German Police Search Suspected Terrorist Financing Network |
BERLIN – Police carried out large-scale raids in 25 German cities on Wednesday, after a chance discovery last year put investigators on the trail of a money laundering ring that allegedly funneled millions of funds to extremist groups abroad.
Officials said the raids, which started early, involved around 1,400 officers and took place in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Bremen.
They targeted 67 suspects, including 44 Syrians, ten Germans, five Jordanians and four Lebanese.
Eleven people were arrested, including a 39-year-old Syrian accused of belonging to the Syrian extremist group Front Nosra, police said. Six others are considered by the authorities to be part of the Islamist spectrum, including two who are seen as potential threats.
The raids were part of an investigation into a so-called hawala network widely used in Muslim countries, in which individuals rather than banks act as brokers for money transfers.
Düsseldorf police said the money laundered since 2016 has come from a wide range of sources, including criminal activities such as armed robbery, organized fraud, drug trafficking and extortion.
“Early estimates put the volume of transactions during the period under investigation at around 140 million euros ($ 162 million),” police said in a statement.
German public broadcaster WDR reported that at least some of the laundered money was sent to Turkey and Syria, where it could have been used to fund militant groups.
Police said the suspects were also charged with illegally obtaining benefits and tax evasion. Agents seized valuables such as luxury cars, silver, gold, high-end jewelry and watches worth more than € 3 million (3.5 million dollars), including a € 100,000 audio system.
“It was really a big blow,” said Herbert Reul, the top security official in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
The network was first discovered when police witnessing a traffic accident in May 2020 noticed that some passengers were behaving suspiciously, German news agency dpa reported. A search of the vehicle revealed sports bags with approximately € 300,000 ($ 350,000) in cash.