Four in German dock for anti-US attack plot

20th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

The suspects are accused of planning to car bomb targets including US institutions in Germany and nightclubs popular with Americans.

Düsseldorf -- Germany will launch one of its biggest terror trials in decades Wednesday against four alleged Islamic extremists accused of plotting devastating attacks against US interests.

The so-called Sauerland cell was named for a region east of here where authorities captured the suspects in September 2007 along with 26 detonators and 12 drums of hydrogen peroxide, the substance used in the deadly attacks on London's transport system two years before.

A fourth suspect was extradited from Turkey to Germany in November.

Their aim, authorities say, was a deadly bombing "of unimaginable size," according to chief federal prosecutor Monika Harms, that would also punish Germany for its military presence in Afghanistan.

Prosecutors say the four are hardened members of the Islamic Jihad Union, a militant Islamic extremist group with roots in Uzbekistan and ties to Al-Qaeda which is believed to have set up training camps for militants along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The suspects are accused of planning to car bomb targets including US institutions in Germany and nightclubs popular with Americans.

Two of the men, Fritz Gelowicz and Daniel Schneider, are German converts to Islam, a third is a German citizen of Turkish origin, Attila Selek, and the fourth a Turkish national, Adem Yilmaz.

The cases of Gelowicz and Schneider have particularly shaken the country, raising questions how seemingly "normal" Germans could covert to Islam, become radicalised by extremist preaching and then attend terror training camps.

Their trial will take place in a high-security courtroom of the superior regional tribunal in the western city of Düsseldorf on charges of belonging to a terrorist organisation, plotting murder and conspiring for an explosives attack.

Schneider also faces an attempted murder charge for allegedly grabbing the handgun from a police officer when being arrested and firing off a shot. No one was wounded.

Hundreds of officers had been tracking the group's movements around the clock for months when elite commandos swooped on the suspects, holed up with the explosive chemicals and paraphernalia in a holiday cabin.

The prosecution has built its case around wiretapped conversations in which the cell discussed its plans.

In one, a suspect asks the amount of hydrogen peroxide solution required to kill an American: "How many grams do you need do blow him to bits?", according to media accounts. A man believed to be Schneider responds: "If you pack it in steel, 20 grams, 30 grams. Then he's dead."

Police say they caught Gelowicz, now 29, Schneider, 23, and 30-year-old Yilmaz red-handed concocting explosives. Selek, 24, is believed to have obtained the detonators.

They also said they captured the men just in the nick of time, as they were planning attacks before October 12, 2007, the date parliament was to vote to extend German participation in the NATO peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

German media have called it the biggest terror trial since the urban guerrillas of the Red Army Faction faced court in the 1970s. It could last two years or longer and the defendants each face up to 15 years in prison.

Germany, which opposed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq but has around 3,700 troops in Afghanistan under NATO command, has beefed up security and surveillance in response to the threat of militant attacks.

The closest it has come was in July 2006 when suitcases containing homemade bombs, placed on two regional trains at Cologne's main station, failed to detonate, averting an almost certain bloodbath.

The two would-be bombers have since been sentenced to long prison terms in Germany and Lebanon.

The September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States were planned in part in the German port city of Hamburg by an Al-Qaeda cell led by Mohammed Atta, the hijacker of the first plane to strike New York's World Trade Center.


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