BERLIN—German police Sunday arrested two suspected al-Qaida terrorists—one attempting to buy enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb, the other allegedly planning a suicide attack in Iraq.
German Federal Prosecutor Kay Nehm said the two arrests took place early Sunday, and came after months of investigation. He described one of the suspects, Ibrahim Mohamed K., a 29-year-old German citizen with an Iraqi background, as a high-ranking member of al-Qaida in charge of recruiting suicide bombers and planning attacks from Europe.
It is not clear if the enriched uranium Mohamed K. was allegedly attempting to purchase actually exists, but terrorists obtaining nuclear weapon materials is a strongly held fear among counter-terror experts.
In the Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, the authors note: "The greatest danger of another catastrophic attack in the United States will materialize if the world's most dangerous terrorists acquire the world's most dangerous weapons ... al-Qaida has tried to acquire or make nuclear weapons for at least ten years."
A CIA assessment from November reached the same conclusion, saying that the "Islamic terrorist network has a religious duty to acquire nuclear weapons."
According to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, there were 540 confirmed attempts at illicit trafficking in nuclear and radioactive materials between January 1993 and December 2003. Of those, 17 involved highly enriched uranium or plutonium, the fuels needed to power nuclear weapons.
The National Commission report goes on to state that Osama bin Laden is said to be intent on carrying out a Hiroshima-like attack, and that even a grapefruit-sized amount of enriched material could result in a bomb capable of leveling lower Manhattan.
Mohamed K., whose last name was not released, is suspected of trying to arrange purchase of material for a nuclear bomb. According to German television reports, he was trying to purchase 48 grams of enriched uranium in Luxembourg—less than 100 miles away—before being discovered. German officials say he was not successful in obtaining the materials. Police said the amount of uranium in question was not nearly enough for a working nuclear weapon, but it was unclear how al-Qaida intended to use the uranium.
He was known to have been actively involved with al-Qaida before September 11. A German resident and passport holder, Mohamed K. is known to have taken part in several al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan.
After the terror attacks on the United States, he fought in a series of battles against United States forces in Afghanistan, and was in contact with leaders bin Laden and Ramzi bin al Shihb, who was suspected of planning the September 11 attacks.
"Those leaders convinced him not to seek a martyr's death there, as he intended in a suicide attack, but to return to Europe and recruit more suicide bombers," the federal prosecutor's office said in a statement Sunday.
In Baghdad, officials were less than surprised at news that terror attacks on their country were being planned in Europe.
"I have always maintained that the problem of Iraqi terrorism is global," said Sabah Kadhim, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, which is charge of Iraqi security. "That's why it is important that the world community address this with us so we can defeat it."
Mohamed K. is believed to have returned to Germany in September 2002, where he was able to travel freely throughout the European Union because of his citizenship.
Police said that one of the men he recruited was 31-year-old Yasser Abu S., a stateless Palestinian he recruited in September, shortly before the prosecutor's office opened the file on an investigation. Abu S. is suspected of planning a suicide attack in Iraq, the precise details of which are not known at this time.
But Nehm noted that Abu S. had tried to take out more than 800,000 euro (about $1 million) in insurance policies. The official statement said that while the policies listed the wife of Abu S. as his beneficiary, police suspect the money would have made it's way back to al-Qaida.
"The money was intended for jihad," according to the statement. "They intended to collect the insurance money by staging a fatal traffic accident in Egypt, so that it would appear he was dead before carrying out the attack in Iraq."
German television reports noted that police claimed there was no connection between the arrests in Mainz and President George W. Bush's coming visit to the city.
The arrests come 10 days after German police arrested 22 people suspected of providing logistical support for terrorists in five cities around the country. Those people are suspected of making false passports, visas and other documents, as well as funding for terrorist activities.
In addition, German police arrested three suspected members of Ansar al Islam in December for allegedly planning an assassination attempt during a visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.
Officials estimate that Germany has between 500 and 2,000 Muslim extremists, those sympathetic to jihad against the west, and has pledged this year to crack down on terrorists within its borders.
(Knight Ridder correspondents Nancy Youssef in Baghdad and Jonathan Landay in Washington contributed to this report.)
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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