BERLIN (AFP) — German police have arrested five Tajik nationals on suspicion they belonged to an Islamic State terror cell planning attacks on U.S. forces stationed in Germany, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Four of the suspects were arrested after dawn raids targeting several apartments and six other locations in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Another Tajik national already had been detained.
The five allegedly also were planning attacks on people they deemed critical of Islam, prosecutors in the city of Karlsruhe said.
The suspects — identified as Azizjon B., Muhammadali G., Farhodshoh K., Sunatullokh K. and Ravsan B. — are accused of joining the Islamic State group in January 2019 and initially planning to carry out attacks in Tajikistan.
They switched their focus to Germany after receiving instructions from two high-ranking IS leaders in Syria and Afghanistan, prosecutors said.
The five men had been planning to attack targets including U.S. air bases on German soil and had already ordered bomb parts online and stocked up on firearms and ammunition.
They also planned an assassination attempt on a person they believed had criticized Islam in public, and had already begun spying on the intended victim, prosecutors said.
Two of the suspects are also accused of accepting a $40,000 contract for an assassination in Albania.
Although they traveled to the country, the plan failed and they returned to Germany.
Money raised in Germany for their own plans and Islamic State in Syria was sent to financial agents in Turkey before being passed to the terror group, prosecutors said.
Ravsan B, 30, was the ringleader of the cell, according to a report in Germany’s Der Spiegel weekly.
He had been under investigation since March 2019, when he was found to be in possession of a weapon, according to Spiegel.
Ravsan B is accused of distributing instructions to the others on how to make explosive devices, and of accepting money for the assassination attempt in Albania.
German security services have long warned of lingering danger after several attacks claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group, the bloodiest of which was a truck rampage through a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016 that left 12 people dead.
In June 2018, German police said they had foiled what would have been the first biological attack with the arrest of a Tunisian suspected IS supporter in possession of the deadly poison ricin and bomb-making material.
And in November 2019, police in western city Offenbach arrested three men for allegedly planning a bomb attack in the name of IS.
That same month a Syrian was arrested in Berlin, accused of having procured key components for an explosive device and discussing bomb-making tips with other suspected Islamists in an online chat group.
Germany’s security services estimate there are around 11,000 Islamic radicals in Germany, some 680 of whom are deemed particularly dangerous and potentially violent — a fivefold increase since 2013.
Germany remains a target for jihadist groups, in particular because of its involvement in the coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, and its deployment in Afghanistan since 2001.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has allowed in more than 1 million asylum seekers since 2015 — a decision that has driven the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which charges that the influx creates a heightened security risk.
© Agence France-Presse