Churches burgled in Germany to fund Islamic State terror

Churches and schools in Germany were burgled by a gang of robbers to fund Islamic State terrorists, a court has heard.

Eight men are on trial in Cologne, Germany, accused of robbing churches and schools over four years to finance Islamist fighters in the Middle East.

Smoke rises as Shi'ite fighters and Islamic State militants clash in Baiji, north of Baghdad, October 18, 2015.Reuters

The gang stole 19,000 Euros worth of goods from across Cologne and Siegen between 2011 and 2014 - often leaving a trail of damage behind them, the court heard, according to a report by DW.

Chief prosecutor Nadja Gudermann said the gang broke into churches and stole offertory collection boxes, crosses, chalices and various other objects "dedicated to church services and religious worship." The eight men are also accused of stealing money, laptops and a cash card from schools.

The funds from the thefts were used to help fund Islamist terror groups in Syria, the court was told, although it remains unclear how much money reached Islamic State.

At the center of the gang is a Moroccan man who prosecutors say appeared in the German section of a YouTube video, which encourages Muslims to fight in so-called jihad. A court spokesman said that the Islamic State flag was visible in the video. According to the charges, the 26-year-old traveled to Syria to take part in training at an IS military camp.

Three of the eight men are also due to stand trial in the nearby city of Düsseldorf on separate charges of supporting a foreign terrorist organisation.

Earlier this year, all Islamic State activities in Germany were banned in an attempt to prevent terrorists using religion for criminal goals. Thomas de Mazier, defence minister, said: "Germany is a well-fortified democracy, there's no place here for a terrorist organisation which opposes the constitutional order as well as the notion of international understanding."