The lead suspect in one of Germany’s largest terrorism trials since the 1970s told a court Monday of how he had travelled to Pakistan for training and volunteered to attack US interests in Europe. Fritz Gelowicz, 29, a German-born convert to Islam, told the court in Dusseldorf he was the leader of the so-called Sauerland Group, before giving an extensive confession as part of a sentence-reducing deal with prosecutors. “The main target was to be American soldiers in Germany,” Gelowicz said, adding that the group also planned to attack a politically sensitive US target, such as a consulate. Thirdly, Gelowicz said the alleged terrorists wanted to send “a final warning to the German population,” to force Bundeswehr troops to withdraw from Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. “In al-Qaeda there were no Europeans that could have carried out attacks in Europe. We declared ourselves ready, because there was no- one else,” Gelowicz added. The Sauerland Group, consisting of Gelowicz, Daniel Schneider, Adem Yilmaz and Attila Selek, are accused of planning attacks on US military bases in 2007.
The four made a dramatic decision in June to give extensive confessions in return for reduced sentences, and prosecutors have taken the testimonies, which run to some 1,200 pages, over the past four weeks. The case is expected to yield unprecedented details of militant Islamist training and recruitment methods in Pakistan. Gelowicz told the court Monday that he had originally wanted to travel to fight a “holy war” in Iraq, but instead gone to Waziristan in the north-west of Pakistan, where the four are believed to have made contact with the Islamic Jihad Union, a jihadist group. There, Gelowicz said, he became convinced of the need to pursue attacks against US interests in Europe, instead of against American troops in neighbouring Afghanistan. Gelowicz said that a trainer from the Islamic Jihad Union, whom he named “Ahmed,” had convinced the group that an attack in Europe “could have a much greater effect with much less effort.” The lead suspect gave details of how the group had travelled via Istanbul and Tehran to the town of Mir Ali, where they were met by “heavily armed mujahedin,” and received several weeks of training. Gelowicz said members of their group had fired shots at a US military base in the border regions with Afghanistan. But rather than coax the US soldiers out, the group had come under mortar attack. Their training included shooting with Kalashnikov rifles and detonating explosives made with hydrogen-peroxide, the substance the group was later observed to be procuring in Germany. Gelowicz said they were also taught circuitry and how to make detonators. Upon their return to Germany, the group began preparations but came under police surveillance after a reconnaissance trip to the US barracks in Hanau near Frankfurt.
They suspended their work after an informant told them that both the Turkish and German secret services were aware of their activities, but restarted soon after. Gelowicz, Yilmaz and Schneider were caught in September 2007 after months of police surveillance. Selek was caught in Turkey. They had procured some 730 litres of hydrogen peroxide when police commandos swooped, but had apparently not fixed a target to attack. If convicted, the four could face 15 years in prison. Presiding judge Ottmar Breidling said the case will now be able to be concluded much faster than originally thought because of the confessions. “I have the impression that all the cards are going to be put on the table,” he said.