Raids on mosques broke terror network, claim German police

Mosques across Germany were raided yesterday as police arrested 22 Islamic radicals suspected of aiding terrorism through money laundering and issuing fake documents.

State prosecutors in Munich said that the long-planned sweep had disrupted a major supply network that would have provided logistical support to terrorist groups. Those arrested included men and women from the Middle East, North Africa, Bulgaria and Germany, all of whom were suspected of being linked to Islamic extremist organisations including al-Qa'ida.

They said that, in an operation involving more than 800 officers, police had raided 50 addresses across Germany and confiscated faked passports, computer data and militant Islamic propaganda that called for recruits to join a holy war or jihad against the West. The bulk of arrests were made in the cities of Ulm and Neu Ulm in southern Germany.

"The network raised funds to pursue their ideological goals and equipped people with false documents to facilitate illegal residency in Germany," a state prosecutor's statement said. "Those detained are also accused of spreading racial hatred and recruiting people for a jihad," it added.

The chief state prosecutor, August Stern, said several of those arrested were linked to the militant extremist organisations Asnar-el-Islam and El Tauhid and that one of those detained had been trained at an al-Qa'ida camp in Pakistan. "We suspect those arrested to be members of a criminal organisation with international contacts," he said.

But police said they had found no evidence indicating that the group planned to carry out a terrorist attack. Mr Stern said the objective of the raids had been to destroy the logistical base of the network.

Police said that the raids focused on mosques that the group had used as a cover for its operations and on a series of call centres, where it was possible to telephone abroad at cheap rates. They said another chief target was an Islamic information centre in the southern city of Ulm which had been under police surveillance for more than three years.

Yesterday's raids followed a police operation in December which is alleged to have thwarted an attempt to assassinate Iyad Allawi, the interim Iraqi Prime Minister, during a brief visit to Berlin.

Germany stepped up its attempts to clamp down on Islamic extremism after the 11 September hijackers were found to have organised their attacks on New York and Washington while living undetected for years in Hamburg where they were regarded as mere students. The Germans' failure to identify the al-Qa'ida cell invoked criticism from America.

Last year, Otto Shily, the Interior Minister, announced that the fight against Islamic terrorism was at the top of the government's security agenda. Germany subsequently extradited the Islamic militant, Metin Kaplan to Turkey after he was found guilty of disseminating fundamentalist propaganda during his sermons. Mr Kaplan had lived for decades in Cologne. German federal prosecutors said that one of those arrested in yesterday's raids was a Libyan citizen accused of supporting an al Tauhid terrorist cell in Germany which had planned attacks on Jewish premises in the country. The Libyan was suspected of having supplied the cell with a pistol.