19 February 2004
DUESSELDORF – A radical Palestinian cell in Germany provided 40 fake passports for foreign Islamists making a fast exit from Afghanistan in late 2001 as US-led forces overthrew the Taliban, a German police interrogator told a trial this week.
Three men are accused of forming a local branch of the terrorist group al-Tawhid and plotting bomb attacks on Jews in Germany.
Describing his interview with the lead defendant, the federal policeman said he was told one of the passports was intended for Abu-Musab Zarqawi, head of al-Tawhid, an Islamist network similar to al-Qaeda.
The United States has posted a USD 10 million (EUR 8 million) reward for Zarqawi’s capture, amid reports that his influence is growing.
Last week a fourth defendant, Djamel M., 31, said he had provided the group with 15 stolen, blank, French identity cards in January 2001 and forged identities into them.
The police say the fake passports enabled terrorists and Taliban fighters to escape to Europe in late 2001 or early 2002 as the Taliban regime fell apart and Afghans dealt rough justice to foreign Islamists and other radicals who had oppressed them.
The witness said a sum of DM 47,000 (EUR 24,030) had been transferred from Iran to Germany to pay for the papers.
The documents were taken by land to Turkey and then smuggled into Iran. “The purpose was to move the fighters to safe havens,” the policeman said, quoting from notes of the interrogation.
The alleged cell comprised Mohammed Abu-D. and Ismail Abdallah Shaitan S., both Jordanian nationals, and Ashraf Mohammed al-D., who is stateless. Their full surnames have been withheld under German journalistic ethics guidelines.
Abu-D. had denied in the interview planning terrorist attacks on Jews in Germany, saying he wished no harm to Germany as it was giving him shelter. If he wished to attack Jews, he would do so in Palestine, he told the policeman.
Prosecutors say the cell plotted variously to bomb a Dusseldorf nightclub, a bar in that city frequented by Jews or a Jewish community centre in Berlin. None of the attacks was ever carried out, as the group was arrested in 2002 before its hand grenades arrived.
The key witness, another Palestinian, was sentenced in November to four years in jail for supporting the group.
The three main defendants face a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail, while the Algerian provider of fake IDs faces five. The judges, sitting in a heavily guarded, brand-new courthouse in downtown Dusseldorf, have reserved nearly 60 days till late July for the case.
Subject: German news