A Syrian refugee man who was under custody on suspicion of planning a bomb attack at a German airport has been found dead in his prison cell in eastern Germany.
The 22-year-old Jaber Albakr was arrested during an overnight operation in the city of Leipzig, in the eastern federal state of Saxony, on October 10, following a two-day massive manhunt.
Albakr, who came to Germany last year, had managed to narrowly escape police commandos when his flat was raided in the eastern city of Chemnitz on October 8.
Police had found several hundred grams of an explosive substance in the apartment and, according to security sources, he was thought to have planned an attack against either one of Berlin’s two airports or a transport hub in his home state of Saxony.
The Saxony Justice Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that earlier in the day “Albakr, who was suspected of planning a serious attack, took his life in the detention center at Leipzig correctional hospital.”
The statement said the ministry would provide more details regarding the incident “at a news conference in Dresden on Thursday at 0900 GMT.”
It, however, did not say how the Syrian refugee committed suicide, but according to German news agency DPA, Albakr had hung himself in his cell.
According to prosecutors, the Syrian national was making an explosive vest which was “near completion.”
Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, in a report, however, cast doubt on the suicide scenario as presented by the ministry, saying Albakr had been under a 24-hour surveillance in police detention due to a grave risk of suicide and hunger strike. The report added that it was not yet clear how he had taken his own life.
Albakr's public defense lawyer Alexander Huebner said his client’s jailers had been well aware of his strong suicide motives, describing the incident as a “judicial scandal.”
“He had already smashed lamps and manipulated power points” after starting a hunger strike as soon as he was arrested, agreeing only to drink a glass of water, Huebner said. “I am incredibly shocked and in disbelief that this could have happened.”
Local media had earlier reported that the material discovered in Albakr’s flat was TATP, the homemade explosive that was used by terrorists in the deadly November 13, 2015 attacks in Paris and the March 22 attacks in Brussels. According to other reports, Albakr was believed to be connected to extremist groups, particularly the Daesh Takfiri group, which has recently claimed a number of attacks on German soil.
Daesh has said it would carry out more assaults against civilians and security forces in Germany over the country’s contribution to the US-led coalition purportedly targeting its positions in Iraq and Syria.
Germany was further rattled on July 22, when a teenager opened fire at people shopping at a mall in the southern city of Munich, killing nine and injuring several others. Officials ruled out that the case was a terrorism issue.