BERLIN (AP) — German authorities said Wednesday they have charged four men with membership in a terrorist organization for allegedly joining the Islamic State group in Syria, with three of them also accused of planning to carry out an attack in Germany.
In a statement, federal prosecutors said Syrian citizens Saleh A., 25; Hamza C., 27; and Mahood B., 25; allegedly intended to carry out an attack using explosive vests in the western city of Duesseldorf — a plan that was foiled when one of the men turned himself in to French police. Their surnames weren't released in line with German privacy rules.
German police announced they had uncovered the plot in June, at a time when authorities were warning of the growing possibility of a mass-casualty attack of the kinds seen in France and Belgium.
Prosecutors said Saleh A. first joined the Free Syrian Army and then the Nusra Front, where he fought against Syrian government troops. He later joined IS and together with Hamza C. scouted out ways of smuggling people from Europe to Turkey from mid to late 2014.
After the men traveled to Europe separately in March and July of 2015, they worked on a plan that would have involved detonating suicide vests in Duesseldorf's old town and then using automatic rifles to shoot people fleeing the attack, prosecutors said.
They were joined by Mahood B. in January 2016. The men allegedly planned to finance the attack by selling the Vatican a video of a priest captured by IS in Syria, prosecutors said. During a trip to Paris, Saleh A. approached police and turned himself in, revealing the attack plans.
Saleh A. was extradited to Germany in September and remains in custody along with the two other men, who were arrested June 2.
In a separate announcement, federal prosecutors said they have charged Mukhamadsaid S. with membership of IS. The 31-year-old Tajik man traveled to Syria at some time before February 2015 and underwent military training with IS.
He is accused of serving as a guard and helping the group with administration, while also appearing in at least five propaganda videos that appeared on YouTube urging others to join the militants.
He was arrested in Germany in last June.
German authorities emphasized Wednesday that an attack by Islamic extremists can happen in the country "at any time." The country saw three attacks claimed by IS last year, the deadliest being the truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin that killed 12 people.
Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the BfV domestic intelligence agency, said authorities have been receiving a growing number of tips about possible threats and the number of Islamists who might be willing to use violence is increasing and now stands at almost 1,600.
David Rising contributed to this report.