Major German trial over anti-US attack plot begins

23rd April 2009, Comments 0 comments

In what authorities call one of their biggest terror cases in decades, three Germans and a Turkish national face charges of belonging to a terrorist group and conspiring to mount an explosives attack on US citizens.

Düsseldorf -- Four suspected Islamic militants accused of plotting devastating attacks against US citizens in several German cities went on trial Wednesday.

In what authorities call one of their biggest terror cases in decades, the three Germans and a Turkish national face charges of belonging to a terrorist group and conspiring to mount an explosives attack.

Security was extremely tight around the courthouse in this western city, with long lines at airport-style checkpoints and the four bearded defendants separated from the five-judge panel with bulletproof glass.

"This will be a very big verdict, we will have a lot to write," presiding judge Ottmar Breidling said as the hearing began.

German media have called it the biggest terror trial since urban guerrillas of the Red Army Faction answered to murder charges in the 1970s. It could last two years and the defendants face 15 years in prison.

The so-called Sauerland terror cell was named after a region east of here where authorities captured the suspects in September 2007 along with 26 detonators and 12 drums of hydrogen peroxide.

After months of surveillance, police using US and German intelligence said they caught three of the suspects red-handed, mixing chemicals to make the equivalent of 410 kilogrammes (900 pounds) of explosives -- 100 times the amount used in the 2005 London bombings that killed more than 50 people.

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

Two of the suspects, Fritz Gelowicz and Daniel Schneider, are German converts to Islam, a third is a German citizen of Turkish origin, Attila Selek, 24, and the fourth a Turkish national, Adem Yilmaz, 30.

The cases of Gelowicz, 29, and Schneider, 23, have particularly shaken the country, raising questions how seemingly "normal" Germans could covert to a radical brand of Islam and plan attacks against their fellow citizens.

Yilmaz sparred with the judges Wednesday, at first declining to remove his white knit skullcap, then refusing to stand before the court.

"There is only one for whom I will stand -- Allah," he said.

The defendants are accused of planning to car-bomb US institutions in Germany and nightclubs popular with Americans.

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

Authorities said the men planned bombings before October 12, 2007, when parliament was to vote to extend German participation in the NATO peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

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

The prosecution has built its case around vast records of wiretapped conversations and e-mails in which the cell discussed its plans.

In one exchange, 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 reports citing prosecution evidence.

A man believed to be Schneider responds: "If you pack it in steel, 20 grams, 30 grams. Then he's dead."

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 authorities say 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 September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States were also planned in part by an Al Qaeda cell in the German port city of Hamburg.

Audrey Kauffmann/AFP/Expatica

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