BERLIN, Germany (AP) — German authorities arrested three suspected Islamic extremists Wednesday on allegations they were planning a bombing attack, and searched properties in three states in connection with their investigation.
Federal prosecutors said Iraqis Shahin F. and Hersh F., both 23, and Rauf S., 36, were taken into custody in an early morning raid by a police SWAT team in the area of Dithmarschen, near the border with Denmark.
In addition, searches were carried out of other residences in northern and southwestern Germany of people linked to the three main suspects but not currently to the bomb plot.
The two younger men are suspected of preparing a bomb attack and violating weapons laws, and Rauf S. is alleged to have aided them. Their last names were not given in line with German privacy laws.
The men appear to have been in the early stages of planning, and had not yet built a functioning bomb nor decided upon a target for attack, prosecutors said in a statement.
Prosecutors allege Shahin F. and Hersch F. decided in late 2018 to “carry out an attack motivated by Islamic extremism in Germany.” There are indications that they sympathized with Islamic State, but a direct link to the extremist group or others is currently under investigation.
In December, Shahin F. downloaded “various instructions” on how to build a bomb, and ordered a detonator from a contact person in Britain, prosecutors said. Its delivery, however, was stopped by British law enforcement agencies.
At the same time, the two carried out tests using explosive powder from New Year’s fireworks and asked Rauf S. to procure a firearm, prosecutors said.
He’s alleged to have contacted Walid Khaled Y.Y., also an Iraqi, who allegedly offered them a Russian semi-automatic Makarov 9mm pistol, prosecutors said. It was considered too expensive and was not purchased, they added.
Y.Y.’s home in the Schwerin area was searched as part of Wednesday’s operation, and he is being investigated for alleged weapons and drug violations, prosecutors in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania told The Associated Press.
In preparation for the possibility of using a vehicle in the attack, Shahin F. started taking driving lessons, federal prosecutors said.
It was not clear how the plot was first detected nor when the suspects came to Germany, and prosecutors’ spokeswoman Kerstin Wacker would not elaborate beyond the written statement provided. She also would not provide any more information on Khaled Y.Y.
More than 1 million asylum seekers entered Germany in 2015-16, most from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The involvement of several asylum-seekers in extremist attacks or plots has helped boost support for the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party.
In the only mass-casualty Islamic extremist attack in Germany, Tunisian asylum-seeker Anis Amri hijacked a truck in 2016 and drove it into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people and wounding dozens. The Islamic State group later claimed responsibility.