The famous cathedral square in Cologne has been turned into a so-called security zone for Christmas with armed police and secure checkpoints aiming to prevent potential terror attacks.
Christmas in Cologne has been placed on lockdown, with armed police out in full force in the square outside the imposing Cologne cathedral which celebrated Christmas mass Saturday evening. Several police vans were highly visible including officers armed with sub-machine guns guarding the main entrance to the cathedral.
The bags of worshipers were searched for the first time ever as Germany still live in fear of continued Islamic terror attacks, reports Die Welt.
Dean of the cathedral Gerd Bachner said “several thousand” people had their bags inspected by police and said that it was the first time such security measures had ever been used at the cathedral. “You have to get used to it,” he said.
While Germany is still on high alert for potential terrorist attacks after the Berlin Christmas market massacre that killed 12 and injured almost 50 others, the police in Cologne did their best to be jovial. One officer while looking into a woman’s purse even joked, “is there something in there for me?” as he used his flashlight to examine the contents. The officers also offered a “Merry Christmas” to the parishioners as they searched them.
“I think it’s good that they are here, it gives you a feeling of security.” said a local woman named Martina. Others were more hesitant and expressed they felt uneasy about the need for such high levels of security.
Police president Jürgen Mathies said the choice to post police at the entrance to the cathedral was a difficult one, but felt it was needed. Despite the police presence, Mathies said he did not want the cathedral to turn into some sort of fortress.
The added security did not dissuade people from celebrating mass as the cathedral was filled to capacity and officers said that the mood was generally positive.
After the Berlin attacks Christmas markets across Europe saw an increase of police presence overnight. The attack was not the first time the Islamic State terror group had targeted Christians in Europe. Earlier this year in France Islamic State fighters beheaded a priest as he was giving mass. The attackers were later killed by police.
In the Middle East, the Islamic State has also targeted Christians for death and enslavement in the areas they control in Syria and Iraq. One Syrian Christian woman even claimed the barbarous group had used bakery kneading machines and baking ovens to cruelly kill Christians.
The security in the cathedral square is unlikely to lessen in the coming week, as officials have already announced their plans to have a large presence on New Year’s Eve to prevent a repeat of last year’s mass sex attacks which took place in the area.