STUTTGART, Germany – Three Iraqi men went on trial Tuesday on charges of plotting to kill Iraq's then-Prime Minister Ayad Allawi during a visit to Berlin in 2004 — one of three trials now under way as part of Germany's crackdown on Islamic radicals.
Ata Abdoulaziz Rashid, 32, Mazen Ali Hussein, 24, and Rafik Mohamad Yousef, 31, face charges in a Stuttgart court of conspiracy and membership in Ansar al-Islam, a radical Islamic group linked to Al Qaeda.
The trial is one of three in Germany for a total of eight defendants linked by prosecutors in one way or another to terror groups Ansar al-Islam or Al Qaeda.
The prosecutions result from Germany's ongoing crackdown on radical Islamic activists that started after the Sept. 11 attacks. Three of the Sept. 11 suicide pilots — Mohamed Atta, Zaid Jarrah and Marwan al-Shehhi — lived and studied in Hamburg before heading to flight schools in the United States.
Following the attacks on the U.S., Germany toughened its anti-terror legislation and also shifted focus from tracking right-wing and left-wing radicals to observing Islamic groups.
Proceedings in the Stuttgart case were delayed Tuesday, as defense attorneys for two of the defendants made a motion for the full indictment to be translated into Arabic, instead of just Kurdish, which they said their clients do not understand as well.
The three, who are also suspected of helping to raise funds and organize recruits for Ansar al-Islam, were arrested in pre-dawn raids on Dec. 3, 2004, and have been held in police custody since then.
Police say Yousef phoned the other two defendants, who are described as more senior members of the group, to ask for their approval for an attempt to kill Allawi during his appearance at a business forum at a bank in central Berlin. They allegedly gave their approval and a promise of financial help, and Yousef allegedly inspected the scene of the attack.
The event was canceled after the arrests.
As the trial opened, the defendants said little beyond Yousef's statement that "there are 50 mistakes in the indictment, and I can prove it."
If found guilty, the three could be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Ansar al-Islam, which was formed in the Kurdish parts of Iraq, is believed to be behind attacks on U.S. and allied troops in Iraq.
A separate trial was opened in a Munich state court Tuesday, in which two other Iraqis face charges of either membership or supporting the same organization.
Ferhad Kanabi Ahmad is charged with membership in Ansar al-Islam and helping to collect donations in the Munich area and further assisting Rashid — one of the defendants in the Stuttgart trial — with sending money to Iraq.
The other defendant, Dieman Abdulkadir Izzat, is charged with supporting Ansar al-Islam and breaking German export laws for allegedly collecting and transferring money for the group.
Both men, who have been held in custody for the past year, arrived at the courthouse with their faces covered to prevent photographers from taking their pictures. They do not plan to make statements to court, their lawyers said.
Both men face maximum sentences of 10 years if convicted. The Munich trial is expected to last until December.
In a third trial, taking place in a high-security courtroom in Duesseldorf, three defendants are accused of planning an elaborate insurance fraud to raise money for Al Qaeda. Prosecutors say the defendants — Ibrahim Mohamed Khalil and brothers Yasser Abu Shaweesh and Ismail Abu Shaweesh — took out life insurance polices on Yasser Abu Shaweesh with his brother as the beneficiary.
The intent was, prosecutors say, to fake Yasser Abu Shaweesh's death in a car crash and use the insurance payout to support Al Qaeda.
Khalil is described as an Al Qaeda member who trained in Afghanistan and took part in fighting U.S. troops there in 2001-2002.