Cancelling Hanover match right decision - Merkel

2015-11-18 16:26
German Chancellor Angela Merkel makes a statement over the Hanover soccer match which was cancelled after a bomb scare. (Soeren Stache, AP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel makes a statement over the Hanover soccer match which was cancelled after a bomb scare. (Soeren Stache, AP)

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Hanover - Soccer fans and police officials alike sent a message to the world about reacting to terrorism with the orderly way they evacuated a stadium after a terrorist threat the night before, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday.

"Even though the game didn't happen, you sent a signal," said Merkel as she thanked civilians and police for their reactions after an exhibition match between German and the Netherlands was called off 90 minutes before kick-off in the city of Hanover.

The decision was reached after reports of an Islamist threat targeting the HDI Arena.

The match would have come a mere four days after terrorist attacks in Paris left 129 dead. The Islamic State terrorist group has claimed responsibility and promised further attacks on Western targets.

Organisers had initially decided to go ahead with the game as a symbol of defiance against terrorist threats, but changed their mind as the threat grew clearer.

Officials had "concrete details about a concrete threat", said Stephan Weil, the prime minister of the German state of Lower Saxony, in which Hanover lies.

Merkel called the decision a tough one, but said the orderly behaviour still represented a victory over terrorism.

"I was just as sad as millions of fans that we had to cancel," she said. "It's perhaps one of the toughest questions amid the tensions between freedom and security."

Intelligence services

She also thanked police and took the opportunity to note that such cases indicate why Germany needs intelligence services. The country's services have been in hot water of late for allegations of spying on friendly countries and, in one case, its own diplomats.

Little clarity has emerged about the events of Tuesday night. Despite a massive police presence, no arrests have been made, nor any explosives discovered.

"No one was hurt yesterday [Tuesday] and that's a success," said Weil.

Germany's intelligence services supremo, Hans-Georg Maassen, confirmed on Wednesday that government officials had solid information hinting at a possible attack, which prompted them to cancel the game.

Maassen told broadcaster ARD on Wednesday that any attack averted on Tuesday did not mean Germans could breathe too much easier.

"If the Islamic State can get us, if it can carry out terrorist attacks in Germany, then it will do so," he said. "Germany is an enemy of the Islamic State. That's the way they see us; the same way they see all Western countries."

After a night of police searches and fans being urged to return to their homes, Hanover seemed strangely empty in Tuesday's aftermath. Workers at the train station, one of Germany's major transportation hubs, said on Wednesday there were noticeably fewer visitors than normal.

"I have the sense the train station is emptier than normal," said Sarah Dreiwes, 29, a teacher and one of the few who chose to travel by train. "I assume that a lot of commuters opted for cars today."

She said the news from Tuesday has made her more aware as she travels and more cautious about moving around town. She said she is reconsidering going to a show with her mother next week and wondering if she wants to go to the annual Christmas markets opening soon.

Christina Egger was on her way to a project discussion, but stopped in the station to say that she thought the police presence there was soothing. "It's just that nothing is normal any more," she said.

But questions lingered about when the city might return to normal. The city's football team, Hannover 96, said it would not return to training at the stadium immediately. However, upcoming boxing and horse-racing events were set to continue.

Maassen said he would not recommend cancelling all events because of security worries.

"Other countries have had problems with terrorist threats for many years ... and they still manage to have football games and music shows despite these problems. I think we can do that too."

Read more on:    angela merkel  |  germany  |  france  |  paris under attack

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