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.


India begins examination of plane’s black box after deadly crash

Updated 48 min 29 sec ago

India begins examination of plane’s black box after deadly crash

  • Air India Express plane overshot runway of the Calicut International Airport in heavy rain
  • Company to pay compensation to the families of the deceased

NEW DELHI: Indian investigators on Sunday began examining the black box of a Boeing-737 that overshot a runway on its second attempt, killing 18 people in the country’s worst aviation accident in a decade.
The Air India Express plane, which was repatriating Indians stranded in Dubai due to the coronavirus pandemic, overshot the runway of the Calicut International Airport in heavy rain near the southern city of Kozhikode on Friday.
The aircraft fell into a valley and broke in half.
In an interview with Reuters partner ANI on Sunday, Anil Kumar, head of India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation, said the country would open the recovered transcripts to international investigators, as well as manufacturer Boeing.
“Only after conducting a thorough and unbiased probe, can we tell what exactly happened,” Kumar said.
The 2,700-meter runway at the airport is known as a “table-top,” an aviation term for runways with steep drops at one or both ends.
They leave little room for error should a pilot overshoot the runway, either through human error or mechanical failure.
Late on Saturday, Kumar told CNN-News18 in an interview that the pilot made an aborted landing attempt into a headwind and then made a second approach with a tail wind, landing 1,000 meters down the runway.
An air traffic control official familiar with the crash confirmed this version of events, adding it is unusual to attempt a landing at the airport with a tailwind, which is typically used for takeoffs.
“The length of the runway in Calicut is around 2,700 meters and the plane touched the ground after crossing 1,000 meters of the length, leaving less room to bring the aircraft to a halt,” the official, who declined to be named as he is not authorized to speak to the media, said.
“It was windy and rainy and the runway surface was wet. In such instances the weather is dynamic.”
“An aircraft typically lands and departs in a headwind as a tailwind increases the plane’s speed.”
A spokesman for Air India did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company has already said it will pay compensation to the families of the deceased.