BERLIN – Police arrested 14 people during raids of apartments and mosques in five German states Wednesday in a crackdown on an Islamic extremist organization suspected of aiding terrorists, authorities said.
About 700 officers conducted the raids, which capped a long investigation against 20 people suspected of operating a criminal network based in the southern city of Ulm, according to prosecutors in Munich , where authorities coordinated the probe.
The suspects are alleged to have raised money through smuggling and producing false papers to “pursue their ideological goals,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
They “equipped people with false documents, making possible illegal residency in the country and outside, and supported other like-minded groups,” the statement said.
“In addition, they are accused of spreading their beliefs in racial hatred and recruiting people for ‘jihad’,” the statement said, using an Islamic word often interpreted as meaning “holy war.”
Three of the Sept. 11 hijackers lived in Germany and since then German authorities have been cracking down on Islamic extremists. Most recently, police on Dec. 3 arrested three Iraqis believed to be part of the terror group Ansar al-Islam, which has links to al-Qaida and Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. They were accused of plotting to attack Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi during a visit to Berlin .
Baden Wuerttemberg Interior Minister Heribert Rech said the coordinated raids Wednesday were evidence that authorities were keeping the pressure up.
“The success of this investigation shows once again how important our uncompromising fight strategy is,” Rech said in a statement. “We have criminal Islamists and their meeting places under observation for the long term and are developing important knowledge about their criminal and extremist activities.”
The raids were started in the early morning hours Wednesday, and were still ongoing, said Detlef Puchlet, a spokesman for Bavarian state police.
“We are still searching,” he told The Associated Press.
In total, some 50 buildings were searched, including apartments, mosques and call centers in the states of Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, North Rhine Westphalia, Hessen and Berlin. The raids were concentrated on the cities of Ulm, Freiburg, Frankfurt, Duesseldorf and Bonn.
Police arrested seven suspects in Baden-Wuerttemberg, two in Hessen, three in North Rhine Westphalia and one each in Berlin and Bavaria, Puchlet said.