BERLIN — German authorities said Tuesday they had arrested a Turkish radical for plotting "severe acts of violence" and sent the case to the federal prosecutor investigating German-based suspects in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The man, 29-year-old Harun Aydin, belongs to Kalifatsstaat, an extremist organization operating in Cologne with 1,100 registered members. Its mission, according to federal intelligence officials, is to topple Turkey's elected government and replace it--and eventually all other world governments--with fundamentalist Islamic rule.
Federal officials said a connection between Aydin and the attacks in the United States is "not yet discernible." But Kalifatsstaat has established links to Osama bin Laden, and its jailed leader is known to share Bin Laden's repugnance for Turkey's secular form of government.
German intelligence agents have long had Kalifatsstaat, or Caliphate State, under surveillance. It is likely to be declared illegal as soon as laws that prohibit the banning of faith-based organizations can be revised. Those revisions were launched after the discovery that planning and logistics for the Sept. 11 attacks were apparently conducted in Hamburg by men who were registered as students and meeting at times as part of a university-funded Muslim prayer group.
German border guards intercepted Aydin at Frankfurt airport last Wednesday as he was about to board a plane for the Iranian capital, Tehran. An arrest warrant was issued the next day, allowing police to hold him for at least three months without a bail hearing.
"The accused is suspected of planning severe acts of violence as a member of a terrorist association with a fundamentalist Islamic background," federal prosecutor Kay Nehm said in a statement. Nehm did not say where the alleged attacks would have taken place.
Border guards "found items in his luggage, including a face mask, camouflage clothing, a chemical weapons protection suit and materials to produce an explosive detonator," Nehm said.
Aydin's attorney, who won the suspect's acquittal on other charges connected to Kalifatsstaat last year, accused authorities of violating his client's civil rights. Michael Murat Sertsoez argued that Aydin, who is married and has two children, wasn't thought to pose a risk of flight to avoid prosecution during the last trial and shouldn't be held pending formal charges this time either.
Sertsoez said Aydin, who works on Kalifatsstaat's weekly newspaper, was traveling to Tehran on publishing business and held a return ticket that would have brought him back to Germany five days later. The lawyer said Aydin was a small player in the Kalifatsstaat organization.
The Cologne-based newspaper Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger reported that officials also found in Aydin's baggage a suicide note to his wife and a small bottle of liquid that looked like mercury. Sertsoez said he was not informed by prosecutors about either item, and that Aydin has denied having written any farewell message to his wife.
Kalifatsstaat leader Metin Kaplan is serving a four-year jail sentence for inciting murder and is also suspected of plotting a 1998 suicide attack on the mausoleum of the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, which is also a pilgrimage site.
That strike was apparently averted by Kaplan's arrest and prosecution in connection with the 1997 slaying of rival Turkish extremist Halil Ibrahim Sofu. A year earlier, Kaplan had called for Sofu to be killed.
Aydin, whose wife is related to Kaplan, was tried alongside the group leader but acquitted for lack of evidence.
Kalifatsstaat is also known as the Kaplan Group and the Assn. of Islamic Unions and Societies. It is believed to have multimillion-dollar resources from members, supporters and Kaplan's receipt of Germany's generous social welfare benefits, according to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence service.
A delegation of Kaplan supporters visited Bin Laden at an Afghan camp in 1997. European-based Taliban and Bin Laden supporters visited Kaplan supporters in Germany in 1998, the intelligence service reported.
In London, meanwhile, police Tuesday detained Egyptian exile Yasser Serri, 38, on suspicion of terrorism-related activities.
Serri is director of the Islamic Observation Center, which calls itself a human rights organization but serves as a media and propaganda arm for radical Islamic groups.
A police spokesman said Serri is not being held in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks. But police reportedly are looking at whether he has aided Bin Laden's Al Qaeda network.
Serri is believed to have helped two men posing as journalists gain access to Afghanistan's Northern Alliance commander, Ahmed Shah Masoud, who died as a result of their suicide bombing days before the Sept. 11 attacks. Bin Laden is suspected of having a hand in the killing of Masoud, whose forces are fighting to oust the Taliban regime that shelters the exiled Saudi militant.
Masoud's killers entered Afghanistan after securing visas from the Afghan Embassy in London, allegedly with a letter of introduction from Serri.
Serri has denied any role in the killing or other terrorist activities. He was arrested at his West London home and can be held for up to seven days before being charged.
Times staff writer Marjorie Miller in London contributed to this report.