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Germany

Islamic Terror Trial Opens in New High-Tech German Court

Three members of an al Qaeda affiliated group, accused of plotting attacks on Jewish targets, face trial Tuesday in Germany’s first maximum-security court designed especially for terrorism trials.

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Security will be tight as the al-Tawhid trial gets underway in Düsseldorf.

Germany’s high-tech, high-security court on the outskirts of Düsseldorf makes its debut Tuesday when three members of the Jordanian-based al-Tawhid Islamic group appear in the dock.

The two Jordanians and one Palestinian, aged between 30 and 39 years, are accused of planning to attack two Jewish restaurants in Düsseldorf and a Jewish community center in Berlin. The three were arrested in April 2002 along with five other suspects. An Algerian man, accused of supporting the terror cell, also faces charges.

Abdallah to provide crucial testimony

Authorities suspect the al-Tawhid group has close links to al Qaeda, blamed for the Sep. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States which killed over 3,000 people.

In an earlier trial last November, al-Tawhid member Shadi Moh’d Mustafa Abdallah was sentenced to four years in prison for planning terror attacks on Jewish targets. Abdallah gave detailed testimony to the court at the time and spoke of the planned attacks in Düsseldorf and Berlin.

He also admitted to being trained in an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan as well as temporarily working as Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard. His testimony is expected to play a decisive role in this trial.

Court spokesman Hans-Josef Scholten told DW-RADIO, "The evidence of Shadi Abdallah is of crucial importance, because as a member of the Al Tawhid-organization he’s got precious inside-knowledge which incriminates the accused."

Abdallah, who received a lesser sentence for giving what prosecutors called valuable testimony about his associates, will appear as a witness in the current trial, which is expected to last at least until this summer.

A helipad and a footbath for Muslim visitors

Though the trial is expected to be followed closely by security and terrorism experts battling Islamic terrorism worldwide, its physical surroundings are likely to generate equal interest.

The new €37 million security court, built in a record 12 months and designed to thwart any terrorist attack, resembles a fortress. Surrounded by high barbed-wire fences, it is built with bomb proof concrete, bullet proof glass and outfitted with metal detectors.

The entire building is monitored by security cameras. The roof even boasts a helipad so that high-profile criminals can be airlifted in without having to pass through crowds of on-lookers.

Security arrangements within the building are also stringent. During proceedings, defendants will be separated from the public by bullet-proof glass and held in custody in one of 19 cells. Extra cells have been built to detain any troublemakers among the public.

The designers of the sophisticated court room have also taken a cue from previous trials in the old courtroom, according to news agency dpa. For instance Muslim visitors attending the trial of the radical "caliph of Cologne," Metin Kaplan, flooded the visitors’ restrooms by using the toilet basins for ritual washing. Now, the new building features a footbath for Muslims in the public lavatories.

Courtroom construction shrouded in secrecy

Nothing is known about the architect behind the new 5,000 square meter courtroom designed to deal almost exclusively with terrorism trials. Even the construction workers were sworn to silence.

Scholten said the secrecy surrounding the courtroom’s creation is vital to safety. "We can’t tell the public in detail where exactly the judge’s room is, or the route the accused are taken to the court room or where they first enter the building. If we did, we would endanger future transports of defendants or witnesses into the court," he said.

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