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March 20, 2003
 
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Germany Holds Five Attack Suspects as War Starts

Reuters


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By Emma Thomasson

BERLIN (Reuters) - German prosecutors said on Thursday they had detained five people who they suspected were planning an attack in Germany to coincide with the start of the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

Federal prosecutors said in a statement they were investigating the five unnamed persons on suspicion of forming an "Islamist terrorist association" with the aim of recruiting Arab students and planning bomb attacks in Germany.

"There are indications that the suspects possibly would use the beginning of the war in Iraq as an opportunity to carry out an attack," the statement said. It said this had prompted prosecutors to raid six buildings in Berlin, including the Al-Nur mosque and offices of the Islamic Community in Berlin.

The prosecutors said the raids aimed to find evidence on links between the group's members and on attack plans, and to thwart a possible strike. Police were questioning the suspects and would then decide whether to present them to a judge.

Germany warned earlier this month that the country could be a target for Islamic militant groups such as al Qaeda even though it opposes the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

Despite its vocal opposition to the war against Iraq, Germany's center-left government has supported Washington's hunt for Islamic extremists since the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities and has brought a key al Qaeda suspect to trial.

"Militant groups may use war in Iraq as an excuse to carry out acts of terrorist violence in Germany," federal prosecutor Kay Nehm told the news magazine Focus earlier this month.

Heinz Fromm, head of Germany's domestic secret service, has said the vast majority of Germany's three million Muslims were law abiding, but his organization was keeping an eye on political extremists within Muslim communities.

HEIGHTENED SECURITY

Germany has been at the center of the investigation into the September 11 attacks since it was discovered that three of the suicide hijackers who flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon had lived in the northern port of Hamburg.

Last month, a Hamburg court sentenced Moroccan Mounir El Motassadeq to 15 years in prison for aiding the hijackers.

Interior Minister Otto Schily said in a statement earlier on Thursday that he had ordered heightened security measures in Germany to coincide with the start to war, with a focus on protecting American, British, Israeli and Jewish buildings.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said in a televised address to the nation earlier that while police and security forces were on high alert across Europe in case of possible extremist attacks, "there is no reason for panic or particular concern in Germany."

"I assure you that the federal and state governments have done everything to guarantee every imaginable measure of security in Germany. You can rely on that," he said.

The prosecutors' statement did not name the suspects and said no more information would be available for the time being.

Earlier this month, a Frankfurt court convicted four Algerians of conspiracy to murder for planning a foiled bomb attack on a Christmas market in the French city of Strasbourg in December 2000 and handed them jail sentences of 10 to 12 years.

Last month, German police raided apartments and offices used by Islamic groups in several western towns and briefly detained four people on suspicion they were planning attacks, but later released them without charge.

In separate raids in February, police also questioned three other men suspected of planning extremist attacks and of supporting the al Qaeda cell in Hamburg behind September 11.

Copyright 2003 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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