Thursday, 30 June 2022

Germany Arrests 2 in Terrorism Investigation as Europe Braces for Potential Attacks

BERLIN — As Europe braces against potential terrorist attacks after violence in France and Belgium, the German police on Friday arrested two Turkish men suspected of having links to an organization supporting the militant Islamic State and other radical groups fighting in Syria.

In a statement, prosecutors in Berlin said they had no indication that the men had immediate plans to stage an attack. Last week, three days of bloodshed in France left 17 people and three gunmen dead, and two men thought to be extremists died in a shootout with the police on Thursday in Belgium.

It was not immediately clear whether the arrests in Berlin were linked to other investigations in Europe, but the sudden flurry of activity by prosecutors and the police in various parts of the Continent seemed to reflect heightened alarm after last week’s assault on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
In Paris, where Secretary of State John Kerry met with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and then with President François Hollande, news reports said that 10 suspects had been questioned overnight about last week’s attacks.

In Belgium, Thierry Werts, a representative of the federal prosecutor, said that the targets of several raids on Thursday had been plotting “imminent” attacks on a substantial scale in the country.

The Belgian raids were said to have been aimed at people who had joined Islamic extremist groups in Syria or other battle zones, and then returned to Europe — a potential threat that has consumed intelligence and security services since well before the Paris attacks.

In Germany, prosecutors said that 250 officers had raided 11 apartments after months of tracking a group that was said to support the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, with money and the recruitment of combatants. Both of the arrested men were Turkish citizens, and they are formally suspected of planning a serious attack in Syria and of money laundering.

One of the detained men, identified only as Ismet D., 41, in keeping with German privacy laws, is suspected of serving as an “emir,” or leader, of a radical Islamist group that was not identified by name. “He is suspected of radicalizing this extremist group through ‘Islam lessons’ he held, and encouraging participation in jihad against ‘unbelievers’ in the war in Syria,” prosecutors said.

The other man, identified only as Ermin F., 43, is suspected of providing financial support to members of the group and of helping them prepare for travel to Syria.

As the waves of alarm spread, the only Orthodox Jewish school in the Netherlands was closed on Friday, Reuters reported, even though there was no specific threat against it.

One of the targets in the Paris attacks last week was a kosher supermarket where a gunman identified as Amedy Coulibaly took hostages and killed four Jews. The attack deepened existing concerns in Europe about rising anti-Semitism.

After the attack in Belgium, Jewish schools in Antwerp and Brussels were also closed temporarily, Reuters said.
As first light broke over Paris on Friday, officials ordered the evacuation of one of the city’s main train stations, the Gare de l’Est, after personnel found an unidentified item of baggage that seemed to have been abandoned, the national railway operator S.N.C.F. said.

Images from the scene showed crowds of commuters huddled outside after the evacuation, which was ordered under heightened security precautions imposed after last week’s attacks, the authority said.

In Verviers, Belgium, the police lifted most roadblocks except those around the area where gunfire was exchanged on the Rue de la Colline, German news reports said on Friday.

Dozens of masked police officers and detectives were present, along with officers wearing protective white suits and carrying boxes of evidence from the house where the shooting occurred, according to the daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Verviers is home to one of the biggest mosques in French-speaking Belgium, the newspaper reported, and Muslims there were in shock.

Mourad Touati, 28, interviewed near the scene of the shooting, said he lived around the corner from the house and had raced there after hearing two or three minutes of gunfire on Thursday night.

“We are shocked,” he told a reporter from the German newspaper. “We didn’t know that there were people living in that house who had come back from Syria.”

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