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Cologne gang on trial for burglaries to fund Islamist fighters

A group of eight men has gone on trial in the western German city of Cologne. They allegedly burgled churches and schools over a period of four years to finance Islamist fighters in Syria.

A Cologne court heard on Tuesday that the gang allegedly stole 19,000 euros worth of goods from across Cologne and Siegen between 2011 and 2014 - often leaving a trail of damage behind them.

Chief prosecutor Nadja Gudermann told the jury that on breaking into the churches, the group allegedly stole offertory collection boxes, crosses, chalices and various other objects "dedicated to church services and religious worship."

The eight men are also accused of stealing money, laptops and a cash card from schools. The funds from the thefts were allegedly used to help fund Islamist terror groups in Syria. Exactly how much money actually reached fighters in Syria remains unknown and will not be focused upon in the current trial.

At the center of the gang is a Moroccan man who prosecutors say appeared in the German section of a YouTube video, which encourages Muslims to fight in so-called jihad. A court spokesman said that the "Islamic State" flag was visible in the video. According to the charges, the 26-year-old traveled to Syria to take part in training at an IS military camp.

Three of the eight men are also due to stand trial in the nearby city of Düsseldorf on separate charges of supporting a foreign terrorist organization.

ksb/msh (dpa, epd)