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Germany

German Murder Trial Casts Doubt on Police Use of Informants

On January 30, 2008, three people were murdered in the German town of Frankenthal. One of the suspects is a police informant hired to spy in Islamic circles. But who actually committed the crime and why?

The two defendents in the Frankenthal murder trial

The two suspects' trial has raised questions about police infromant policy

About the only thing that's clear in the triple-homicide trial that got under way at the start of this week in Frankenthal is the identity of the victims -- three used-car dealers from Georgia who were killed in a nearby forest and whose bodies were then dumped in the Rhine River.

After that, things get very murky indeed.

Defendant Talib O., a 40-year-old German-Iraqi, has claimed co-defendant Ahmed M. killed the three men because of his fanatic hatred of Christians -- or, as O. told the court via an interpreter "a special kind of fundamentalism."

(Defendents in German courts are only identified in the media by their first names and last initials to preserve their privacy, unless they are convicted.)

O. said that M. had yelled "You're killing my brothers in Chechnya," before killing the Georgians.

Ahmed M. denied the charge.

"I'm not an Islamist," the 26-year-old refugee from Somalia told the court. "I have nothing against someone wearing a cross."

M. testified that Talib O. had killed the victims. He said that he was merely a witness who had been lured to the scene of the crime for what he thought was going to be a routine business deal.

"If I had tried to resist, the same thing would have happened to me," the Somali testified.

Prosecuters have said the victims were robbed of between 9,000 and 12,000 euros ($11,500-15,200). But complicating the case is the fact that Talib O. worked as informant for the Criminal Investigations Office of the state of Rheinland-Pfalz, spying on Ahmed M. and others.

Renegade spy?

Boats on the Rhine River

The victims' bodies ended up in the Rhine

The Criminal Investigations Office has confirmed that Talib O. was in its employ but has refused to release the relevant files, citing security considerations.

That, defense attorneys have said, is unacceptable.

"The Criminal Investigations Office is definitely withholding evidence," Ahmed M.'s lawyer Gerhard Haerdle, told the online edition of the news magazine Der Spiegel.

Talib O.'s attorney, Stefan Allgeier, has even gone further, accusing German authorities of acting to cover up their own misuse of an unreliable informant.

"The Criminal Investigations Office is afraid of appearing in an unfavorable light," Allgeier said. "Despite my client's well-known gambling problem, he was sent into gaming halls and apparently directed with faulty means of surveillance."

Some German journalists have echoed the criticism.

"It's not entirely clear what the state thought it was getting from Talib O.," wrote the journalist covering the trial for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

Integration issue

Police van entering compound

Now the police themselves have come in for criticism

The two defendants present a mirror image of one another in terms of integration.

Virtually all the court correspondents covering the trial have noted that Talib O., despite having lived in Germany for a number of years, does not speak enough German to communicate without an interpreter.

Ahmed M., by contrast, has been described as fluent in German. He has also worked for an automobile manufacturer in the past and tried to obtain German citizenship.

But his credibility has not been helped by his admission that he kept part of the money stolen from the victims. Ahmed M. has said that that was a serious mistake but has continued to deny any active role in the killings.

A member of the Office of Criminal Investigations is scheduled to testify in January about the nature of Talib O.'s activities as an informant.

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