An imminent Boston Marathon-style attack on a professional cycling race in Germany has been foiled, authorities said today.
Tomorrow's annual event was cancelled after officials seized a cache of weapons, including a pipe bomb, and chemicals that can be used to make explosives in a raid on a suspected Islamic extremist's home outside Frankfurt.
A 35-year-old Turkish-German man and his 34-year-old Turkish wife were detained during the raid in the town of Oberursel. The couple, whose names were not released in line with Germany privacy rules, had been under surveillance.
Security officials were worried that the couple may have been targeting the one-day Eschborn to Frankfurt race, which draws around 200 professional riders and thousands of spectators on the May Day public holiday. Police said the race had been cancelled in case the couple had accomplices, or they had placed as-yet undetected explosive devices along the route.
Suspicions were heightened when police recently observed the male suspect, a trained chemist, apparently scouting out the area where the race was due to take place, said Frankfurt's chief prosecutor, Albrecht Schreiber. The race was supposed to pass through Oberursel.
"The result of the raid shows that our suspicions were confirmed," Mr Schreiber told reporters at a news conference in Wiesbaden, the state capital of Hesse.
"According to our current information, we have prevented an attack," said Stefan Mueller, the chief of police for western Hesse state.
Authorities in Germany have long warned that the country is at high risk of an attack after being named as a target by extremists, including some who have joined the Islamic State group. Mr Mueller declined to say whether authorities believe that known extremist groups were involved.
In the Boston Marathon attack, three people were killed and more than 260 injured when two bombs exploded at the finish line on April 15 2013.
"Of course we talked about the Boston attack last night," said Mr Mueller, explaining why security officials decided to go ahead with the raid. The race "is a soft target, and of course, since the Boston Marathon, it's part of the security assessment for every marathon in Germany, and of course this is true for cycling races too".
Prosecutors in Frankfurt launched an investigation against the couple in mid-April after an employee at a hardware shop told police about a suspiciously large purchase of a chemical that can be used to make bombs. The couple had used a false name when they bought three litres (nearly a gallon) of hydrogen peroxide, but police were able to identify them and put them under surveillance.
"This hydrogen peroxide triggered an alert," Frankfurt's deputy chief prosecutor Stefan Rojczyk told the Associated Press.
"Three litres is completely unusual," he said. "You can use it to clear algae from your pond, but you can also use it to build bombs."
Mr Schreiber said investigators found a functioning pipe bomb, 100 rounds of ammunition, parts of an assault rifle, the hydrogen peroxide, a training rocket for an anti-tank weapon and various other chemicals in the cellar of the couple's home.
Heavily-armed police wearing masks were involved in the overnight raid, and forensic officers in white suits entered the property and later carted out evidence during daylight hours today.
Mr Schreiber said the detained man was linked to the extreme Islamic Salafist movement in the Frankfurt area and was known to police for 15 previous offences. The two suspects are expected to appear before a judge later, he said, adding that two young children found at the premises were being looked after by social services.
"I want to emphasise that an attack was prevented, but it will have to be seen whether a concrete attack against tomorrow's cycle race was planned," he said.
Police chief Mr Mueller said hydrogen peroxide can be used to produce a substance called TATP. It has been used by extremists to build improvised explosive devices in the past, including by British "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, who tried to detonate a bomb in his shoe during a transatlantic flight.