeker
Raids came amid heightened security on the first day of Cologne's annual carnival, following the New Year's Eve attacks there (AFP)

German police on Thursday arrested two Algerians suspected of links to the Islamic State (IS) group after raids targeting several sites, including refugee shelters where some of the suspects lived.

They and two other Algerians "from the jihadist scene are under investigation over suspicions that they are planning a serious act threatening the security of the state," Berlin police said.

Over 100 police officers were involved in the raids across three German states, which ended with two arrests.

The men were suspected of planning a possible strike against the German capital, a spokesperson for Berlin prosecutors told AFP, but did not confirm national media reports that Alexanderplatz – a central Berlin transport and shopping hub - was the target.

The alleged link to refugee shelters is expected to add fuel to a raging debate over the 1.1 million asylum seekers that Germany took in last year.

North African migrants have already been in the spotlight after they were blamed for a rash of sexual assaults during New Year Eve's festivities in the western German city of Cologne.

But the latest arrests risk compounding fears that militants are taking advantage of the massive influx of asylum seekers to slip into Europe undetected.

The operation came with a huge police deployment underway in Cologne to avoid a repeat of the New Year's Eve attacks during the giant week-long carnival festivities that begin on Thursday.

One of the two men captured on Thursday is wanted by Algerian authorities for his links to IS, police said, adding that "investigations show that he has received military training in Syria".

The suspect arrived in Germany last autumn and was registered as an asylum seeker, according to national news agency DPA.

A woman detained in the course of the raids is the suspect's wife, police said.

The second Algerian man was arrested for having falsified identity documents.

Police officers tracked down two other suspects but did not arrest them.

'Threat remains high'

Some 450 officers took part in the operation in Berlin and the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony, and seized computers and mobile telephones.

Among the locations searched were the refugee shelters where the suspects lived, Berlin police spokesperson Stefan Redlich told news channel N24.

He also told a news conference that two of the four suspects had sought to pass themselves off as Syrians.

In Berlin, police officers led away a man who had his head covered with a towel, according to an AFP photographer at the scene. 

No weapons were found in the operation, Redlich said, but Bild said that investigators were searching for explosives.

Berlin's home affairs chief Frank Henkel said the "level of threat posed by Islamist militants remains high".

"We have every reason to remain vigilant and careful. Therefore there should be a systematic crackdown on the Islamist scene, especially if there are likely links to IS," he said.

Since the November attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people and were claimed by IS, German authorities have issued terror alerts on several occasions.

In November, a Germany-Netherlands football match was called off, and on New Year's Eve, several Munich railway stations were closed over such threats.

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