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Tunisian planned ricin attack on German 'unbelievers'

Chase Winter with AFP, AP
August 3, 2018

German prosecutors have widened their probe into a foiled biological terror attack. Meanwhile two suspected accomplices have also been arrested in Tunisia, one of whom planned a "simultaneous" attack in that country.

German authorities wearing protective clothing
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/D. Young

German authorities on Friday revealed further details of an investigation into a Tunisian man accused of planning an Islamist-inspired terror attack using a biological weapon.

Sief Allah H. was arrested in June in a commando raid on his apartment in the western city of Cologne. Investigators found "toxic substances" that were later determined to be deadly ricin poison. The 29-year-old was also alleged to have bomb-making materials in his possession.

Read more: Cologne ricin plotters bought a hamster to test biological weapon

As part of a widening probe, investigators said Friday that prosecutors on August 1 charged the Tunisian with "planning a serious act of violence against the state" and membership in a foreign terrorist organization.

Previously, prosecutors had kept Sief Allah H. in custody on reasonable suspicion. His wife was arrested last month on suspicion of being an accomplice. 

According to the Karlsruhe-based Federal Prosecutor's Office, the Tunisian intended to carry out a biological terror attack against "unbelievers" in Germany.

"He wanted to explode a ricin bomb packed with shrapnel in a busy indoor place," prosecutors said in an update on their investigation. It was unclear if there was an exact target.

Read more: Osama bin Laden's suspected bodyguard Sami A. released from Tunisian prison

Contact with IS handlers

The suspect had previously sought on two occasions in 2017 to enter Syria through Turkey, but failed to join the "Islamic State" (IS) there for unknown reasons.

Then in September and October last year, Sief Allah H. allegedly made contact on social media with unknown IS members living outside Germany who encouraged him to prepare a bombing in Germany. 

By February, he had allegedly made the decision to carry out an attack. Prosecutors also said that he vowed allegiance to IS.

In April and May, prosecutors said Sief Allah H. had already acquired on the internet more than 2,000 castor beans, which are processed to make ricin in white powder form. He also received 1,000 extra castor beans for free due to an initial delivery problem.

Read more: Ricin — an easy-to-obtain bio-weapon from the internet

During this period, the suspect is said to have been in contact with an unknown person outside of Germany who instructed him on the production of ricin, prosecutors said. By the end of May he had produced 84.3 milligrams of ricin. He then tested the poison on a hamster.

Meanwhile, Sief Allah H. was in contact on the internet with another person outside of Germany who instructed him in bomb-making skills. The suspect then bought bomb-making material online, including 250 metal balls intended to be used as shrapnel.

Prosecutors said there is no other known person residing in Germany involved in the plot.

Arrests in Tunisia

Meanwhile, Tunisian authorities said Friday they had arrested two men in connection with the terror plot. It is unclear if the two Tunisians are the same as those with whom Sief Allah H. had contact on the internet.

Tunisia's Interior Ministry said the two men were in close contact with Sief Allah H. One of the men is alleged to have prepared a false passport for him. 

The other plotted with Sief Allah H. "to simultaneously carry out in Tunisia and Germany two attacks using homemade bombs," according to Tunisian anti-terrorism spokesman Sofiene Sliti.


Editor's note: DW follows the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims and obliges us to refrain from revealing full names in such cases.

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