A young terrorism suspect captured by three fellow Syrian refugees in Germany was found dead of an apparent hanging in his prison cell, the man’s court-appointed lawyer was quoted as saying Wednesday evening.
German officials said they believe the Syrian refugee, who they said had ties to Islamic State, had been planning to carry out a major terrorist attack on one of Berlin’s two airports this week.
Jaber Albakr, 22, who had been the subject of an intense two-day nationwide manhunt after powerful explosives were found in his apartment in Chemnitz on Saturday, was found dead and hanging in his cell in a prison in Leipzig city.
His lawyer, Alexander Huebner, criticized prison officials for what he said was negligence in failing to adequately protect the man, who clearly was a “suicide risk.” Albakr had managed to evade 700 police officers in Chemnitz on Saturday and was on the run for two days before being captured Monday.
“I’m incredibly shocked and stunned that this was able to happen,” Huebner told Focus magazine’s online edition, referring to Albakr’s apparent suicide. He noted that Albakr had been on a hunger strike since his arrest and should have been more closely monitored by prison officials.
“He had already destroyed lamps in his cell and tried to fiddle with the plug socket,” Huebner added.
In an unusual twist, Albakr was captured by police after another Syrian lured him to an apartment, tied him up with the help of other refugees and turned him over to police.
He had been on the run since Saturday, when he fled his apartment in Chemnitz, near the Czech border, just as police stormed it. Authorities said they found a cache of explosives and other bomb-making material, including what on initial inspection is believed to be TAPT — the explosive used in Islamic State attacks in Paris last year and Brussels this year.
German authorities received the tip about Albakr, who arrived in Germany in late 2015, from foreign intelligence agencies that picked up Internet chatter between him and others discussing how to make bombs.
More than 1 million refugees have arrived in Germany over the last two years, many fleeing the war in Syria or violence in Iraq and Afghanistan.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy on refugees was initially cheered by most Germans, but support has dwindled over the last 10 months after several terrorism incidents, including a pair of bungled Islamic State-inspired attacks by two “lone wolves” in which the suspects were the only people killed. There have also been reports of assaults on women by refugees from northern Africa.
Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, said this week in a German TV interview that authorities had obtained “very concrete” indications that Albakr had been planning an attack on a transportation hub — possibly a train station but most likely one of Berlin’s two international airports, Tegel or Schoenefeld.
Maassen told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper Wednesday that his agency believes the attack could have been imminent. “We’re under the impression that the suspect could have carried out his attack this week,” he said.
Although the three Syrians who captured Albakr have been hailed in Germany as national heroes and have been nominated for a federal Order of Merit for their deed, the German news agency DPA reported Wednesday that Albakr had accused his countrymen of being accomplices during interrogation sessions.
Kirschbaum is a special correspondent.