- The Washington Times - Friday, December 3, 2004

BERLIN — German authorities arrested three Iraqis with purported al Qaeda links on suspicion they were planning an attack on Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi while he visited Germany yesterday, the country’s chief prosecutor said.

The arrests were announced while Mr. Allawi was in Berlin and hours before he met German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Investigators who had the three suspects under surveillance noticed an increase in activity, phone calls and suspicious movements by one suspect before Mr. Allawi’s visit that amounted to “evidence of plans of an attack,” chief federal prosecutor Kay Nehm said.

All three were members of the terror group Ansar al-Islam, the prosecutor said at his agency’s headquarters in Karlsruhe. German authorities have said Ansar al-Islam has about 100 supporters in Germany, and U.S. authorities have linked the group to al Qaeda.

The suspects’ phone calls grew more frenetic after initial intelligence led officials to cancel a Thursday night meeting between Mr. Allawi and Iraqi exiles in Berlin, the prosecutor said.

“From the reactions in the various phone calls to the change in the visit’s schedule, one must conclude that they indicate that something was planned against the Iraqi prime minister,” Mr. Nehm said.

“The conversations differed markedly from the usual support activity” for Ansar al-Islam, he said. “Naturally that made us suspicious.”

It was unclear what kind of an attack the group might have planned, and Mr. Nehm refused to elaborate. He said the suspects appeared to have acted largely on the spur of the moment — seizing the opportunity of Mr. Allawi’s visit — and he added that initial searches had not found any bomb-making materials or weapons.

“We haven’t found anything yet that suggests an attack,” he said.

The arrests were made in early-morning raids in Augsburg, Berlin and Stuttgart. A total of nine residences and other sites were searched, Mr. Nehm said.

Prosecutors are preparing charges of membership in a terrorist organization against the three suspects, all men, he said.

Ansar al-Islam, which was formed in the Kurdish parts of Iraq, is believed to include Arab al Qaeda members who fled the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2002. Group bases along the Iran-Iraq border were bombed and attacked by Iraqi Kurdish and U.S. Special Forces at the start of the Iraq war.

Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi, whose followers in Iraq have claimed responsibility for numerous car bombings and beheadings of foreigners, including three Americans, is believed to have played a key role in the group after fleeing Afghanistan.

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