Four men charged over a foiled plot to attack American and other targets in Germany were motivated by hatred of the U.S. and aspired to emulate the scale of Sept. 11, prosecutors said as their trial opened Wednesday.
The suspects — two Germans and two Turkish nationals — were all arrested in 2007. They face charges including membership in a terrorist organization and conspiracy to commit murder.
"The defendants were driven by the will to destroy the enemies of Islam — particularly U.S. citizens — in Germany and to reach the scale of the Sept. 11 attacks," prosecutor Volker Brinkmann said as he presented the charges at the Duesseldorf state court.
The four were moved by "profound hatred of the U.S.A. as the greatest enemy of Islam," said another prosecutor, Ralf Setton, adding that German victims also would have been "welcome" to them. He said they aimed to kill "as many people as possible."
Prosecutors allege that the group planned car bomb attacks on sites such as pubs, nightclubs and airports, and considered targets in cities including Frankfurt, Dortmund, Duesseldorf, Cologne, Stuttgart, Munich and Ramstein — where the U.S. military has a large air base.
They maintain the attacks were to be carried out before an October 2007 vote by the German parliament on extending German troops' stay in Afghanistan.
German authorities arrested three of the men, alleged ringleader Fritz Gelowicz, 29; Daniel Schneider, 23; and Adem Yilmaz, 30, at a rented cottage in central Germany on Sept. 4, 2007.
Turkey picked up the fourth, 24-year-old Attila Selek, in Turkey in November 2007 and later extradited to Germany.
Gelowicz and Schneider are both Germans who converted to Islam.
All the suspects are accused of being members of the radical Islamic Jihad Union, an offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
According to the U.S. State Department, the Islamic Jihad Union was responsible for coordinated bombings outside the U.S. and Israeli embassies in July 2004 in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. Members have been trained in explosives by al-Qaida instructors, and the group has ties to Osama bin Laden and fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar, according to the State Department.
The German cell had stockpiled 1,600 pounds of highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide, purchased from a chemical supplier, and could have mixed the peroxide with other substances to make explosives equivalent to 1,200 pounds of dynamite, German officials say.
But German authorities — acting partly on intelligence from the U.S. — had been watching them and covertly replaced all of the hydrogen peroxide with a diluted substitute that could not have been used to produce a bomb.
Lawyers for Gelowicz and Schneider said in a statement that they would question whether some of the evidence could be used in court. Lawyers for Selek and Yilmaz raised similar questions, arguing that the role of informants for intelligence services in the case was unclear.
No formal pleas are entered under the German system.
At the beginning of the trial, Yilmaz refused to stand as an interpreter was sworn in. Pressed to do so by presiding judge Ottmar Breidling, he said: "I only stand up for Allah."
Prosecutors maintain that during Schneider's arrest, the suspect grabbed a police officer's handgun and managed to squeeze off a shot. The officer was uninjured, but Schneider faces an additional charge of attempted murder, which carries a possible sentence of life in prison.
The other charges together carry a 10-year maximum.
The trial, being held in a high-security courtroom, is scheduled to last at least until the end of August.