German police arrest three men believed to be Isil 'sleeper cell'
Published 14/09/2016 | 02:30
Three Isil suspects arrested in Germany yesterday had a "link" to the Paris jihadist attackers, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said, adding that they may have been a "sleeper cell".
The three men, aged 17 to 26, apparently used the same migrant trafficking network to travel from Syria into Europe and had fake Syrian passports that were made in the "same workshop" as those of the Isil attackers in the French capital, he said.
"Concrete missions or orders have not so far been found in the course of investigations carried out," the prosecutors said after the trio was arrested by special forces with support from 200 federal and local police.
Authorities also searched the flats of the three suspects but had no further details on what they might have found.
"Based on the information that the Federal Crime Office has so far been able to obtain, the three are strongly suspected of coming to Germany in November 2015 on orders from Islamic State," the federal prosecutors' office said.
It said a suspect identified as Mahir Al-H. became a member of Isil in September 2015 and received weapons and explosives training in Raqqa, the militant group's de facto capital in Syria. In October, he and the two other suspects, Mohamed A. and Ibrahim M., signed up with an Isil official responsible for operations and attacks outside Isil territory and travelled to Europe, the prosecutors said.
Isil allegedly provided them with passports, more than €1,000 in cash and cell phones with a special communications programme. The suspects travelled through Turkey and Greece before arriving in Germany in mid-November 2015, at the height of the migrant crisis.
Federal prosecutors said police special forces arrested the three in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein on suspicion of being sent by Isil "either to carry out a mission that they had been informed about or to wait for further instructions" for an attack.
Around a million migrants arrived in Germany last year, and concern about their presence has grown after a series of violent attacks, three of which were carried out by asylum seekers.
Those attacks in July put the country on edge and led to pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel to introduce an upper limit of 200,000 refugees per year, as her Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union, are demanding. She refuses any cap.
Mr de Maiziere said the three men arrived in late 2015, probably with the help of the same network that funnelled Isil militants into Paris to carry out shootings and bombings that killed 130 people on November 13 last year.
"Everything points to the fact that the same smuggler organisation behind the Paris attacks also brought the three men to Germany who were arrested," de Maiziere told a news conference. "Indications are that their travel documents all came from the same workshop in that region."
ARD television said they were held after raids at refugee housing in towns north of Hamburg. German authorities searched the flats of the three suspects but did not reveal what they might have found.
De Maiziere noted that two of the Paris attackers last year had registered as refugees. "That suggests that IS was determined to send these kinds of people to blend in with refugees in order to cause uncertainty in Europe and Germany."
He added: "The French connection ... is what makes this case so special. We have to find out if these are individual links or if there is a larger network. It shows IS is not only targeting France or Germany or Italy or Belgium or Britain - but the entire West."