Germany says arrests smashed terrorist cell

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

BERLIN -- Germany claimed Tuesday it crushed a terror cell led by a London-based cleric linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network, arresting 11 suspected Islamic militants in raids throughout the country.

Police said that those arrested in raids in 10 cities throughout the country on Tuesday belonged to a Palestinian group identified as Al Tawhid that was plotting attacks in Germany.

"We've managed to smash a cell which ... particularly against the background of the grave conflict in the Middle East, stood on the brink of attacks in Germany," federal prosecutor Kay Nehm said. "We think we've managed to prevent some things that were being prepared."

In television interviews, Nehm identified the spiritual leader of the group as Abu Qatadah, a Muslim cleric identified by U.S. and European officials as having links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida organization.

A Jordanian of Palestinian descent, Qatadah was convicted in absentia in 2000 by a military court in Jordan on charges of conspiring to attack U.S. and Israeli targets. He was protected by British law from extradition but in February, British anti-terrorism experts said Qatadah had disappeared.

German prosecutors said Tuesday that the suspects in custody were part of a "secret international network" and had mainly provided false travel documents, collected donations and arranged travel for Islamic fighters in Afghanistan. During the raids, police seized computers, documents and material used to falsify passports.

The prosecutor's office identified only one suspect -- Yaser H., a Palestinian living in the western German city of Essen. The 36-year-old was a leading figure in the cell and had contacts across Germany, the statement said.

A flurry of pledges

The arrests follow a flurry of political pledges to crack down on suspected militants since it emerged shortly after Sept. 11 that three of the hijackers, including ringleader Mohamed Atta, had lived in Germany.

Gerhard Schlemmer, a spokesman for the Federal Criminal Office, Germany's equivalent of the FBI, said any links between Tuesday's arrest and the Sept. 11 attacks "are not recognizable at the moment."

In Spain on Tuesday, police said they detained a Syrian-born Spaniard described as a key figure in financing al-Qaida's operations in various countries, including the United States.

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