MUNICH — It began nearly a year ago, on the weekend after Christmas. On Saturday night, unidentified individuals broke into a church in the Cologne district of Porz-Urbach. They broke open the safe in the sacristy and got hold of the key to the church. They ended up stealing money from the collection boxes, liturgical vessels, bowls and a monstrance. They weren’t able to get their hands on the Christmas collect because it had already been removed from the church.
In the following months, numerous churches in the greater Cologne area were broken into. Sometimes the thieves stole money and all manner of valuable objects in broad daylight. The police investigated and clues pointed to the possible involvement of Salafists who intended to use valuable holy objects from the churches to financially support jihad in Iraq and Syria. The suspicion was later confirmed by undercover investigations.
On Wednesday morning, the state prosecutor in Cologne and the federal public prosecutor’s office in Karlsruhe gave the signal: more than 240 officials mainly in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, but also in Lower Saxony and Bavaria began a spectacular raid.
In the North Rhine-Westphalia cities of Cologne, Siegen, Bergisch-Gladbach, Kreuztal and Netphen, they arrested a total of nine suspects, eight Germans: Mustapha A., 25, Kais B. O., 31, Lazhar B. O., 22, Sofien B. O., 35, Omar B. O., 25, Anoaur J., 25, Ali Ö., 23, and Usman A., 29, as well as a Pakistani citizen, Mirza Tamoor B., 58. The apartments of a further 20 persons on the Salafist scene were searched.
Burkhard Freier speaks of a “swamp” that investigators and the police “drained.”
“It’s not the only swamp, but it’s a big one,” says the head of North Rhine-Westphalia intelligence. It was a “successful day.”