German police said a credible bomb threat forced them to call off a football match Tuesday that was meant as a “symbol of freedom” after the Paris attacks and was to be attended by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Hanover city police chief Volker Kluwe said there had been “serious plans to cause an explosion” in the 49,000-capacity stadium, and that authorities had acted on “a concrete threat scenario”.
“We received a serious indication that a bomb attack was planned inside the stadium tonight,” he told public broadcaster ARD.
Thousands of fans were evacuated, without signs of panic, from Hanover’s HDI Arena, as hundreds of police, some on horseback, secured the area.
Merkel had already arrived at the venue but was quickly ushered out, while the national side had not yet arrived, media reports said.
The German team was playing France in Paris last Friday when players and fans were shaken by the blasts of three jihadist suicide bombers outside the Stade de France that echoed through the venue.
Head coach Joachim Loew had called Tuesday’s planned match “a clear message and symbol of freedom and a demonstration of compassion, as well as sorrow, for our French friends — not only in France, but throughout the world”.
Before the match, players had been practising the French anthem “La Marseillaise”, which they had been set to sing in a sign of solidarity with the shaken neighbouring nation.
“They wanted to make a statement against fear and terrorism, but it wasn’t to be,” said disappointed fan Philipp Beckermann, 38, who was heading away from the stadium.
“We didn’t even get into the stadium before we heard it was called off,” he said, walking away with his girlfriend Judith.
“There was no information about why the game was called off, security has to come first I guess. But it’s going to be a pretty sad journey back to Dortmund for us now for nothing.”
The victims of the Paris attacks — which claimed at least 129 lives with more than 350 injured — had been set to be honoured by candlelight in what had been described as “a friendly in the true sense of the word”.
The German Football Association (DFB) had at the weekend already come close to calling off the match, while Belgium have cancelled their friendly against Spain on Tuesday.
“We want to take this opportunity to use light as a sign of sympathy to the world,” the chairman of the Friends of Hanover, Roger Cericius, had told the Hannoversche Allgemeine newspaper.
The German team are still coming to terms with what they experienced last Friday during their international against France.
After the blasts, the Germans spent the night in the Stade de France changing room, as it was still considered too dangerous to cross Paris, before flying home early the next morning.
“There was a lot of fear and anxiety in the dressing room that night,” said Loew. “We were afraid.”