Bonn/Siegburg In the NRW-wide raid against the "Al-Salam 313" group, traces also lead to Bonn and Siegburg. A 63-year-old man used rooms of the DRK in the district town for language tests, which are said to have been manipulated.
Criminal family clans, wedding celebrations on motorways, mafia organisations – officers of the special task forces and hundreds of police officers in North Rhine-Westphalia cannot complain about excessively boring working days during these weeks. Twelve cities on the Rhine and Ruhr were the destinations for the team vans this Wednesday. The mission: Securing evidence against a gang that is known in the country for smuggling, drug and arms trafficking. 49 apartments and business premises were searched in the course of the nation-wide raid. "Al-Salam 313" is the name given to the Iraqi-dominated group, whose outward appearance resembles a mixture of muscle-bound rockers, striking gold chains and Middle Eastern masculinity rituals.
It seems that the very man whom the police are targeting in the course of the action on Wednesday morning in Bonn does not really fit into such pictures. His home is an inconspicuous apartment building not far from Clemens-August-Platz in Poppelsdorf. The 63-year-old's regular activity in Siegburg, however, has obviously aroused more than just the investigators' interest. They accuse him of nothing less than "smuggling in foreigners" and "forgery offences", as Niclas von Hobe, spokesperson for the leading public prosecutor's office in Essen, confirms at the request of this newspaper.
Manipulations during language tests
If the accusations of the criminal prosecution authorities are true, the "business model" of the Bonner, a native German, would obviously have worked for quite a while: As managing director and examination officer, he runs a language school that offers language tests for foreigners – and where the possibilities for manipulation were apparently fully exploited.
The language tests that the 63-year-old conducted at his school are intended to serve foreigners as an extension of their residence permit, naturalisation and proof of German language skills. The latter are necessary, for example, to take up employment. "There is the suspicion that language courses were taken in the language school which are necessary for a procedure under foreigner law and that manipulations took place", says Niclas von Hobe.
And this is how it seemed to have happened: According to the spokesperson, the manipulations went so far that "the examinee was given the tasks in advance or was given other assistance for the test“.
Targeted smuggling to the language school?
But that's not all: As was to be learned from investigators, sometimes completely different people are said to have mastered the tasks instead of the "real" test candidates – whereby the head of the language school is said to have turned a generous blind eye. Another accusation is that in other cases, the solutions to the tasks were also transmitted to the participants via technical devices such as telephones or via a "dead mailbox" in the toilet.
The prosecuting authorities are convinced that the 63-year-old had at least one accomplice in all these cases. The man from Cologne is said to have arranged the language test for the foreigner from Bonn, guaranteed that the candidates would pass the test and received money from the test participants in return. His price per "passed" language test was between 1000 and 1500 Euro. Von Hobe: "There is a suspicion that people have been smuggled to the language school in a targeted manner". How often the example was worked is unclear. But the masterminds must have drawn the suspicion of the authorities to themselves to such an extent that these undercover investigators would eventually be assigned to work on them.
Cooperation lasted five years
The centre of Siegburg on Wednesday morning. The language school is located in the pedestrian zone. That it was also one of the targets of the raid in the morning is something an employee does not try to conceal a few hours later. When asked, he confines himself to the words: "The matter is being handled by the lawyer, now we'll wait and see". Lars Nottelmann, head of the Siegburger Ortsverein des Deutschen Roten Kreuzes (Siegburg local association of the German Red Cross), is more willing to provide information.
The investigators also searched its rooms, a stone's throw away from the language school, in the morning, but unlike in the language school and private apartment, no computers, telephones and data material were seized. "The gentleman in question rented our rooms once a month and carried out language tests here on his own responsibility," Nottelmann told the General-Anzeiger. The cooperation has lasted five years, says the DRK chief. Since this morning it is finished for the time being: Nottelmann: "Until the investigations shed light on the situation, we have imposed a house ban.
Trace to the "rocker-like group"
The suspicion of Community fraud, forgery of documents and infringement of the naturalisation law against the two main suspects is one thing. The fact is that the case could increase in size is not so much due to the 63-year-old man who was not arrested but remained at large for the time being on Wednesday. Special attention of the police is paid to his alleged Cologne accomplice. His trail leads straight into the ranks of the group "Al-Salam 313" founded in Essen.
The speaker of the public prosecutor's office in Essen describes them as a "rocker-like group". As a symbol on their uniforms, the members have agreed on the dove of peace. Pictures of them circulating on the Internet, however, are less like messages of reconciliation and peace. And the public prosecutor's office also assumes a "hierarchically organized structure" that instills fear in its victims.
The fact that it wasn't just the joy of the airstream on two wheels that brought the companions together speaks for its origins: After all, the 313 refers in its name to the 313 companions of Iman Al-Mahdi, who according to Shiite ideas was revered as a saviour. The logo of the white dove connects them with the paramilitary unit "Jaish al-Mahdi", which is also said to have provided death squads in Iraq. These are militarily trained and were involved in the attacks against the IS in Mossul. The investigators now have some work to do, including the question of whether Iraqi paramilitaries are being smuggled into Germany. The evaluation of the evidence will take some time.
(Original text: Rüdiger Franz, Alexander Hertel, Jörg Manhold; Translation: Mareike Graepel)