'Germany's 9/11' plot trial opens

BBC News

German police guard Duesseldorf courtroom , 22/04/09

The court is hosting one of Germany's biggest terror trials in decades

A group of suspected militant Islamists has gone on trial in Germany charged with a bomb plot likened by prosecutors to the 11 September attacks in the US.

Prosecutor Volker Brinkmann said their intended targets included discos and the Ramstein US military base.

He told the court in Duesseldorf that the four defendants wanted to destroy American targets and kill as many Americans as possible.

The trial, with some 200 witnesses, could last two years.

The four bearded defendants - German Muslim converts Fritz Gelowicz and Daniel Schneider, and ethnic Turks Attila Selek and Adem Yilmaz - appeared in court amid stringent security, behind a bullet-proof glass screen.

The judge ordered one of them to remove his Muslim skull cap, saying the court regarded it as a provocation.

He then defied the order to stand before the court, saying: "There is only one for whom I will stand - Allah."

Explosive haul

The men face charges of conspiracy to murder, plotting to launch explosive attacks and membership of a terrorist organisation.


Bomb plot suspect (left) arrested in September 2007
The suspects were arrested in a German police commando raid

They have been dubbed the Sauerland cell, after the region of Germany where three of them were arrested in a raid by police commandos in September 2007.

Prosecutors say they had turned their rented holiday cottage in the remote village of Oberschledorn into a bomb factory.

It is alleged that they had collected 12 barrels of the bleaching agent hydrogen peroxide, enough of the ingredient to make 100 times as much explosive as was used in the suicide bombings that killed 52 people on public transport in London in July 2005.

The fourth member, Attila Selek, was arrested in Turkey in November 2007 and extradited to Germany.

US tip-off

Prosecutors say they were part of the Islamic Jihad Union, which has launched attacks in Uzbekistan and has links to al-Qaeda.

They say Fritz Gelowicz, Daniel Schneider and Adem Yilmaz all attended what they called a terrorist training camp on the Afghan-Pakistan border. The group had been under surveillance for months after a tip-off by the US security services.

Defence lawyers are expected to challenge what they say is evidence from illegal surveillance in Germany and Pakistan. They will also argue that prosecutors are using the testimony of prisoners held in countries where torture is common.

Correspondents say the case has shocked many Germans. Some wonder how two so-called "ordinary" Germans could have allegedly been recruited for a holy war, while others worry that some youngsters in Germany's two million-strong Turkish community could reject integration in favour of radical Islam

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