Sun, Aug 08, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Germany raids homes of Islamic cleric's followers


German officials on Friday raided followers of Metin Kaplan, a Cologne-based Islamic cleric who calls himself the "caliph" and is trying to avoid a treason trial in Turkey.

Searches were carried out at 32 homes, businesses and Moslem prayer rooms in southern Germany, authorities said.

Prosecutor Martin Hofmann said in Augsburg that 290 police had conducted identity checks on 79 persons, all holders of Turkish passports, and prosecutors had opened inquiries against 24 of them on suspicion of running or being members of a banned extremist group.

None were detained, but doc-uments were seized. Germany regards the Caliphate movement as akin to terrorism, because it practices political violence and rejects democratic values. Hofmann said there was no evidence the group was concretely planning bombings.

The raids came as a two-month delay in Kaplan's extradition neared expiry.

Kaplan, 51, a breakaway Turkish imam who, like his father before him, claims the title of "caliph" of the Islamic world, is wanted for treason and murder.

The courts have blocked his extradition out of concern that he may not get a fair trial. But the German media and law-and-order groups suggest he is making fools of the authorities.

Currently Kaplan is required to report daily to police and has a temporary permit to remain in Germany. German laws do not allow his detention in connection with the Turkish charge.

Officials contend federal judges can give a final ruling on the legality of Kaplan's removal after he is back in Turkey.

Kaplan has served a four-year jail term in Germany for inciting the murder of a rival claiming the caliphate. Caliphs in the past were spiritual and temporal rulers of Turkey.

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