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Terror suspect confesses

August 10, 2009

The first of four alleged Islamist militants known as the Sauerland cell took the stand to confess his role in planning terror attacks in Germany. The confessions are expected to shorten the trial of the four men.

Alleged Sauerland cell mastermind Fritz Gelowicz
Fritz Gelowicz, the alleged mastermind behind the Sauerland cell, confessed to planning terror attacks in GermanyImage: AP

In his wide-ranging confession, suspected ring leader Fritz Gelowicz told the court how the group's plans for a terror attack in Germany developed.

According to his confession in a Duesseldorf court, the alleged mastermind of the group took part in a three-month terrorist training camp in Pakistan in 2006. There, a plot was hatched to attack American targets, particularly military personnel, in Germany.

Part of the training dealt with weapons, such as Kalashnikov machine guns, and the suspects were also reportedly trained in explosives and circuitry for bomb making.

Prosecution lawyer Volker Brinkmann said ahead of the trial that the suspects had admitted to their goal of "killing as many Americans as possible."

Unprecedented confessions

The members of the so-called Sauerland terror cell have been questioned by police for the past four weeks since the court adjourned for its summer recess. Their written testimonies now run to over 1,500 pages. The confessions are more extensive than expected and they are likely to speed up the trial and reduce the sentences.

Presiding judge Ottmar Breidling
Presiding judge Ottmar Breidling called the wide-ranging confessions "impressive"Image: picture alliance / dpa

Chief judge Ottmar Breidling said the questioning during the four-week break had revealed an unexpectedly "impressive" range of information. International security expert Michael Lueders says the confessions could significantly reduce the length of the trial.

"In the beginning, there was talk of two years for this process, but now people talk about three or four months," Lueders told Deutsche Welle.

This is one of the biggest terrorism trials in Germany since those involving the urban guerrillas of the Red Army Faction in the 1970s.

Suspects accused of planning massive attacks

The men allegedly formed their terror cell for the Islamic Jihad Union and stand accused of plotting at least three bomb attacks in German cities targeting US citizens.

Authorities say the group aimed to carry out attacks as deadly as those of September 11, 2001 which killed around 3,000 people in the United States.

Two of the suspects, Gelowicz and Daniel Schneider, aged 29 and 23 respectively, are German converts to Islam. A third suspect, Attila Selek, is a 24-year-old German citizen of Turkish origin, while 30-year-old Adem Yilmaz is a Turkish national.

The threat of 'home grown' terrorists

Hydrogen peroxide drums
Three of the suspects were arrested in September 2007 with hydrogen peroxide drumsImage: AP

The Sauerland cell is named after a western German region where three of the men were apprehended in September 2007 along with 26 detonators and 12 drums of hydrogen peroxide, a substance used in the deadly attacks on London's transport system two years earlier. Selek was later caught in Turkey.

Although the men were apprehended before any attacks took place, the fact that such 'home grown' terrorists may pose a real threat in Germany is a major cause for concern, says international security expert Michael Lueders.

"Not everyone who converts to Islam is radical, but some people are, and this is really a room for concern for most security analysts in Germany," said Lueders, "and nobody really knows how to solve this issue. So these so-called converts are really targeted by police."

If convicted, the suspected terrorists could face up to 15 years in prison.

Editor: Michael Lawton