Tunisian-German couple in court over ‘ricin attack plot’

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Defendant Sief Allah H. (C) covers his face as he arrives in a courtroom of the higher regional court in Duesseldorf, Germany, 07 June 2019. (EPA)
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Defendant Yasmin H. arrives in a courtroom of the higher regional court in Duesseldorf, Germany, 07 June 2019. (EPA)
Updated 07 June 2019

Tunisian-German couple in court over ‘ricin attack plot’

  • Sief Allah H., 30, and his wife Yasmin, 43, were arrested a year ago by an anti-terrorist squad that found 84 milligrams of ricin in their Cologne apartment
  • The pair had allegedly researched various forms of explosives before deciding on the deadly poison

DUSSELDORF: A Tunisian man and his German wife went on trial Friday, charged with planning a foiled biological bomb attack in Germany with the deadly poison ricin.
Sief Allah H., 30, and his wife Yasmin, 43, were arrested a year ago by an anti-terrorist squad that found 84 milligrams of the toxin in their Cologne apartment.
The arrests likely prevented what would have been Germany’s first biological attack, said Holger Muench, head of the BKA Federal Criminal Police Office, at the time.
Federal prosecutors said the couple had “for a long time identified with the aims and values of the foreign terrorist organization Islamic State.”
They decided in 2017 to detonate an explosive in a large crowd, “to kill and wound the largest possible number of people,” said prosecutors ahead of the trial in Duesseldorf.
Chief prosecutor Verena Bauer told the court the couple had planned to build a bomb with ricin and steel balls, and that they had purchased “nearly all the required parts” for the explosive.
Lawyers for the defendants said the accused did not plan to make statements in court.
Sief Allah H.’s defense meanwhile filed a motion against judge Jan van Lessen, claiming bias.
The pair had allegedly researched various forms of explosives before deciding on the deadly poison.
They ordered 3,300 castor beans over the Internet and successfully made a small amount of ricin, a poison 6,000 times more potent than cyanide that can kill if swallowed, inhaled or injected, according to prosecutors.
Investigators also found 250 metal balls, two bottles of nail polish remover as well as wires soldered on lightbulbs.
Only the raid and arrests prevented “the production of a larger quantity of ricin and the building of an explosive,” said prosecutors.
The couple were caught after a tip-off from the US Central Intelligence Agency, which had noticed the large online purchase of castor seeds, according to German media reports.
News weekly Der Spiegel has reported that the couple were believed to have already been radicalized when they met online in 2014.
Sief Allah H., a former street vendor and laborer in Tunisia, in 2015 married Yasmin H., an unemployed doctor’s assistant and mother of seven children from four different fathers, the report said.
The husband had been in contact with extremists and tried twice in 2017 to travel to Syria via Turkey.
His wife helped him with flight and hotel bookings, but both trips failed.
Sief Allah H. also volunteered to help Daesh in their propaganda work, and did so in early 2018 by publishing material of the extremist group online, said prosecutors.
Later, the couple decided to prepare an attack in Germany itself, and also bought a hamster to test the potency of the ricin.
“Very concrete preparations had been made for an act with a ... biological bomb, which is a first for Germany,” said Muench.
If convicted of the charges of serious violence endangering the country, the defendants could each face up to 15 years in jail.
Two suspects were also arrested in August last year in Tunisia in connection with the case.
Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, remains on high alert after several deadly attacks claimed by Daesh.
The worst attack, a 2016 truck rampage through a Berlin Christmas market by Tunisian asylum seeker Anis Amri, claimed 12 lives.
The trial is expected to last until the end of August.


Afghan president vows to crush Daesh after deadly Kabul wedding strike

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani attends a state ceremony for the Afghan Independence Day in Kabul on Monday. (Reuters)
Updated 44 min 3 sec ago

Afghan president vows to crush Daesh after deadly Kabul wedding strike

  • ‘We have collapsed from the inside,’ says attack survivor

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani vowed to wipe out Daesh, after a deadly attack on a wedding party in Kabul killed more than 60 people. The suicide bombing also injured 200 others late on Saturday evening.
Ghani, whose government is facing intense criticism for failing to deter attacks by sympathizers of Daesh and the Taliban, also announced the postponement of 100th anniversary celebrations of the country’s independence from Britain that were due to take place.
“We will eliminate Daesh hideouts all around the country … the fight against Daesh will be intensified,” Ghani said during a brief state ceremony to mark independence, even though formal festivities were put on hold.
The government had allocated millions of dollars and set aside two years for planning the event. “We postponed celebrations to honor the victims, but we will take the revenge of our people,” he added.
Daesh claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack, which happened while guests and family members of the bride and groom were in segregated halls for men and women.
Most of the victims were Shiite and ethnic Hazaras. Daesh considers them to be heretics and has targeted them in recent years.
“I think many of us are merely alive by appearance and physically. Mentally, we are all dead. We have collapsed from the inside,” Zaman Shah, a 25-year-old survivor who lost three brothers in the attack, told Arab News.
The bomber blew himself up in the men’s hall. The groom was with the bride in the women’s section and survived, but both lost at least 25 family members.
Six children from one family perished. Other families lost loved ones too.
“I lost two of my brothers and four nephews, life has no meaning for me anymore,” Ahmad Fawad told reporters. “Postponing the independence anniversary will not cure our grief, this government is weak and useless and cannot protect people.”
Hasmat Hussien, another survivor, lost eight close members of his family and relatives in the attack. “We do not know why this calamity has befallen us. You cannot understand or comprehend our grief, misery and pain. We have not managed to sleep or eat for nearly two days now,” he said.
Amir Mohammad a 50-year-old man whose son died and had two others wounded in the attack, said: “Life has become meaningless for my family. These people who were targeted were poor, ordinary civilians, not government authorities or generals.”
The suicide bombing took place even as the US and the Taliban near a peace deal that could eventually lead to the complete withdrawal of foreign troops and end decades of conflict.
The Taliban, for its part, has pledged not to allow any group to use Afghanistan for attacks against any country.
“The US is making a peace deal with the Taliban, but we fear Daesh will be the next group that will expand its activities and there will be fighting for an uncertain future,” Kabul shopkeeper Rahim Dad said. “There will be peace with one group, but war with another. That means we won’t have peace, even if America and the Taliban make peace,” he added.
Ghani blamed the Taliban for the attack, saying it had given rise to extremist networks such as Daesh.
The Taliban, whose fighters have battled Daesh in some parts of the country, condemned the attack and showed sympathy with the victims.
US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has led the US side in peace talks with the Taliban since last year, tweeted Sunday that it was time to step up efforts to end fighting.
But the peace talks have faltered, mostly because the Taliban refuses to engage with Ghani’s government.
“We condemn Daesh (Daesh) and yesterday’s heinous attack on a Kabul wedding hall that killed scores of innocent Afghan families,” Khalilzad tweeted. “We must accelerate the #AfghanPeaceProcess including intra-Afghan negotiations. Success here will put Afghans in a much stronger position to defeat Daesh.”
There was tight security in major cities as thousands of Afghans poured onto the streets to mark the 100th independence anniversary.
But blasts in the eastern city of Jalalabad disrupted the day. Officials said at least 50 people were wounded. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts in the city, parts of which have been a Daesh bastion.