DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - A German court jailed three Middle Eastern men on Wednesday for supporting al Qaeda plots to carry out suicide attacks and attempting to raise funds through dozens of false life insurance claims.
At the end of a 1-1/2 year trial, Ibrahim Mohamed Khalil, a 32-year-old who German authorities believe is Syrian, was sentenced to seven years in prison for belonging to a terrorist organization and attempted insurance fraud.
Yasser Abu Shaweesh and his brother Ismael Abu Shaweesh were given sentences of six years and 3-1/2 years respectively after being convicted of the same offences.
The two men, described by German authorities as stateless Palestinians, are also in their early 30s.
Prosecutors say Khalil was a senior al Qaeda figure with contacts to the leadership including Osama bin Laden, and was responsible for money, logistics and recruiting new members for suicide attacks in Europe.
The district high court in Duesseldorf described the trial as an important “pilot case” regarding al Qaeda’s legal status.
“For the first time a court had to rule whether al Qaeda was a foreign terrorist organization under the German penal code,” the court said in a statement about the decision.
Prosecutors said Yasser Abu Shaweesh, the elder of the brothers, had publicized his sympathies for al Qaeda and agreed to help raise funds as well as carry out a suicide attack.
He was accused of taking out 10 life assurance policies worth at least 1.3 million euros ($1.92 million) and applying for 23 others worth at least 3 million euros.
His brother Ismael had been attracted to alcohol, tobacco and women as a student in Germany, though he had also absorbed an “Islamist outlook”, the court decision said.
The three men, who denied the charges, were arrested in 2005 after police carried out a surveillance operation at their homes. The defence lawyers called the bugging illegal and argued it should not be used as evidence.
The judges rejected this view.
Prosecutors believe Khalil was trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan before the September 11 attacks and later fought against U.S. troops there between October 2001 and July 2002.
Khalil described “violent Jihad” as the duty of every Muslim, they said.
Prosecutors also said Khalil sought to acquire unspecified radioactive material — which could have been used in a “dirty bomb” — from Luxembourg, but did not succeed.
(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau)
Writing by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Robert Woodward