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Terror from within

nw/pfd, DW/dpa/AFPApril 22, 2009

One of Germany's biggest terrorism trials is underway this Wednesday. The authorities have accused four men of plotting a series of terror attacks, on a scale comparable with the London and Madrid bombings.

Photomontage of three of the suspects
The case has raised fears in Germany of attacks by home-grown terroristsImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

The Sauerland cell was named after a region in western Germany where police seized three terrorism suspects in September 2007, along with hundreds of kilos of bomb-making materials. The fourth suspect was arrested in Turkey and extradited to Germany last November.

The four men, whose ages range between 23 and 30, are accused of planning to bomb discos, restaurants, airports, the Federal Prosecutors' Office, and US army installations, in a spate of attacks allegedly planned for October 2007.

The bombings were to take place across Germany, from the American base at Ramstein to cities such as Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Cologne and Munich.

Photographer takes a snap of chemical drums
The men are accused of acquiring hundreds of kilos of chemicals for bombsImage: AP

Prosecutors say the four men belong to a little-know group called the Islamic Jihad Union, with roots in Uzbekistan and ties to al-Qaeda, and were motivated by a desire to retaliate against Germany over the presence of Bundeswehr troops in Afghanistan and Berlin's support for the United States.

Around 300 federal agents were involved in monitoring the cell for several months, before police swooped in on the group in one of Germany biggest anti-terror operations to date.

Police say the men had rented a holiday home in a small village in the Sauerland region of North Rhine-Westphalia, where they were able to prepare their activities undisturbed. The men were allegedly caught with 26 detonators, a variety of measuring instruments and 730 kilograms of hydrogen peroxide, among other substances commonly used to make bombs.

Hydrogen peroxide was used in the 2005 attacks on London's transport system, and the Federal Prosecutors' Office has said the men acquired enough material to make explosives significantly more powerful than those used in both the London and Madrid bombings.

Home grown hatreds

Especially alarming to many people is the fact that two of the suspects are German-born converts to Islam, Fritz Gelowitz and Daniel Schneider.

This has prompted fears of "home-grown terrorists" and questions about how seemingly "normal" Germans could covert to Islam, become radicalized by extremist preaching, and then attend terrorism training camps for the purpose of killing their neighbors back home.

Of the other two suspects, one, Attila Selek, is a German citizen of Turkish descent, and the other, Adem Yilmaz, is a Turkish national who was extradited to Germany after his capture in Turkey. He is accused of acquiring the detonators while on a trip to the Middle East.

The superior regional tribunal in the western city of Duesseldorf
The court in Duesseldorf has been especially bomb-proofed for terrorism casesImage: dpa

The suspects' trial is to take place in a high-security courtroom in the western city of Duesseldorf. The men face charges of belonging to a terrorist organization, plotting murder, and conspiracy to conduct a bomb attack.

The trial is expected to last between one and two years and, if found guilty, the defendants could face prison terms of up to 15 years.

The case has led Germany to increase security and surveillance measures for fear of militant attacks tied to German foreign policy positions.

Although Berlin opposed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, Germany has around 3,700 troops deployed in Afghanistan, and hosts a number of US military bases. This has frequently been cited as a potential motivation for terrorism attacks.

The closest Germany has come to such an attack was in July 2006, when suitcases containing homemade bombs, placed on two regional trains at Cologne's main station, failed to detonate. Police say that had they gone off, they would have caused a bloodbath.