An Iraqi Kurd accused by German prosecutors of recruiting fighters and raising cash for the Iraqi insurgency was convicted in a precedent-setting terrorism trial and jailed for seven years yesterday.
Lokman Amin Mohammed, 33, was the first person to be tried in Germany for belonging to a foreign terrorist organization, which was made a criminal offence here in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.
Prosecutors said he was a leading figure in Western Europe for Ansar al-Islam, an insurgent group which the United States has linked to al-Qaida and its leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
They said Mohammed provided money and medical and communications equipment for Ansar, and recruited fighters, one of whom later carried out a suicide attack.
He was also accused of illegally bringing Iraqi fighters to Europe for medical treatment, including an explosives handler who had lost both hands in an accidental blast and was smuggled into Britain via Italy and France in September 2003.
"Ansar al-Islam has carried out numerous attacks in Iraq, killing many people," said presiding judge Bernd von Heintschel-Heinegg, referring to the militant group which has also operated under the name Ansar al-Sunna. He said the Munich court had no doubt that Mohammed was a member of it.
Investigators have uncovered increasing evidence in the past year of militants recruiting volunteers in Europe, including suicide bombers, to go and join the insurgency against U.S., allied and Iraqi forces.
French officials said last year at least five young men from a single Paris district had already died fighting in Iraq, one of them in a suicide attack. A 38-year-old Belgian woman blew herself up near Baghdad in November in what was believed to be the first suicide attack in Iraq by a European woman.
On Tuesday, Spain arrested 20 people suspected of recruiting Islamist fighters for Iraq, smashing two alleged al-Qaida-linked cells.
Intelligence chiefs have voiced concern that some militants, hardened by battle experience in Iraq, will return to Europe sooner or later and carry out attacks there too.
Mohammed's defense lawyers did not contest some of the accusations against him, including that he raised funds for the insurgency and was involved in recruitment. They accepted that he was a fundamentalist Muslim committed to "holy war," but denied he was a member of Ansar al-Islam and argued for a lesser sentence than the seven years sought by prosecutors.