(OSV News) — German police have significantly increased security measures around Cologne Cathedral over the Christmas period, due to indications of an increased threat situation in Europe, according to international news agency KNA, based in Germany.
Visitors to Christmas services in Cologne Cathedral are being asked to exert patience, as police launched extensive security measures Dec. 23. After the evening Mass, the cathedral was closed and searched for five hours with bomb-sniffing dogs, a police spokesman announced on Sunday. He did not give any further details about the nature of the threat, merely referring to an increased threat level in Europe.
Security measures have also been tightened in Austria, according to police there.
A report in the German newspaper Bild stated that members of an Islamist terrorist cell have been arrested in both Germany and Austria. The newspaper also said that there had been indications of a planned Islamist attack on the cathedral. According to Michael Esser, head of the criminal investigation department, the planned attack may be related to New Year’s Eve. Nevertheless, security measures had already been enhanced ahead of Christmas.
Around Cologne Cathedral Dec. 23, the police were deployed with some two dozen police cars. The state security organization responsible for combating politically motivated crime is also investigating, according to reports.
Cathedral staff have advised that Christmas services will take place as planned, including the Christmas Mass with Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki at midnight on Christmas Eve.
Meanwhile, cathedral provost Guido Assmann asked those attending the service for their understanding, as access controls will be in place and bags will be searched prior to entry. He advised those attending to arrive early and without bags.
“I am convinced that we will overcome this challenge with typical Cologne serenity and Christmas anticipation and celebrate the birth of the Lord in the usual festive manner,” said the provost.
He also thanked the security forces, saying, “I witnessed how they all worked hand in hand with great commitment and professionalism until late into the night yesterday to protect the cathedral.”
According to the police, Austria is also generally at increased risk during the Christmas holidays. “As terrorist actors throughout Europe call for attacks on Christian events in this context — especially around 24 December — the security authorities have increased the corresponding protective measures in public spaces in Vienna and the federal states,” the police announced. Churches and religious services, as well as Christmas markets, are considered possible targets, and authorities have announced increased protections for those events.
According to Bild, arrests were made by special units in Vienna on Saturday evening, as well as one in Saarland. The report said the terror suspects arrested are Tajiks who are believed to belong to the “Islamic State in Khorasan Province” (ISPK), an IS offshoot in Afghanistan.
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KNA International is an English-language news service covering the Catholic Church in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg.