German police defuse device near Christmas market outside Berlin

A police officer stands guard at the Potsdam Christmas market after it was evacuated due to an explosive device, authorities said (Image: CNN.com)

(CNN) — German police defused what they say was an improvised explosive device (IED) that prompted the evacuation of a Christmas market Friday on the outskirts of Berlin, according to the official police Twitter account.

The incident took place in the city of Potsdam. Brandenburg police spokesman Thorsten Herbst said the area around the Christmas market remains cordoned off.

Herbst said authorities were alerted to the suspicious object when it was delivered to a pharmacy in the area.

Last December, 12 people were killed and at least 48 were wounded when a tractor-trailer rammed into a crowd at a Christmas market filled with holiday shoppers in Berlin. The suspect, Anis Amri, was killed later in a shootout with police in Italy.

Police have been on alert for any similar plots. Following large-scale raids in four German cities on November 21 that resulted in the arrest of six Syrian nationals, a German intelligence officer initially told CNN that the arrests uncovered a possible terror plot on a Christmas market in Germany.

But the Syrians were released without charge after initial investigations found there wasn’t “sufficient evidence of a terror plot,” the Frankfurt prosecutor’s office said.

There was also “no concrete evidence” the suspects belonged to the ISIS terror group, the office said.

There are, however, indications the men have had contacts with ISIS and investigations are ongoing, the office’s Christian Hartwig said.

According to the initial account from police, the Syrian nationals had applied for asylum and were suspected of being ISIS members. An attack “had not been fully planned yet” according to the previous statement, but the suspects were believed to have been planning to carry out attacks with “weapons or bombs on a public target in Germany.”

The German intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, further claimed the suspects had been carrying out target reconnaissance of the areas in which Christmas markets in Essen, Germany, would be held. They’d also surveilled buildings in Berlin, the official alleged.