DUESSELDORF, Germany – The alleged ringleader of a radical Islamic terrorist cell whose plot to attack U.S. targets in Germany was foiled by authorities told a court Monday his group wanted to do as much damage to Americans as possible.
Fritz Gelowicz told the court he and co-defendant Adem Yilmaz had trained in a terrorist camp in Pakistan — initially planning to try and carry out attacks in the region, but then decided they could do more damage to U.S. targets in Europe at less risk to themselves.
"With less cost we could achieve much greater damage," he said.
Gelowicz and Yilmaz, both 29, and co-defendants Daniel Martin Schneider, 22, and Attila Selek, 23 are suspected of operating as a German cell of the radical Islamic Jihad Union — a group the U.S. State Department says was responsible for coordinated bombings outside the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Uzbekistan in July 2004.
Though no pleas are entered under the German trial system, lawyers for all four men accused in plot have said they had decided to confess, hoping to mitigate their sentences. Prosecutors allege that they were plotting bombing attacks in Germany against American citizens and facilities across the country.
Gelowicz said Monday he and Yilmaz learned how to use assault rifles, and received instruction in hand-to-hand combat and explosives training in their three months at the training camp in 2006.
The four face charges of membership in a terrorist organization, preparing bombing attacks and conspiracy to commit murder and a bombing attack — which together carry a 10-year maximum sentence.
Schneider faces an additional charge of attempted murder, which carries a possible life sentence, because he is alleged to have fired a police officer's gun in a tussle during his arrest in 2007. No one was injured.
They all have given statements to federal police confessing to some of the charges against them, according to their lawyers, but their official statements to the court began Monday.
"I've never experienced anything like this in my career as a judge," Presiding Judge Ottmar Breidling said during the session. He underlined that their confessions would influence their sentences.
Gelowicz, Schneider — both German converts to Islam — and Yilmaz, a Turkish citizen living in the country, all were arrested in Germany on Sept. 4, 2007. They have been held in custody ever since. Selek, also a Turkish citizen, was arrested a month later in Turkey.
The group had stockpiled 1,600 pounds (730 kilograms) 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 (550 kilograms) of dynamite, German officials have said.
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.