By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, September 7, 2007
BERLIN, Sept. 6 -- Authorities said Thursday that they are investigating at least seven more people suspected of aiding a multinational cell of Islamic militants plotting to bomb American interests in Germany, including two who may have trained at camps in Pakistan.
Prosecutors said they had identified five of the alleged helpers, mostly Turkish and German nationals. But they said they were still trying to decipher the aliases of others who might have assisted three men arrested Tuesday as they transferred bombmaking chemicals from a rented house in the German village of Oberschledorn.
According to prosecutors, the three defendants in custody had traveled to Pakistan last year to train in camps run by the Islamic Jihad Union, a Central Asian group affiliated with al-Qaeda. Investigators said two other supporting members of the German ring may have trained in Pakistan as well.
Other evidence has surfaced recently indicating that Europeans are being recruited to attend camps operated by a variety of Islamic militant groups along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
In June, the Taliban circulated a DVD among local journalists in Pakistan that purported to show a training camp graduation ceremony. Among the 250 graduates were more than a dozen white-skinned young men. One Taliban figure in the video was identified as the leader of a small group of German recruits, according to a copy of the video viewed by a Washington Post correspondent.
The primary speaker at the ceremony was Mansour Dadullah, a leading Taliban commander. "Oh, Americans and your allies, these suicide bombers are going to chase you in your countries," he said.
Authorities said Thursday they were confident that they had broken up the group accused of plotting attacks against Americans and that it no longer posed a security risk.
"We are trying to identify all of those who were working in the shadows," Deputy Interior Minister August Hanning told ARD public television.
The arrests Tuesday shocked many Germans, particularly because two of the suspects were native-born Germans who had converted to Islam, including one named Fritz. The case also stoked a long-standing debate over whether German lawmakers need to give police more leeway to snoop on suspects and make it a crime to train at militant camps outside the country.
The three defendants have been charged with membership in a foreign terrorist organization, an offense that was not made a crime until after an al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg planned and carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
Authorities had been aware for several months that the three had trained in Pakistan and returned to Germany, but said they didn't have sufficient evidence for a strong court case until recently.
"We have to be able to prosecute those people who went to terrorist camps to commit attacks in Germany," Johannes Schmalzl, president of the domestic intelligence service for the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemburg, told the magazine Der Spiegel.
Interior Ministry officials said in July that they knew of at least 14 German residents who had journeyed to Pakistan to attend training camps.
"That these cases are becoming more frequent needs to alarm us," Hanning said at the time. "We need to do everything we can to find out who has gone to Pakistan and is being trained there."
Additional details surfaced Thursday about the three defendants in custody, although their backgrounds and motives remained sketchy.
Police identified the ringleader as Fritz Martin Gelowicz, 28, a native of Munich who converted to Islam several years ago. Investigators said he was active in radical Islamic circles in Ulm, a city in Baden-Wuerttemburg that is home to many Islamic converts, and had recently attended a vocational college there.
The two other suspects accused of plotting against U.S. targets lived in other parts of Germany, and it was unclear how they had come into contact with Gelowicz.
A Turkish national, identified by prosecutors as Adem Y., 28, lived in the central state of Hesse. The other defendant, Daniel Martin S., 21, lived next to a mosque near the city of Saarbruecken, close to the French border. Neighbors said he was a recent convert to Islam.
Another German citizen from Ulm, identified by authorities as Tolga D., 29, was arrested in Pakistan in June. Pakistani security officials said he had sought to attend a militant camp and tried to recruit other Germans for the same purpose.
He was deported to Germany last month and questioned by authorities but was later released. At least five other German residents have been arrested in Pakistan in recent months on suspicion of attending camps or acting as couriers for radical groups. Most have returned to Germany since then and remain under surveillance; prosecutors say they don't have enough evidence to pursue charges.
On Tuesday, police also raided the Islamic Information Center, a cultural center in Ulm, one of 40 properties searched across the country as part of the investigation, according to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.
Special correspondents Shannon Smiley in Berlin and Imtiaz Ali in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.