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Germany

Experts examine death of terror suspect Albakr

Saxony's premier has again denied that his state's security forces had failed by allowing Jaber Albakr to escape police and then commit suicide in custody. An expert commission is examining the terror suspect's case.

An independent investigative committee has begun to examine the series of apparent mistakes made by Saxony's security forces that led to the death in custody of terrorist suspect and Syrian refugee Jaber Albakr.

The four-person committee, commissioned by the Saxony government and headed by former constitutional court judge Herbert Landau, is looking into the entire course of events leading to 22-year-old's suicide in a Leipzig prison - beginning with when Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the BfV, told Saxony's police force that a terrorist suspect was planning an attack, possibly on a Berlin airport, from his rented apartment in the city of Chemnitz.

The commission, which began its work on Monday is expected to file its report before the end of the year, also includes former BfV president Heinz Fromm, prison psychologist Katharina Bennefeld-Kersten, as well as former Brandenburg police chief Jürgen Jakobs.

Deutschland Berlin - Stanislaw Tillich im Bundesrat (picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld)

Tillich has come under pressure over Albakr's death

Police mistakes

A man presumed to be Albakr escaped a police raid on the apartment, in which around 500 grams of explosives were found, on the morning of October 8. The suspect was at large for over 36 hours before being caught in the nearby city of Leipzig by three other Syrian refugees, who turned him over to police.

Albakr hanged himself with his prison-issued t-shirt in his cell on the evening of October 12, two days after being committed to Leipzig prison. Though he had been categorized as suicidal on arrival, a psychologist who interviewed him decided that the danger was not "acute," Saxony Justice Minister Sebastian Gemkow said later.

This meant that he wasn't placed in a special cell, but because he was suspected of a violent crime, he was also held alone, as per prison regulations.

Albakr, who was refusing food and drink and had tampered with the light fitting and power outlet in his cell, was being checked on every 30 minutes on the evening of his death. The prison director Rolf Jacob repeatedly insisted that his staff followed all regulations to the letter.

News magazine "Der Spiegel" also reported on Saturday that Saxony police may have missed an opportunity to arrest Albakr in August, when he damaged the kitchen of a rented holiday apartment while experimenting with chemicals used to make bombs. Though the owner reported the incident after Albakr had disappeared, and there signs of acid burns in the kitchen, the police had merely classified it as "property damage."

Deutschland ehemaliges Fahndungsfoto des Syrers Dschaber Al-Bakr ( Polizei Sachsen)

Albakr hanged himself while on hunger strike in prison

Denials and defense

Saxony state premier Stanislaw Tillich appeared TV on Monday morning to once again defend the security force's handling of the case. "I think if we're talking about government failure, we need to look to other parts of the world," he told public broadcaster ZDF, before admitting that mistakes had been made. "Where there are people, mistakes happen."

He added that he wanted the commission to find out what had led to these mistakes, and that its conclusions would help authorities to "better avoid such situations in the future."

Tillich also took the opportunity to defend Gemkow, who had faced calls to resign from the opposition Green party following the fiasco.

A lawyer for Albakr's family told German media on Saturday that his clients planned to sue Saxony's justice system for negligence in Albakr's death.

In the aftermath of the suspect's death, Albakr's brother Alaa, who lives near Damascus with the rest of his family, told DW that he believed the police had murdered his brother. The mass-circulation "Bild" newspaper also reported on Friday that Albakr had left a message in Arabic on the wall of its cell - though without clarifying what it said.

Meanwhile, a second suspect, named only as Khalil A., is currently in police custody, and is supected of helping Albakr buy the chemicals needed for the explosive and renting out the Chemnitz apartment to him.

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