BERLIN – German officials demanded answers Thursday after a 22-year-old Syrian man suspected of planning an Islamic extremist bombing attack was able to take his own life in his jail cell despite indications he might be a suicide risk.
Germany's top security official, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, said Jaber Albakr's death would make the investigation into whether he had accomplices in the thwarted plot far more difficult.
"What happened last night demands a very quick and comprehensive explanation," he said on ZDF public television.
Albakr's public defender, Dresden attorney Alexander Huebner, told Focus magazine that the Leipzig prison was aware that his client was a risk to kill himself.
"I'm unbelievably shocked and absolutely speechless that something like this could have happened," he said. Huebner did not immediately return calls seeking further details.
He told Bild newspaper his client had already broken a lightbulb and manipulated an electrical socket in his cell in an apparent attempt to kill himself before eventually succeeding.
Wolfgang Bosbach, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's party and security expert, told n-tv that given his behavior, Albakr should have been under constant observation.
"The suicide danger was known, it was not just an assumption," Bosbach said.
Albakr killed himself in his cell Wednesday evening, Saxony Justice Ministry spokesman Joerg Herold told The Associated Press.
The German press widely reported that the suspect was able to hang himself, but Herold would not confirm further details. He said a press conference was planned later Thursday.
Saxony state authorities were already facing criticism after Albakr eluded police as they prepared to raid an apartment where he had been staying in the city of Chemnitz on Saturday. Inside the apartment police found highly volatile explosives and a homemade bomb vest.
Albakr, who had been granted asylum after coming to Germany last year, was finally arrested Monday in Leipzig after three fellow Syrians tied him up and alerted police.
He had been granted asylum after coming to Germany last year, and had been under surveillance by German domestic intelligence since last month.
Earlier Wednesday, de Maiziere said that Albakr had undergone a security check last year, but it did not turn up anything suspicious.
"There was a check against security authorities' data in 2015, but without any hits," he said. "It's not clear when he was radicalized."
German authorities have said they believe he had links to the Islamic State group and was thought to be planning to attack a Berlin airport, possibly as soon as this week.
The three Syrians who captured the suspect had been granted asylum, and their "behavior deserves praise and recognition," de Maiziere said.
Authorities have another suspect alleged to have been involved in the plot in custody, identified only as Khalil A., in keeping with German privacy laws.
The 33-year-old Syrian was the tenant of the Chemnitz apartment where police found the hidden explosives and was arrested over the weekend as a co-conspirator.