FRANKFURT, Germany – A Kosovo Albanian man confessed Wednesday to killing two U.S. airmen at the Frankfurt airport, saying in emotional testimony at the opening of his trial that he had been influenced by radical Islamic propaganda online.
Arid Uka is charged with two counts of murder for the March 2 slaying of Senior Airman Nicholas J. Alden, 25, from South Carolina, and Airman 1st Class Zachary R. Cuddeback, 21, from Virginia.
The 21-year-old Uka also faces three counts of attempted murder for wounding two more airmen and taking aim at a third before his gun jammed.
Although Germany has experienced scores of terrorist attacks in past decades, largely from leftist groups like the Red Army Faction, the airport attack was the first attributed to an Islamic extremist.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, there have been about a half-dozen other jihadist plots that were either thwarted or failed -- including a 2007 plan to kill Americans at the U.S. Air Force's Ramstein Air Base.
Uka went to the airport with the intent "to kill an indeterminate number of American soldiers, but if possible a large number," prosecutor Herbert Diemer told a state court in Frankfurt.
No pleas are entered in the German system, and Uka confessed to the killings after the indictment was read, telling the court "what I did was wrong but I cannot undo what I did." He went on to urge other radical Muslims not to seek inspiration in his attack, urging them not to be taken in by "lying propaganda" on the Internet.
Uka, dressed in jeans, sneakers and a crisp white shirt with rolled-up sleeves, smiled at his attorneys as he was brought in and his handcuffs were removed. But he wept repeatedly as he recounted the attack and watched the jihadist videos he said motivated him.
"To this day I try to understand what happened and why I did it... but I don't understand," he said, at times speaking so softly that court officials had to bring in a microphone and put it directly in front of him.
Cooperating with authorities and confessing can help reduce a defendant's sentence -- but Uka refused to tell the court where he obtained the 9mm semi-automatic pistol he used, which Presiding Judge Thomas Sagebiel said meant his confession was incomplete.
Uka described becoming increasingly introverted in the months before the attack, staying at home and playing computer games and watching Islamic extremist propaganda on the Internet.
The night before the crime, Uka said, he followed a link to a video posted on Facebook that purported to show American soldiers raping a teenage Muslim girl. It turned out to be a scene from the 2007 anti-war Brian De Palma film "Redacted," taken out of context.
He said he then decided he should do anything possible to prevent more American soldiers from going to Afghanistan.
"I thought what I saw in that video, these people would do in Afghanistan," he told the court, his voice choking with emotion as he wiped away tears.
Uka conceded when asked by prosecutor Jochen Weingarten that the airman driving the bus had not been going to Afghanistan. On the bus on the way to the airport to look for victims, he said he listened to Islamic music on his iPod while nursing doubts that he'd be able to follow through with his plan.
"On the one hand I wanted to do something to help the women, and on the other hand I hoped I would not see any soldiers," he told the court.
He says he now does not understand why he went through with the killings.
"If you ask me why I did this, I can only say ... I don't understand anymore how I went that far."
Prosecutors introduced evidence from Uka's laptop, cell phone and iPod, which included hundreds of files containing jihadist videos, literature, sermons and songs.
One song went, "Mother be strong, your son is on jihad," and "do not mourn for me." A video showed rifle-toting Islamic fighters in Pakistan, and a bullet-holed target with "Obama" scrawled on it.
The indictment says Uka went to the airport armed with a pistol, extra ammunition and two knives. Inside Terminal 2, he spotted two U.S. servicemen who had just arrived and followed them to their U.S. Air Force bus.
After 16 servicemen, including the driver, were on or near the bus, Uka approached one of the men for a cigarette, prosecutors said. He confirmed they were U.S. Air Force members en route to Afghanistan, then "turned around, put the magazine that had been concealed in his backpack into his pistol, and cocked the weapon," the indictment said.
He first shot unarmed Alden in the back of the head, the indictment alleged. He then boarded the vehicle shouting "Allahu Akbar" -- Arabic for "God is great" -- and shot and killed Cuddeback, who was the driver, before firing at others.
He seriously wounded two other airmen -- Kristoffer Schneider, 26, lost the sight in his right eye, and Edgar Veguilla, 22, was hit in the jaw and elbow.
Then Uka's pistol jammed and he fled into the airport, where he was chased down by police, prosecutors said.
Some of the American airmen are expected to testify. At least one relative of the victims -- Cuddeback's mother -- has joined the trial as a co-plaintiff, and officials from the State Department and Air Force are observing the trial.