BERLIN (Reuters) - The Reichstag in Berlin was abruptly closed to tourists without prior bookings on Monday after reports of a plot by Islamist militants to attack Germany’s historic parliament building.
The shutdown of the majestic structure’s modern glass cupola and rooftop terrace reflected growing worries about terrorism in a country that until now has been mostly spared from violence and largely unperturbed by security fears.
One of Germany’s most popular tourist attractions, the 19th century Reichstag is visited by some 3 million people each year. Only small groups with advance bookings were allowed past police barricades as thousands of others were turned away.
“It’s unfortunate, but I’m sure police have their reasons,” said Peter Kalle, 50, a Bavarian tourist, as he and his family were denied entrance on a rainy day. “It’s sad, but dealing with the terrorist threat is more important than sightseeing.”
A spokesman for the Reichstag offered no explanation but said the closure would last “until further notice.” About 60 armed police were stationed around the building.
Der Spiegel magazine reported on Saturday that a jihadist living abroad had informed authorities of a plan for armed militants to enter the Reichstag and open fire. Police played down the report, saying there were no concrete details.
The scare nevertheless prompted officials to announce last week they were raising the national security alert, Der Spiegel said. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said last Thursday authorities were on guard against threats of an armed attack of the kind that killed 166 in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008.
Heavily armed police in bulletproof vests have since been a fixture at rail stations and airports across Germany. Local media coverage of the security threat has become intense.
“We want to live freely and without fear in Germany,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the weekend. “No terror threat is going to stop us from that.”
The Reichstag was damaged by an arson attack in 1933 that was used by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler as a pretext for assuming dictatorial powers. It was badly damaged in World War Two.
Kalle and other tourists standing outside the Reichstag security fence agreed that worries about terrorism had grown in Germany. De Maiziere had long played down the threat of attacks, but this month has issued repeated warnings.
“It’s annoying as I was looking forward to going inside but it’s better to close it than have something happen,” said Paul Huxen, 25, a London graphic designer. “They’re not overreacting. In England if there were a threat, we’d close it down as well.”
Tatiana Montelonch, 22, from Spain, added: “I feel quite safe in Berlin, safer than in Spain. The possibility of a terror attack here doesn’t want to enter my mind.”
The leaders of the 9/11 attacks on the United States in 2001 were students based in Hamburg. In 2002, 14 Germans were among 20 killed in a suicide attack on a synagogue in Tunisia.
Earlier this year, three Islamist militants behind a foiled 2007 plan to attack U.S. targets in Germany with car bombs were jailed for plotting what the judge called a “monstrous bloodbath.”
Editing by Mark Trevelyan