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Germany Arrests 11 Suspected Terrorists - 2002-04-23

German police and border security forces arrested 11 Palestinians in raids around the country Tuesday, on suspicion they were planning terrorist attacks. At the same time, a suspect in a trial of Al Qaeda members claimed his group was planning an attack on a synagogue in France.

It was a co-ordinated raid in towns and cities all over Germany. Anti-terrorist units raided 19 different apartments in towns as far apart as Berlin, Hamburg and Munich. They arrested 11 people and seized computer disks and document-forging equipment, as well as faked passports.

The arrested men are accused of having set up a terrorist cell in Germany and of planning various attacks in the country.

The authorities say they were also involved helping Islamic fighters heading for Afghanistan with faked documents and cash raised from donations.

German media reports suggest they were involved in weapons procurement too and some of the men may also have trained in Al Qaeda's camps in Afghanistan.

According to Federal chief public prosecutor Kay Nehm, the eleven Palestinians were members of a London-based Islamic group known as Al Tahwid - a name which he said means "believer in the one God."

He said Al Tahwid's members are Sunni Muslims.

Mr Nehm said Al Tawhid promotes Jihad, or holy war, on the basis of an aggressive and militant fundamentalism. He said the German cell operated independently, though within the operational and religious guidelines laid down by its London-based spiritual leader.

But Mr Nehm said the cell is integrated with an international conspiratorial network, which provides it with the logistical and financial support it needs.

The chief prosecutor said the arrests were nothing to do with the bombing of an ancient synagogue in the Tunisian city of Djerba this month where 16 people - including 11 German tourists were killed.

Mr Nehm has just returned from a two day visit to Tunisia to with the federal interior minister Otto Schily. The two men went to inspect the scene of the attack for themselves and for discussions with the Tunisian authorities

Mr Schily announced Tuesday that one man has been arrested in Tunisia in connection with the explosion and said inquiries are continuing in other countries, too, including Pakistan Canada and France.

Meanwhile, in a heavily guarded courtroom in Frankfurt, one of the accused in a terrorist trial said he was part of a plot to blow up a synagogue in the French city of Strasbourg.

Aeurobui Beandali, who is on trial on charges of planning to bomb a public market at the foot of Strasbourg cathedral said the cathedral was not the real target, despite a video recording of the market found by police on which a voice says "You will all go to hell, God willing."

Beandali, who is on trial with three other Algerians, also denied he was linked with the Al Qaeda network. And he insisted the bomb was not intended to kill anyone, because that would have been incompatible with Islam.

He said the plot was intended to disrupt relations between France and Israel and to send a warning to both countries.

The bomb was due to go off in January or February last year, but the plot was foiled by British, German and French police.