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German special police force stands guard in front of Frankfurt's Bilal mosque during early morning raids in the federal state of Hesse and its capital Frankfurt, Germany, February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach


BERLIN (Reuters) - German police arrested a Tunisian asylum-seeker on Wednesday on suspicion of planning an attack, the Frankfurt prosecutor's office said.

The 36-year-old is suspected of recruiting for Islamic State in Germany since August 2015 and building up a network of supporters with the aim of carrying out a terrorist attack in the country, it said in a statement.

The arrest was part of a major operation in which more than 1,100 German police searched 54 premises including homes, businesses and mosques in Frankfurt and other towns in the western state of Hesse.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, seeking re-election this year, has come under fierce political attack for allowing more than a million asylum-seekers into the country over the past two years. In December, a Tunisian man whose application had been rejected killed 12 people when he rammed a truck into a Berlin Christmas market.

The man arrested on Wednesday had already been in Germany between 2003 and April 2013 and re-entered the country as an asylum seeker in August 2015, prosecutors said.

Authorities were investigating 16 suspects aged between 16 and 46, including the arrested man. The attack plans were at an early stage and there was no concrete target yet, the prosecutor general said.

Peter Beuth, interior minister of Hesse, said there had not been any immediate danger: "It was not about preventing an imminent attack - rather security forces in Hesse intervened early to protect citizens from the threat of harm."

Beuth said the raids had managed to "destroy an extensive Salafist network". Salafism is an ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam.

Max Weiss, spokesman for Hesse's state criminal investigation office, told reporters that authorities had been investigating for four months prior to Wednesday's raids, with around 150 police officers working on the case full-time.

He said he could not provide further information due to ongoing investigations.

German police arrested three men in Berlin on Tuesday on suspicion of having close links to Islamic State militants and planning to travel to the Middle East for combat training. [L5N1FM116]

(Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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