A security sweep in Germany gave indications that the radical Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, a group linked with al-Qaeda and the Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, is spreading its influence outside Iraq. On January 12, according to a report in the German daily Spiegel (www.spiegel.de) a nationwide pre-dawn operation on homes and shops in Bayern, Baden-Württemberg, Hessen, Nordrhein-Westfalen and Berlin, including a mosque in Frankfurt, secured the arrests of 22 persons suspected of providing logistical support to militant networks and recruiting fighters for “holy war.” Nationals of six Arab countries, Bulgaria and Germany were among the detainees.
That some of these had ties to Ansar al-Islam was not unexpected, in that over the last year in Europe some 20 supporters of the group have been picked up. Ansar al-Islam’s presence in Europe was spotlighted by the case of “former” leader of Ansar al-Islam Mullah Krekar, convicted in absentia of terrorism in Jordan and since 1991 a refugee in Norway. Last January the CIA intercepted messages from Krekar to contacts in Iraq allegedly ordering suicide missions against coalition troops, and his continued connection, despite denials, with the radical group was reported by the Norwegian daily Aftenpost, which highlighted an interview on al-Jazeera satellite channel where the Mullah was openly referred to as its leader. (www.aftenposten.no).
While the original aim of the group was to establish a fundamentalist enclave in Iraq, Ansar al-Islam is increasingly promoting a pan-Islamic image. Its activities in Europe appear geared to setting up two-way traffic for mujahideen recruits into Iraq and is expanding throughout the continent. The fears are that this activity will transform into operations within Europe, and the signs are that this has already begun. For instance, in December German police arrested three Iraqis suspected of planning an assassination attempt on Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi during his visit to Berlin. A few months earlier, the group was suspected in a plot to attack the NATO summit meeting in Istanbul. With the return to Europe of combat-trained mujahideen from the Iraq theatre, the fears are redoubled. These were succinctly expressed by Bavarian interior minister Guenther Beckstein, who warned that the over 500 Islamic extremists living in Germany “must be considered extremely dangerous.”