BERLIN, Jan. 23 -- German police arrested two suspected al Qaeda members early Sunday and accused them of planning suicide attacks in Iraq and trying to purchase uranium from a dealer in Luxembourg.
The men had been under surveillance by German intelligence since last October, officials said, and were arrested in the western city of Mainz, the site of a planned stop by President Bush during his trip to Europe next month.
German law enforcement officials said there was no sign that the men were plotting anything in connection with Bush's visit but rather were planning strikes against U.S. forces in Iraq. There was also no indication that the suspects had any targets in mind in Germany or the rest of Europe, a German federal prosecutor, Kay Nehm, said at a news conference in the city of Karlsruhe.
One of the suspects, a 29-year-old Iraqi man identified only as Ibrahim Mohammed K., was a veteran of al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, Nehm said, and spent a year there fighting the U.S. military after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. During his time in Afghanistan, the Iraqi was in regular contact with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as well as Ramzi Binalshibh, alleged to be a key planner of the Sept. 11 hijackings who had been living in Germany and was later captured in Pakistan, prosecutors said.
The Iraqi suspect at first expressed a desire to "martyr" himself against U.S. forces but was persuaded instead by al Qaeda leaders to go to Europe and recruit suicide bombers, according to a statement released by Nehm's office. Prosecutors said the suspect was able to move freely throughout Europe because he had German travel documents. Officials did not say whether the identification papers were forgeries or if they were obtained legally.
After arriving in Germany in September 2002, the Iraqi tried unsuccessfully to buy 48 grams of uranium from a group in Luxembourg, Nehm said. The prosecutor declined to provide details about the attempted uranium purchase or the source of the nuclear material but said it was not enough to build a weapon.
In September 2004, the Iraqi met the second suspect, a 31-year-old Palestinian identified only as Yasser Abu S., and recruited him to carry out a suicide attack in Iraq, according to Nehm's statement. Under German law, the full names of criminal suspects are generally not released until they are indicted. The two men are scheduled to appear Monday before a magistrate in Karlsruhe.
As part of the plot, the men obtained more than $1 million worth of life insurance coverage for the Palestinian and intended to collect the funds before the suicide attack by faking a fatal traffic accident in Egypt, Nehm said.
German police said they also raided four apartments in Mainz and Bonn during the arrest operation, the third major counterterrorism sweep by German officials in two months.
In December, authorities arrested three suspected members of Ansar al-Islam, a network that has organized strikes against U.S. troops and their allies in Iraq, and accused them of planning an attack on the Iraqi prime minister during a visit to Berlin. On Jan. 12, police arrested 22 other suspected Muslim extremists who were allegedly supplying militant groups with fake passports, money and other logistical help.