Thomas de Maiziere.jpg
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere
Photograph: EPA/MICHAEL KAPPELER

Three Syrian asylum seekers arrested in Germany on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack on behalf of Islamic State are linked to the perpetrators of attacks in Paris, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Tuesday.

Evidence gathered during months of investigations point to the fact that the three members of a so-called "sleeper cell" were brought to Europe by the same smugglers responsible for the arrival of Islamists who killed 130 people in Paris in November, de Maiziere said.

The minister, Germany's top security official, added that the forged documents used by the men arrested in northern Germany - aged 17, 18 and 26 - as well as the Paris attackers to enter Europe are thought to have been made in the same workshop.

Germany has been on high alert since two Islamic State-claimed terrorist attacks in the space of one week in July. Both were carried out by asylum seekers.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has been the target of sustained criticism from her political allies for her promise of sanctuary to Syrians fleeing war, which led to hundreds of thousands of arrivals in the last four months of 2015.

The Syrians were detained early Tuesday as part of a counterterrorism operation in which some 200 officers raided one location in the state of Lower Saxony and five locations in Schleswig-Holstein, the Federal Criminal Police Office BKA said.

They arrived in Germany in mid-November by posing as asylum seekers and sought to "either execute an existing mission or to stand ready for further instructions" from Islamic State, the federal prosecutor's office in Karlsruhe said.

The suspects were arrested in the northern German towns of Ahrensdorf, Grosshansdorf and Reinfeld, where they were living in refugee accommodation.

The 17-year-old suspect is thought to have joined Islamic State one year ago in al Raqqa, the group's de facto capital in Syria, where he is thought to have received explosives and combat training.

Investigators say he travelled to Germany via Turkey and Greece in mid-November alongside the two other suspects. All three were carrying fake documents, mobile phones and large amounts of cash. 

De Maiziere said the fact that prosecutors are investigating some 60 terrorist suspects posing as asylum seekers in Germany should not lead to blanket suspicion of all those seeking refuge in the country.

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