Islamic terrorist groups are becoming increasingly active in Germany, coordinating with militants across Europe to recruit fighters for the insurgency in Iraq and to supply the recruits with fake passports, money and medical supplies, security officials say.
One of the best examples of the cross-continent cooperation involves an Algerian man arrested in Germany and now on trial in Italy for allegedly helping Muslims from Somalia, Egypt, Iraq and Morocco recruit some 200 militants from around Europe to fight in Iraq.
Many in Germany's Islamic communities have shown sympathy for Muslims who took part in the war in places like Chechnya or Bosnia, but authorities say since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, a growing number of sympathizers are taking an active role themselves.
"The war in Iraq has somehow mobilized this scene so that people who before just had some sort of contact or sympathies with extremist groups now think they have to do something," Manfred Murck, deputy head of the Hamburg government agency that tracks extremists, told reporters.
"It's a main topic that brings people to action that they otherwise might not have taken. In past years they were talking about jihad, but not doing anything," he added.
Ansar al-Islam, an Iraqi-based group with alleged links to al-Qaeda and Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who is leading attacks on US and Iraqi security forces, has been under scrutiny for its efforts to channel money and fighters to Iraq from Germany and other European countries.
Though most German attention immediately following al-Qaeda's Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US was on Hamburg -- where three of the four suicide hijackers had lived and studied -- recent efforts have broadened across the country and continent.
In December, three suspected members of Ansar al-Islam were arrested in Berlin on charges they were plotting to assassinate interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi during his visit to Berlin that month.
Lokman Armin Mohammed, an Iraqi, was indicted last year in Munich on charges he provided logistical, financial and recruiting support for Ansar al-Islam, allegedly organizing medical equipment for insurgents and the passage of men to join the fight. Still awaiting trial after his 2003 arrest, Mohammed is also accused of being responsible for secretly bringing seriously injured insurgents back through Italy and across France for treatment in Britain.
"The Islamist scene in Germany is very well connected, and not only in Germany," a senior German intelligence official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Muslim activities are more globalist -- more pan-European -- than Europeans are."
Murck, the Hamburg official, cited the example of Algerian Abderrazak Mahdjoub as an indication of cross-border connections at work within Ansar al-Islam. He was arrested in Hamburg in November 2003 on an Italian warrant and extradited to Milan last March. Mahdjoub went on trial in Milan in February on charges he collaborated with Somali Ciise Maxamed Cabdullaah, Egyptian El Ayashi Radi, Moroccan Housni Jamal and Iraqi Amin Mostafa Mohamed to recruit some 200 militants from around Europe to fight in Iraq for Ansar al-Islam.
Mahdjoub was arrested in Syria days before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and deported back to Germany, where he was investigated but never charged because of a lack of evidence.