German Bomb Was Extortion Plot, Police Say -- WSJ

By William Wilkes Features Dow Jones Newswires

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (December 4, 2017).

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FRANKFURT -- A bomb found in the city of Potsdam on Friday was accompanied by a note demanding payment of a sum equivalent to millions of euros from postal company Deutsche Post AG's DHL courier service, police said, warning they believed the perpetrator could send further explosive devices.

The bomb, a cylindrical device with batteries, nails and cables, was discovered in a pharmacy in the center of Potsdam, across the street from a Christmas market, police said. A bomb disposal squad destroyed the device with a high-power water jet after evacuating the market.

Police said people in the pharmacy and market could have been killed or maimed had the device exploded.

Authorities said they suspect the perpetrator lives in or near Berlin or Brandenburg state, a police spokesman said without elaborating. Potsdam, a city of 165,000 people, is the state capital of Brandenburg and is about 20 miles southwest of Berlin.

Authorities in Potsdam on Sunday said they found a piece of paper near the bomb with a quick-response code, a symbol similar to a bar code, but which stores more data and can be read by a smartphone camera.

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The code contained an extortion demand for a sum equivalent to millions of euros addressed to DHL, authorities said. The note demanded an electronic transfer of funds rather than cash, a police spokesman said. The note didn't demand payment in euros, the spokesman said. Authorities declined to provide further details.

A DHL spokesman declined to comment on the bomb.

DHL's parent company, Deutsche Post DHL Group, based in Bonn, is one of the world's largest postal delivery companies, with a 2016 net profit of EUR2.64 billion ($3.13 billion) on revenues of more than EUR57 billion euros ($67.62 million) last year. It wasn't clear why the company's DHL subsidiary was targeted, a police spokesman said.

Recent ransomware cyberattacks, which make files on victims' computers unusable until a ransom is paid, have asked for payment in digital currency bitcoin. Bitcoin allows users to open an account without identifying themselves, , although some people using the currency for illegal transactions have been caught.

A police spokesman declined to comment on whether the perpetrator had asked for payment in bitcoin.

Security services suspect the Potsdam bomb may be linked to a similar incident in November in Frankfurt Oder, a town of 55,000 people nestled on Germany's border with Poland. That package, delivered to a small business, exploded, igniting a fire in the company's postal room, but caused no injuries.

The latest device was mailed from a self-serve machine at an unmanned package station in Potsdam early Thursday, according to police. German law limits video surveillance to train stations, public transport and high-crime areas, and most public streets in the country have no CCTV cameras.

Further devices could be sent to small businesses, the spokesman said, although police wouldn't rule out the possibility they would be sent to individuals. Police in Potsdam urged the public to remain alert and not open unexpected packages from senders they don't know.

"The perpetrator takes damage to human life and health as a given cost," Brandenburg police chief Hans-Jürgen Mörke said Sunday.

Germany is on high alert for the Christmas season after a truck rampage killed 12 people at a market in Berlin last year.

Write to William Wilkes at william.wilkes@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 04, 2017 02:47 ET (07:47 GMT)