Arrest warrants have been issued for three Iraqis suspected of planning to attack visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi in Berlin. German police had already traveled to Norway to question the founder of their group.
Germany's security apparatus has been in high gear
German prosecutors issued arrest warrants on Saturday for the three men in connection with a suspected plot to attack the Iraqi prime minister during his visit to Berlin on Friday. The three are being charged with membership in a terrorist organization, Ansar al-Islam. The warrants mean the men can be held in custody as German police investigate the case.
The three men were arrested on Friday after early morning raids in three German cities. Rafik Y., aged 30, was arrested in the capital Berlin, while Ata R., 31, was detained in Stuttgart in the southwest of the country. The third man, Masin H., 22, was arrested in the southern city of Augsburg.
Ansar al-Islam was founded in 2001 in northern Iraq and has claimed responsibility for a series of bloody attacks in the country.
Allawi arrived in Berlin late Thursday on his first trip to Germany since taking office six months ago, at the start of a European tour that will also take him to Russia.
German investigators, who had the suspects under surveillance, noticed just before Allawi's arrival an increase in activity, phone calls and suspicious movements by one suspect that amounted to evidence of plans to attack.
A fourth man, a Lebanese, was arrested Saturday in Berlin on suspicion of supporting Ansar al-Islam and his home was searched. He was later released.
Ahead of the arrests in Germany, the founder Ansar al-Islam was questioned in Oslo by German police, Norwegian media reported on Sunday. German police interrogated Mullah Krekar early last week. He is thought to be linked to at least one of the men arrested on Friday on suspicion of planning attacks during Allawi's visit, Norwegian daily VG reported.
Krekar, who has lived in Norway since 1991, founded the group in December 2001, but insists that he has not been its leader since May 2002.
"The content of what happened in the Oslo court has been classified by the court, so I cannot offer concrete comments," Krekar's lawyer Brynjar Meling said in an interview on public television.
He confirmed however that German police among other things wanted details of his client's European contacts.
Asked whether the telephone number of one of the men arrested on Friday was found in Krekar's possession, Meling told NTB news agency that when Krekar was arrested in the Netherlands two years ago "he had an electronic phone book containing up to 2,000 names and numbers... so it is possible that the police found this man's telephone number at Krekar's" home.
Meanwhile, Krekar's brother Khalid Faraj Ahmad told NTB that Krekar's interrogation last week was in connection with an old case and that the interview had been planned for months.
"He was questioned as a witness in a case concerning several Kurds who were arrested in Germany a long time ago," Ahmad insisted.
Connection to al Qaeda?
According to information from German authorities, the group Ansar al-Islam (Supporters of Islam) was founded in 2001. Estimates put the number of members at around 1,000 in various splinter groups. In 2003, German authorities estimated there to be some 100 members in Germany.
The group, as founded by militant Kurds in northern Iraq, is supposed to have offered shelter to Osama bin Laden's fighters and Ansar al-Islam members are said to have spent time in al Qaeda training camps.
Before the fall of Saddam Hussein, the group controlled an enclave in northern Iraq where their Islamic fundamentalist views were enforced. For example, women who did not wear a veil were mistreated. The group is considered responsible for a number of bomb attacks in northern Iraq on US and allies forces.