World

Germany arrests 3 alleged ISIS militants

Three young Syrian men arrested in Germany were ISIS members who probably came into the country via the same network that smuggled militants into France to carry out deadly attacks last November, the German government says.

Young men may have arrived via same network that smuggled attackers into France

German special police forces escort a Syrian suspected of being a member of ISIS outside the building of the German Federal Supreme Court in Karlsruhe, Germany. (Ralph Orlowski/Reuters)

Three young Syrian men arrested in Germany on Tuesday were ISIS members who probably came into the country via the same network that smuggled militants into France to carry out deadly attacks last November, the German government said.

Federal prosecutors said police special forces arrested the three in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein on suspicion of being sent by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria "either to carry out a mission that they had been informed about or to wait for further instructions" for an attack.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said they arrived in late 2015, probably with the help of the same network that funnelled ISIS militants into Paris to carry out shootings and bombings that killed 130 people on Nov. 13 last year.

ISIS is not only targeting France or Germany… but the entire West.— German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere

"Everything points to the fact that the same smuggler organization behind the Paris attacks also brought the three men to Germany who were arrested," de Maiziere told a news conference. "Indications are that their travel documents all came from the same workshop in that region."

European governments are on high security alert after a series of militant strikes in France, Belgium and Germany, where three attacks this summer were carried out by asylum-seekers and two were claimed by ISIS.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has resisted pressure from her allies to set an annual limit on how many refugees may enter the country. (Stefanie Loos/Reuters)

Around a million migrants arrived in Germany last year, and concern about their presence has grown since the attacks, raising pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel to cap arrivals at  200,000 refugees per year, as her Bavarian allies are demanding. She refuses to set such a limit.

More than 200 police were involved in the operation to arrest the three men, aged 17 to 26. ARD television said they were held after raids at refugee housing in towns north of Hamburg. German authorities searched the flats of the three suspects but did not reveal what they might have found.

French connection

De Maiziere noted that two of the Paris attackers last year had registered as refugees. "That suggests that ISIS was determined to send these kinds of people to blend in with refugees in order to cause uncertainty in Europe and Germany."

He added: "The French connection … is what makes this case so special. We have to find out if these are individual links or if there is a larger network. It shows ISIS is not only targeting France or Germany or Italy or Belgium or Britain — but the entire West."

Federal prosecutors said one suspect, Mahir Al-H., joined ISIS in September 2015. He received weapons and explosives training in Raqqa, the militant group's de facto capital in Syria.

In October, he and the two other suspects, Mohamed A. and Ibrahim M., signed up with an ISIS official responsible for operations and attacks outside the group's territory and travelled to Europe, the prosecutors said.

ISIS allegedly provided them with passports, cash and cell phones with a special communications program. The suspects travelled through Turkey and Greece before arriving in Germany in mid-November 2015, at the height of the migrant crisis.

Emergency personnel evacuate a woman from the scene of last November's attacks in Paris. Germany says the three men arrested Tuesday probably arrived via the same network that smuggled ISIS militants into France. (Thibault Camus/Associated Press)

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