Ten arrested in France, Germany and Netherlands in terror probe
Ten people have been suspected of financing terrorist movements to an Al-Qaida-linked militant group in Uzbekistan.19 May 2008
PARIS - A three-country police sweep Friday instigated by France netted 10 people suspected of financing terrorist movements - and threw the spotlight on Al-Qaida-linked militants with roots in Uzbekistan.
Eight suspects were detained in France, one in Germany and one in The Netherlands, said a senior French police official who was only authorised to discuss the arrests on condition of anonymity.
The suspects' names and nationalities were not given but officials said they were Turkic-speaking. The primary languages in Turkey and most countries in Central Asia are Turkic.
The official said French police suspect the suspects collected funds for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a militant group said by the United States to have close ties to Al-Qaida.
But a Turkish Islamic extremist group may also be linked to the case.
The Dutch National Prosecutor's office said the suspect arrested in The Netherlands is thought to have received funds collected for a movement led by Metin Kaplan, an Islamic militant accused of attempting to overthrow Turkey's secular regime.
Another French police official said that Kaplan "supports all jihad movements", including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The official, also only authorised to discuss the matter on condition of anonymity, said all 10 suspects arrested Friday were named in a single French probe into "financing Islamic terrorism".
Linguistic and ethnic ties and shared Islamic extremist goals between the Turkish and Uzbek groups make financial links between them "likely", said Louis Caprioli, former head of counterterrorism at the French anti-terror agency DST.
He said the arrests on Friday appear to reflect a growing strategy among terror cells in Europe of diversifying the national origins of their members to better avoid detection.
French police described Friday's arrests as "preventative" because the funds thought to have been collected were not known to have been used to carry out terror attacks.
The French arrests were made in Mulhouse, near the border with Germany, and in the Rhone region in the southeast. French police said other arrests were possible. Suspects' homes were being searched.
In The Netherlands, the National Prosecutor's office confirmed in a statement the arrest, at France's request, of a 48-year-old Turkish man in the southern city of Tilburg. France is seeking his extradition.
Dutch authorities also raided three houses in Tilburg, seizing computers, papers, telephones, ammunition magazines for guns and what was thought to be a gas-powered pistol, the statement said.
A German prosecutor confirmed the arrest of a 35-year-old foreign man in Weil am Rhein, near Germany's borders with France and Switzerland. Prosecutor Otto Buergelin said France requested a search of the man's apartment in early May and later sought his arrest.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan has been blamed for several attempted border incursions into Uzbekistan through Kyrgyzstan in 1999-2001 and bombings in both countries as well as Tajikistan - all ex-Soviet republics in predominantly Muslim Central Asia. Reputed supporters have been active in southern Kyrgyzstan recently.
The movement, which had training camps in nearby Afghanistan and fought on the side of Taliban, is believed to have been set back during US-led operations there. Many followers of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fled to Pakistan's tribal area near the Afghan border, where its leader, Tahir Yuldash, called in a video interview for supporters to launch suicide attacks in 2007.
The group reportedly now calls itself the Islamic Movement of Turkestan, a reference to a swath of Central Asia populated mainly by Turkic-speaking peoples.
Kaplan, meanwhile, is facing a retrial in Turkey for allegedly attempting to overthrow the secular regime. He was extradited from Germany, where he is believed to still have several hundred followers.
His group, the Caliphate State, calls for replacing Turkey's government with an Islamic state and has been outlawed in Germany and Turkey. Several of his alleged followers were expelled from France in 2004 and 2005.
Caprioli said it might be in the interest of the Turkish and Uzbek groups to have joined forces recently in some form "to reach out to the ensemble of the Turkic-speaking movement". However, he said they probably would not work together on terrorist attacks for security reasons.
[AP / Expatica]