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Germany

Heidelberg Couple Found Not Guilty in Terror Case

A Turkish man and his German-American fiancee are found not guilty of planning bomb attacks on U.S. military bases in Heidelberg shortly before the Sept. 11 anniversary last year.

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U.S. soldiers guard the American base in Heidelberg, the site of an alleged terror plan that never actually existed.

A regional court in Heidelberg on Tuesday dropped charges against a couple accused of planning bomb attacks on Heidelberg's city center and several U.S. military bases on the anniversary of Sept. 11 last year citing a lack of evidence.

But the court did convict the suspects of lesser charges. The court found Turkish-born prime defendant Osman Petneczi, 25, guilty of grand theft and violating federal drug and explosives laws and sentenced him to one and a half years in jail.

His 23-year-old American fiancee, Astrid Eyzaguirre, was convicted of illegally cultivating cannabis with intent to deal and handed down a six-month jail sentenced.

Judge: No evidence

The ruling judge in the case said on Tuesday there was no evidence that either suspect was planning a terrorist attack. Since both already served eight months in jail awaiting their verdict, neither will be put back behind bars.

Both Petneczi and Eyzaguirre, the daughter of an American military officer, had long and vehemently denied they had made any plans for a terrorist attack in the area.

The first major sign that the prosecution's case against the two was crumbling came last week when the prosecution's main witness suddenly changed her testimony.

Heidelberg

A bridge in Heidelberg

The witness, an American co-worker of Eyzaguirre, wrote an e-mail to the FBI in the summer of 2002 that Eyzaguirre told her she and her husband were planning attacks on Heidelberg’s city center and two U.S. military buildings. Under questioning the witness said Eyzaguirre actually only told her that Petneczi was building a bomb.

“In her fear, she conjured everything together,” defense lawyer Andrea Combe told the judges.

The changed testimony fits Petneczi’s claim that he liked building bombs and was building it “just for fun.” The only charge Petneczi -- known to his friends as “Blackpowder Osman” -- has admitted to stealing 176 pounds of chemicals, six pipes and 13 sealing tabs from his work at a chemical factory. During the trial, however, experts said the materials would not have been enough to destroy a building.

The pair were arrested during a tense time in Germany. The hotly-contested federal elections were coming to a close and the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, planned in Hamburg, was approaching. Critics have accused German law enforcement of playing into the paranoia that surfaced around the year anniversary.

Al-Quaida-Verdächtiger verhaftet

A woman on a bicycle rides past the house in Walldorf, southwestern Germany, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2002, where German police arrested a Turkish man and his American fiancee for planning an attack on U.S. military bases in Heidelberg on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, German authorities said. The suspects' appartment is on top left in picture.

Both Petneczi and Eyzaguirre expressed admiration for Osama bin Laden, a picture of whom was hanging on their wall when police searched their apartment (photo), and prosecutors alleged they harbored both anti-American and anti-Semitic sentiments.

Still, the defense attorneys said prosecutors got carried away in their conclusions. Petneczi's lawyer accused Thomas Schäuble, interior minister for the state of Baden-Württemberg, of treating the couple like "top terrorists."

"From the highest political levels, they were presumed guilty," the attorney alleged. However, Schäuble defended himself against the criticism, saying the committing judge had also found the evidence to be "unambiguous."

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