Germany Bans Islamic Extremist Group

BERLIN, Germany - Germany banned an extremist Islamic organization on Wednesday, making the first use of a new measure that allows the government to outlaw religious groups with possible links to terrorism.

Interior Minister Otto Schily announced a ban on the Cologne-based Islamic State and 19 related groups - with a total of 1,100 members. After the announcement, authorities carried out an estimated 200 searches in seven German states, Schily said in a statement.

Schily did not say if anything had been found or if there were any arrests.

Investigators have announced no direct links between the group and the Sept. 11 attacks, but have said members traveled to Afghanistansupporters in 1996 or 1997.

The group, led by Turkish-born Muhammed Metin Kaplan, openly calls for the overthrow of secular governments and their replacement with Islamic ones, but German authorities had been unable to act against it because of strict laws protecting religious groups.

Under the new law, passed last month, the government is now allowed to lift the protections for any organization deemed to promote extremism or ideals that could be linked to terrorism.

Kaplan, whose group had long been under observation by Germany's domestic security agency, is wanted in Turkey on high-treason charges but German officials want assurances that he won't face the death penalty if he's handed over.

Turkish authorities suspect Kaplan was behind a thwarted plot to crash a plane into the mausoleum of Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, during the country's 75th anniversary celebrations on Oct. 29, 1998.

Kaplan is serving a four-year German jail term for incitement to kill a rival.