Germany cancels soccer match after intelligence suggests terrorists plan to set off explosives
HANNOVER, Germany — Serious plans for explosions” forced the evacuation of a stadium in Hannover, Germany, on Tuesday night before a Netherlands-Germany friendly soccer match, the police chief for Germany’s Lower Saxony region told Germany’s public broadcaster NDR.
Chief Volker Kluwe told NDR that authorities “had concrete intelligence that someone wanted to set off an explosive device inside the stadium.” The two tips forced officials to cancel the Netherlands-Germany match about 90 minutes before kickoff.
“We do take this intelligence seriously. That is why we proceeded with this protocol. We did not take this decision lightly, but it was in accordance with the seriousness of the intelligence,” Kluwe said. However, no explosives were found at the stadium, regional Interior Minister Boris Pistorius said at a news conference Tuesday night.
German media outlets Der Spiegel and Bild Zeitung reported the tips came from France’s intelligence agency. The French alerted German federal police to an “Iraqi sleeper cell” with plans to stage an attack. CNN has not independently confirmed the report.
The German national team tweeted that the game had been canceled, and “#DieMannschaft are under police protection and have been escorted to a safe place.”
Authorities asked spectators to go home and not stay outside the stadium in big crowds, Kluwe said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and at least three other top government officials had been expected to attend the match, Merkel’s office said.
“The decision when you call off such a match is a very difficult one. We all know what this match meant after Paris,” Reinhard Rauball, the interim president of the German Soccer Association, said.
The incident comes four days after three suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the Stade de France in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis during a soccer match between France and Germany. The bombers died in the explosions, as did one bystander. That was one of several terror attacks across the French capital Friday night that killed at least 129 people and wounded hundreds more.
“Because of the events in Paris, we were particularly sensitive and prepared for everything,” Kluwe said. “We have prepared for this kind of scenario. … We will have a heavy presence throughout the night and ensure the safety around the city.”
The soccer stadium wasn’t the only place in Hannover where people were worried about their safety. Hannover police posted on their Facebook page Tuesday night that they were examining a suspicious item in the area of the central train station. After partially evacuating the station, police determined that item was not an explosive.
France and England went ahead with a friendly soccer match Tuesday night at London’s Wembley Stadium, which was lit up in red, white and blue to honor the visiting squad. Leading up to the game, London police increased their presence around the stadium and at several busy areas, such as transport hubs, across the British capital.
Meanwhile, in Paris, investigators have recovered multiple cell phones at the scenes of the attacks believed to belong to the attackers, a possible big break that could help unravel the plot and the suspected network behind it, counterterrorism and intelligence officials told CNN. According to the officials, at least one phone contained a message, sent sometime before the attacks began, to the effect of: OK, we’re ready.
CNN’s Stefan Simons, Steve Almasy, Anna Maja Rappard, Claudia Otto, Tommy Evans, Patrick Sung and Ulrike Dehmel contributed to this report