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.


UK relatives of Daesh ‘Beatles’ victims relieved as trial nears

Updated 23 September 2020

UK relatives of Daesh ‘Beatles’ victims relieved as trial nears

  • The evidence regarding El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey was transferred to Washington immediately after Tuesday’s court ruling
  • The pair, who have been stripped of UK citizenship, are in the custody of US forces in Iraq

LONDON: Relatives of two Britons killed by a Daesh cell on Wednesday welcomed a breakthrough that advances the US trial of two Londoners accused of their brutal deaths.
The families of Alan Henning and David Haines said a ruling by the London High Court permitting the UK government to share evidence with US authorities about the suspects was a “huge result for us.”
“We have only ever wanted to see these two men being held accountable and brought to justice through a fair trial for their alleged actions,” they said in a statement released by the charity Hostage International.
The evidence regarding El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey was transferred to Washington immediately after Tuesday’s court ruling.
The pair, who have been stripped of UK citizenship, are in the custody of US forces in Iraq.
Kotey and Elsheikh’s four-member cell was dubbed “the Beatles” by their captives due to their English accents. They are accused of torturing and killing victims, including by beheading, and Daesh released videos of the deaths for propaganda purposes.
A two-year legal impasse concerning the suspects was broken last month when Attorney General Bill Barr said they would be spared execution if convicted after trial in the United States.
The United States wants to try them for the murder of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and aid worker Peter Kassig, during 2014-2015.
Taxi driver Henning and former aircraft engineer Haines, who had both gone to Syria to do aid work, were beheaded in 2014.
Another of the cell’s alleged victims was British photojournalist John Cantlie, who was kidnapped in Syria in 2012 and remains missing.
Cantlie’s sister Jessica Pocock told of the relatives’ intense frustration at the long legal wait.
“At times we felt absolutely desperate as to whether the legal system was ever going to be able to bring these two to justice — wherever they may be,” she told BBC radio.
“That was always terribly important to us to have a proper, fair trial. The families need nothing less than a fair trial,” she said.
The US Department of Justice welcomed the court ruling and expressed gratitude to Britain for transferring the evidence, although a trial date has yet to be set.