Prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for three Iraqis belonging to the fundamentalist Ansar al Islam network suspected of planning an attack on Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi last Friday in Germany.
Terrorists had Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi (left) in their sights
Following warnings from German intelligence agencies that three Iraqis living in Germany could be planning to assassinate Ayad Allawi while in Berlin, the prime minister’s agenda was changed immediately to heighten security.
Arrest warrants were issued over the weekend for the three members of the fundamentalist Ansar al Islam group who were residing in Berlin, Stuttgart and Augsburg respectively. The three men had been under close surveillance by German intelligence following a tip-off from Kurdish agents in Northern Iraq.
The Kurdish intelligence service had passed on the telephone numbers of the three Iraqis. The numbers were found in a notebook of a Kurd suspected to be an important courier for Ansar al Islam. German general prosecutor Kay Nehm said the arrest warrants were issued because the three men are accused of belonging to a terrorist network.
He admitted, however, that house searches had failed to uncover any weapons or explosives which could have suggested that the suspects were planning to kill the Iraqi prime minister.
“In Germany, Ansar-al-Islam members are known to be involved in fund-raising campaigns, human trafficking and the forging of passports and other documents,” Nehm told reporters. “So far we have no record of them using force or carrying out assassinations here.”
On Monday, a fourth suspect of Lebanese origin was set free again after initial suspicions turned out to be groundless.
High political profile
German Interior Minister Otto Schily
Interior Minister Otto Schily has been trying to profit politically from the events surrounding Allawi’s visit in Berlin. Insisting that an assassination plot had been thwarted, he sought to highlight the efficiency of the domestic intelligence services and the positive impact of the country’s new anti-terror legislation. Schily had initiated the hard-hitting laws after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
“We’re responsible for the security of state leaders visiting us,” he said. “We will do whatever we feel is required to ensure the safety of a guest. In the case of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, we also took all the necessary precautions and didn’t leave anything to chance.”
“Terrorists should know that our intelligence services are well informed about their intentions at any given time, no matter where and how they plan to step into action,” Schily added.
Bavarian Interior Minister Günter Beckstein, a member of the conservative Christian Social Union, acknowledged that German intelligence performed well in the run-up to the Allawi visit.
“The good news is that the German intelligence services are able to keep such a tight check on potentially dangerous people so that they are not in a position to commit acts of terror here,” he said. “It’s gratifying to know that the safety of Mr. Allawi was ensured throughout his visit to Berlin. This goes to show that cooperation between the various intelligence people at regional and national level leaves nothing to be desired.”
But Beckstein’s praise was not without a bit of hidden criticism directed towards Schily and the minister’s plans to reorganize the intelligence services.
Bavaria's conservative state interior minister Günther Beckstein
The Bavarian politician’s reference to cooperation between security services was intended as a rebuke to Otto Schily, who had recently launched a campaign to centralize intelligence gathering at national level. Schily is known to be a staunch supporter of a proposed national clearing house in which intelligence from all the various regional departments would be collected, collated and made easily accessible to officials entitled to use it. For Beckstein, the uncovering and thwarting of the attack against Allawi demonstrated that the current structure of regional and national units is sufficient for the job and requires no reorganization.