Germany busts ISIS 'sleeper cell' with 3 arrests

German special police force officers escorting a Syrian suspected of being a member of terror group ISIS outside the Federal Supreme Court building in the city of Karlsruhe yesterday.
German special police force officers escorting a Syrian suspected of being a member of terror group ISIS outside the Federal Supreme Court building in the city of Karlsruhe yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Men suspected of either plotting an attack or awaiting orders to commit one

BERLIN • German police yesterday arrested three men with forged Syrian passports, accused of being Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants and labelled a possible "sleeper cell" with links to the Paris attackers.

More than 200 police commandos took part in the pre-dawn raids in northern Germany to detain the men, who were suspected of either plotting an attack or awaiting orders to commit one.

The men were identified only as Mahir al-H., 17, Ibrahim M., 18, and Mohamed A., 26, in a statement issued by federal prosecutors. They left Syria in October last year and travelled via Turkey and Greece - a route used by tens of thousands of migrants - and arrived in Germany in mid-November.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the three apparently used the same migrant-trafficking network as several of the ISIS gunmen who killed 130 people in Paris in November last year.

"According to what we know so far, the investigation of the (federal criminal office) BKA points to links to the attackers of Paris from November 2015," Mr De Maiziere told a press conference.

"There is every reason to believe that the same trafficking group used by the Paris attackers also brought the three men who were arrested to Germany," he said, adding that their forged travel documents came from "the same workshop".

He said police had tracked the men for months and tapped their phones, meaning that at no stage was there a risk of an attack.

Prosecutors said in their statement that Mahir al-H. had joined ISIS in its de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria, by September last year, and received some weapons and explosives training.

The following month, all three men had pledged to travel to Europe in talks with an ISIS fighter who was "in charge of missions and attacks" outside of the Syria-Iraq region.

In Europe, "the three accused were meant to either execute a mission or await further instructions", the prosecution service said in the statement, adding that no evidence of "concrete orders or instructions" had been found. The men had received mobile phones and cash, as well as the fake passports, from ISIS, the statement said.

They were detained at three refugee shelters in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. Police also raided several other asylum-seeker shelters, Die Welt daily said.

Warrants for the men's arrests were issued by a federal judge on Sept 7, based in part on intelligence provided by Germany's domestic security agency.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2016, with the headline 'Germany busts ISIS 'sleeper cell' with 3 arrests'. Print Edition | Subscribe