Boy (12) held on suspicion of trying to bomb German market

Police believe boy was steered, possibly by Islamist extremists, via phone messenger app

The entrance of the Christmas market in Ludwigshafen, Germany, on Friday. Investigators have detained a 12-year-old boy suspected of trying to detonate an explosive device there. Photograph: Uwe Anspach/AFP/Getty Images

German investigators have detained a 12-year-old boy suspected of twice trying to detonate explosive devices in the southwestern city of Ludwigshafen, including at a Christmas market.

However, police in the southwestern city say that, because he is underage, they are unable to charge him with any crime.

The boy, of German-Iraqi descent and born in the city in 2004, is suspected of depositing two home-made devices on November 26th, and on December 5th.

In both cases the devices failed to explode because of faulty construction.


Police believe the boy was being steered, possibly by Islamist extremists, via a messenger app discovered on his smartphone.

“The state prosecutor cannot press charges because we are dealing with an underage child,” said Hubert Ströber, state prosecutor.

The 12-year-old was born in the city in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. According to German media sources, he had been radicalised in recent years and had plans to join Islamic State next summer.

‘Heavily radicalised’

According to a prosecution statement, the boy was “heavily radicalised” and had contact with an “unknown member” of Islamic State, also known as Isis, who “put him up to, or initiated him” via his smartphone to carry out the attacks.

Police reports say the two explosive devices contained some identical materials.

The first, a jam jar containing explosives and nails, was left at a Christmas market in a rucksack. The second device, deposited earlier this month in bushes near a Ludwigshafen shopping centre, reportedly contained fireworks and sparklers and was built to ignite but not to cause a serious explosion.

At a press conference, Eva Lohse, mayor of Ludwigshafen, said the 12-year-had been taken to a secure location and authorities were trying to find a “long-term solution”.

“Public safety in Ludwigshafen is assured,” she said, refusing to say anything more about the case because of an injunction imposed by prosecutors.

Because he is under 13, the boy cannot be tried even as a youth. Instead, on December 6th, he was taken from his parents and placed with youth workers.

The suspected bomb attacks carry overtones of the summer attack in Bavaria, in which an asylum-seeker deposited a rucksack containing a nail bomb. It detonated, killing the bomber and leaving 15 injured.

Swift inquiry sought

In Berlin, news of Germany’s latest close shave with a terrorist attacker prompted Peter Altmaier, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, to demand a swift inquiry by prosecutors.

“This includes the questions: did the radicalisation take place in home or over the internet?” he asked. “The fact is that our security services are alert to this threat.”

Parallel to the Ludwigshafen case, police announced the arrest of a 24-year-old Tunisian man suspected of planning an unspecified mission for Islamic State.

Prosecutors say the man, identified only as Charfeddine T, entered Germany as an asylum seeker in October 2015, at which time he was already a member of the jihadist group.

In a statement, prosecutors said the man had contacted Isis members in Syria who oversee the group’s foreign operations and had requested permission to carry out an unspecified mission.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin