Germany: “Where did the train explode?”… An Iraqi causes a state of panic and a major security operation against the background

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

On a train journey between two German cities, an Iraqi man wanted to know at which station the train cars separated. But instant translation on his mobile phone made a female passenger sitting next to him think there was a bomb threat, leading to a terrible misunderstanding.

An incorrect translation from Arabic to German led to a massive police security operation in the town of Oberkotsau in the German state of Bavaria.

The story, which was widely reported in German media, began on Monday when a 36-year-old Iraqi man who was not fluent in German approached a 22-year-old German woman who was sitting next to him on a train heading from Nuremberg to Hof.

The Iraqi man wanted to ask the young German woman if the train’s carriages would separate from each other and if he was sitting in the right car. This is common in Germany, where it is not rare for two trailers to be connected, then separated at one station according to a specific plan, so that each trailer continues its journey to another destination.

Because he is not fluent in German, the Iraqi man made the young German woman look at the screen of his mobile phone, where he apparently wrote his question in Arabic and had the application translate it into German.

And here the problem started. The translation was not accurate. Instead of the application translating the phrase as it was into German, the young German woman read the phrase, “Where does the train explode?” according to what was reported by the online news site of the German magazine Der Spiegel. It was not clear what exact words the man used in Arabic.

According to the Federal Police spokesman, the young woman made an excuse in front of the Iraqi man that she wanted to go to the toilet, and she ran to the train employee and told him what she had read on the Iraqi man’s phone. The employee, in turn, alerted the railway company’s emergency center.

After that, members of the German Federal Police rushed in large numbers and evacuated eighty passengers who were on board the train, and two dogs trained to detect explosives searched the train.

According to the police, the man, who did not offer any resistance, was thrown at him. A Federal Police spokesman said: “The man did not know what was happening to him.” During the interrogation, it became clear that in fact he only wanted to ask which station the train’s carriages separated from and where he could change the train, even if he was sitting in the correct carriage. The man had traveled this road before, so he knew he had to be careful.

It was not clear at first why his mobile phone made such a gross mistranslation. The police source said the man may have been speaking a Kurdish dialect, which could be a possible reason, and that he had entered the wrong word into the translation app.

According to the Federal Police, the false alarm caused the delay of 18 trains in the area.

It is noteworthy that the Federal Police Service in Germany (Bundespolizei) is responsible for protecting trains and railways and maintaining security at stations throughout Germany.

Additional sources • Bayerischer Rundfunk, Spiegel Online