German police target militants over €50,000 virus aid fraud

Officers searched the homes and vehicles of 5 people ‘belonging to the Salafist scene’. (AP pic)

BERLIN: German police on Thursday raided apartments belonging to several suspected Islamists in Berlin, over allegations they fraudulently obtained state payouts set up for the coronavirus crisis.

Officers searched the homes and vehicles of five people “belonging to the Salafist scene”, police said in a statement.

The suspects belonged to the “hard core” of attendees at the Fussilet former Islamist mosque that attained notoriety in Berlin and beyond.

The mosque is believed to have harboured several people classified as dangerous by German authorities, above all, Anis Amri.

Tunisian Amri killed 12 in a truck ramming attack against a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016.

Among the five suspects targeted Thursday is a former associate of Amri’s and an imam, Berlin’s Tagesspiegel daily reported.

The group is believed to have “acquired in a fraudulent manner economic aid offered by the city of Berlin” to cushion the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, prosecutors said.

Sums of between €50,000 and €60,000 were involved, Tagesspiegel reported citing sources close to the probe.

In the depths of the virus crisis, German authorities quickly set up financial transfers to companies, freelancers and the self-employed to keep them afloat.

But the laxer controls have subsequently led to numerous fraud allegations.

A frequent trick by fraudsters was setting up fake websites to apply for the financial aid, aiming to collect real companies’ data – which they would then use for real applications and divert the handouts into their own pockets.