Germany-Netherlands Soccer Game Canceled Over Bomb Threat – Wall Street Journal

BERLIN—Fears of a terrorist bombing led Germany to cancel a highly anticipated national-team soccer game on Tuesday less than two hours before it was to start, underscoring the sense of siege across Europe following the Paris attacks.

About 20 minutes after fans started filing into a stadium with a capacity of 49,000 people in the city of Hannover on Tuesday night, the authorities canceled the German team’s game against the Netherlands and ordered an evacuation. Heavily armed police moved through the area around the stadium pleading with people to depart and searching vehicles, including a television broadcast truck. German Chancellor Angela Merkel landed at the Hannover airport en route to attend the game but then turned around and flew back to Berlin.

The soccer arena in Hannover, Germany, is evacuated Tuesday because of a security threat.
ENLARGE

“Please immediately make your way home,” the police said over loudspeakers outside the stadium. “There is no reason for you to stay here any longer.”


The authorities declined to specify the sort of threat that led to the cancellation. Boris Pistorius, the state interior minister for Lower Saxony, which includes Hannover, said about three hours after the cancellation that no arrests had been made and no explosives had been found.

“We received a serious tip that an explosive attack was planned for the stadium,” Hannover police chief Volker Kluwe said in an interview on ARD public television.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said indications of a threat against stadium increased in the course of Tuesday evening, forcing the last-minute move. Providing additional details, he said, would “unsettle the public.”

The German team first faced terrorism jitters Friday morning because of a bomb threat at its Paris hotel. On Tuesday night, the team was in a bus about three miles from the stadium when the cancellation came and was brought to an undisclosed location, top German soccer official Reinhard Rauball said.

“That our team would twice in four days have to experience this kind of tragic event is something that previously I could never have imagined,” Mr. Rauball said. “This is, of course, a sad day for Germany and a sad day for German soccer.”

Tuesday’s events brought Europe’s terrorism fears deeper to the European Union’s biggest country, which itself hasn’t experienced a major Islamist attack in recent years. Earlier in the day, special police units conducted a manhunt near the city of Aachen in western Germany following up on tips that a top suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was in the area. After making seven arrests, police determined that their sources had identified a man who simply looked similar to Mr. Abdeslam and released everyone they had detained.

Tuesday night’s game—a friendly match between two neighboring rivals—was meant to serve as a symbol of European unity and defiance against terrorism. The world champion German national team was playing France in Paris on Friday night when an explosion rang out just outside the stadium—one of three suicide bombings in the vicinity that evening. The game continued while terrorists went on a killing spree across Paris.

Out of fear of further attacks, the German team spent that night in the stadium. Over the weekend, soccer and security officials debated canceling Tuesday’s game against the Netherlands but decided to stick with it as a sign that terrorists couldn’t upend Europe’s most beloved sport.

“We want to stand up for our values, culture and freedom,” German team manager Oliver Bierhoff said on Monday.

Ms. Merkel and several ministers in her cabinet made plans to attend. A government spokeswoman said Monday that the senior officials would be there to show solidarity with the people of Paris and with the German national team, which won its fourth World Cup title last year.

Early Tuesday evening, Mr. de Maizière held a news conference in which he provided an update on the day’s search for the Paris attack suspect in western Germany and said nothing of a threat to the soccer game. Little more than an hour later, with fans already filing into the stadium, police ordered an evacuation.

“Indications of a threat against tonight’s game intensified so much in the course of the early evening that the security agencies and I…urgently recommended that this game be canceled,” Mr. de Maizière said in another news conference later in the evening. “We were all looking forward to this game…and that made this decision all the more bitter and more difficult.”


Write to Anton Troianovski at anton.troianovski@wsj.com

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