BERLIN (Reuters) – German police arrested three Iraqi men on Tuesday in raids on suspected backers of Iraqi militant group Ansar al-Islam, which the United States calls a major insurgent group allied to al Qaeda.
Prosecutors said two of the men were close contacts of another Iraqi arrested in December and accused with two others of plotting to assassinate then Prime Minister Iyad Allawi during a visit to Berlin.
"According to current information, the accused are suspected … of donating or collecting funds for Ansar al-Islam, or carrying out support activities for the group such as courier and driver services," the federal prosecutor”s office said.
The men were named as Dieman A.I., aged 39, from Nuremberg, Kawa H., 33, from Munich and Najat O., 43, from Buehl.
They were arrested after raids on 24 sites in at least three different German states and in the Swiss city of Basel, which were still continuing.
The prosecutor”s office said the men were suspected of donating or raising significant sums for Ansar al-Islam.
"The funds served the purpose of financing terrorist attacks of the group Ansar al-Islam in Iraq, and securing the logistical and structural base of the group," it said in a statement.
The State Department describes Ansar al-Islam on its Web site as a radical Islamist group of Iraqi Kurds and Arabs, closely linked to Osama bin Laden”s al Qaeda and to his deputy in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
It says the group has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks under the name Ansar al-Sunna, including the bombing of a U.S. soldiers” mess tent near Mosul in December. Twenty-one people, including 18 Americans, were killed in one of the deadliest attacks on U.S. forces since the 2003 invasion.
The arrests were the latest in a series of raids by German investigators on Ansar al-Islam. Prosecutors have been investigating its activities in Germany since December 2003.
An Iraqi man went on trial in Munich last month, accused of recruiting for the Iraqi insurgency on behalf of Ansar al-Islam and smuggling wounded fighters back out of Iraq for treatment in western Europe.
Last December, three Iraqis were arrested on suspicion of planning to assassinate Allawi during a visit to Berlin, although prosecutors described the plot as chaotic and no weapons were discovered.
One of the men held then, Ata R., was described in the latest prosecutors” statement as having given orders to, and been a close contact of, two of the men arrested on Tuesday. It did not suggest they had been involved in the alleged assassination plot.