NewsCologne cathedral closed amid Islamist terror threat during holiday season

Cologne cathedral closed amid Islamist terror threat during holiday season

Colony. View from the Rhine side.
Colony. View from the Rhine side.
Images source: © pxhere

4:24 AM EST, December 27, 2023

In response to a terrorist alert concerning the cathedral in Cologne and a church in Vienna, heightened security measures have been put in place, especially in light of the upcoming New Year's Eve celebrations. "At present, the threat level related to Islamist terrorism has increased. Accordingly, federal and state security services are exercising the utmost caution," stated a spokesperson for the Federal Ministry of the Interior in Berlin.

The cathedral in Cologne will remain closed to tourists until further notice. "Services will continue as scheduled, but we regret to inform you that site visits are not possible at this time," said the deputy head of cathedral security, Oliver Gassen, in an interview with the DPA press agency. He added that "the cathedral will be locked between the services".

Traditionally, the cathedral sees over 100,000 visitors between Christmas and New Year's Day. It is one of the city's biggest tourist draws.

"Naturally, we find it unfortunate," expressed the cathedral parson, Guido Assmann. "People travel from distant countries to spend a few days in Cologne, and it's disappointing that they cannot visit the cathedral. But safety must be prioritized".

However, the terror alert has not deterred the faithful. Guido Assmann, who serves as the cathedral's parson and chairs the cathedral chapter responsible for the cathedral's management, emphasized that "the faithful continue to attend, and we saw more people at the midnight mass compared to last year".

Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki expressed gratitude to participants of the midnight mass for their courage in the face of a tense situation, "who were not deterred, but bravely attended".

Facing the threat of a terrorist attack

Security services obtained information about a potential attack planned by an Islamist group on the cathedral in Cologne and a church in Vienna. These threats, reported by Cologne police, specifically mentioned New Year's Eve. Nonetheless, even on Christmas Eve, all cathedral visitors underwent police checks before entering. On Sunday, after the midnight mass and before its closure, the cathedral underwent an additional search with detection dogs.

Enhanced security measures were also implemented at the cathedral in Cologne in previous years. For instance, in 2016, bag checks were initiated prior to the midnight mass in response to terror threats.

Police in Vienna have similarly augmented their safety measures. In Austria on Saturday, constitutional services arrested four individuals. Prosecutor Nina Bussek stated in an interview with the DPA press agency on Tuesday that digital devices, including cell phones seized during the raid, are currently undergoing analysis.

The DPA reported a possible connection between the suspicious group and a faction of the terrorist network Islamic State (IS), specifically the Islamic State Province of Khorasan (ISPK), which has been in armed conflict against the Taliban in Afghanistan for several years. However, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office in Vienna declined to comment on this.

The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) noted in April that despite significant victories against Islamic State (IS) terrorists in Syria and Iraq, the organization as a whole remains a threat. BfV head Thomas Haldenwang specifically highlighted the 'Islamic State Province of Khorasan', or ISPK.

In the wake of a terrorist attack by the Islamist organization Hamas on Israel on October 7th, concerns have escalated about potential attacks in Germany. Austrian police consider the terrorist threat level within Austria to be elevated.

"Bild" newspaper also reported an arrest in Germany. However, no confirmation of this information has been released yet.

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