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Syrian refugees tie up IS suspect to foil German airport bomb plot

Angela Merkel thanks three Syrian men who tied up Jaber Albakr in Leipzig apartment after explosives were found in Berlin
Security sources described the Berlin flat as a 'virtual bomb-making lab' (AFP)

Syrian refugees helped German police arrest an Islamic State group suspect of plotting a bomb attack at the Berlin airport and building a "bomb-making lab" in his Berlin flat, garnering praise from the country's political leaders

"We have received information from the secret services that he initially wanted to target trains in Germany before finally deciding on one of Berlin's airports," Hans-Georg Maassen told German public TV channel ARD.

While some German media outlets over the weekend suggested the suspect, Jaber Albakr, who himself is a Syrian refugee, had such a target in mind, this was the first official confirmation.

Authorities tightened security at airports and train stations after Albakr, 22, escaped police on Saturday when they raided his apartment and found several hundred grams of "an explosive substance more dangerous than TNT".

Police finally found the man with the help of three Syrians, after Albakr approached them at the train station in the eastern city of Leipzig seeking shelter.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday praised the three men for "contributing decisively" to Albakr's capture.

The prime minister of Saxony, where the incident occurred, also thanked his "Syrian fellow citizens" for helping to foil the plot, which aimed to create carnage similar to that seen on the streets of Brussels and Paris in recent attacks.

"I would like to express my special thanks to these courageous and responsible Syrian fellow citizens, who through their decisive action made this rapid success possible," Stanislaw Tillich told the media.

Jorg Michaelis, the chief investigator in the eastern state of Saxony, said the suspect was apparently preparing a "bomb, possibly in the form of a suicide vest".

After a search over the weekend, police finally arrested the man with the help of three Syrians, who were holding him in their apartment in the eastern city of Leipzig.

"A witness came to the police station and said he had recognised Albakr... and had a photo of Albakr on his mobile phone," said Michaelis.

"He also said that his flatmates have overpowered Albakr and tied him up, and that we should come to his apartment."

"We've succeeded, really overjoyed," police said on Twitter early on Monday. "The terrorism suspect Albakr was arrested overnight in Leipzig."

Albakr was believed to have had online contact with the Islamic State group, reported the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily.

According to security sources quoted by the Sueddeutsche, he had built "a virtual bomb-making lab" in the flat in a communist-era housing block and was thought to have planned an attack against either one of Berlin's two airports or a transport hub in his home state of Saxony.

Police had said that "even a small quantity" of the explosives "could have caused enormous damage".

Local media reported that the material was TATP, the homemade explosive used by IS-inspired militants in the Paris and Brussels attacks.

Acting on a tip-off from the domestic intelligence agency, police commandos had sought to swoop on the Syrian early Saturday at his apartment building in the eastern city of Chemnitz, about 85km from Leipzig.

But he narrowly evaded police, local media said.

Albakr's flatmate in Chemnitz was formally taken into custody on Sunday, a day after being detained, as a suspected co-conspirator of a "serious act of violence". 

Police commandos on Sunday also raided the Chemnitz home of another suspected contact of Albakr, blasting open the door and taking away a man for questioning.

Spiegel said Albakr had entered Germany on 18 February last year and two weeks later filed a request for asylum, which was granted in June that year.