German terror suspect Jaber al-Bakr's jail death a scandal, says lawyer

Pictures of a person believed to be Jaber al-Bakr released by German police Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Police released pictures of the suspect after Saturday's raid on his flat

The death in a prison cell of a Syrian refugee suspected of planning a bomb attack in Germany is a judicial scandal, his lawyer has said.

Jaber al-Bakr, 22, strangled himself in a jail in Leipzig with his shirt and the government has demanded an immediate inquiry.

His lawyer said the prison was aware Bakr was a suicide risk after he was captured on Monday.

However, regional authorities said he had not been considered an acute risk.

Jaber al-Bakr was detained on Monday on suspicion of plotting to bomb an airport in Berlin, possibly in the coming days.

When police raided his flat in the eastern city of Chemnitz early on Saturday, they found 1.5kg of TATP, a home-made explosive used in the deadly jihadist attacks in Paris last year and in Brussels last March.

What went wrong at the jail?

Sebastian Gemkow, justice minister in the eastern state of Saxony, told reporters a psychological assessment of the prisoner had been made and safety measures had been taken. And the head of the prison described Bakr during the day as "calm and on an even keel".

"It shouldn't have happened, but it did," the justice minister said, adding that he took responsibility for the suicide but would not resign.

Prison officials rejected reports that Bakr was only being checked on an hourly basis.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Prison officials said the regular checks on Bakr had been reduced to every 30 minutes

Originally, he was given top-level supervision, involving 15-minute intervals, but a panel of experts agreed hours before he died to lower the regular checks to every 30 minutes.

There is no video monitoring of prisoners held in remand cells in Saxony, said prison governor Rolf Jacob. A guard stationed outside the cell door would have been more appropriate, he acknowledged.

Jabr al-Bakr's body was found at 19:45 (17:45 GMT) on Wednesday evening, 15 minutes after a regular check, the prison governor said. Attempts to resuscitate him failed.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Jaber al-Bakr was under round-the-clock surveillance at the prison in Leipzig
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Bakr's body was found at 19:45 on Wednesday and was taken away hours later

Defence lawyer Alexander Huebner was adamant his client was a risk as he had already broken light bulbs and tampered with power sockets. He had also been refusing food and drink.

The prison governor said later that the damage had been assessed as vandalism rather than an indication of potential suicide.

"How could this happen?" Mr Huebner asked. "He must have been the best-guarded prisoner in Germany."

How serious is the blow to German intelligence?

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere demanded a "rapid and comprehensive inquiry".

He told German TV that Bakr's death had made the task of investigating the possible Berlin airport bomb plot much harder.

Centre-right CDU politician Wolfgang Bosbach said it was a tragedy to lose such an important source of intelligence.

Leading centre-left SPD politician Burkhard Lischka blamed the Saxony authorities for the death in custody and said years of underfunding were to blame.

Family Affairs Minister Manuela Schwesig simply tweeted: "What on earth's going on?"

Who was Jaber al-Bakr?

Granted asylum last year after coming to Germany in February 2015, he had been under surveillance for months on suspicion of being linked to jihadist group Islamic State.

But when police raided his flat early on Saturday, he escaped. Police fired a warning shot but were wary of harming neighbours.

After a two-day manhunt Bakr made his way to Leipzig, where he asked three Syrian asylum seekers for help.

The three told police they had heard about the manhunt and tied him up while one of them knelt on him.

Image copyright Bild
Image caption Bild newspaper on Tuesday hailed the men who handed Bakr to police as heroes. "They tied up the terrorist Jaber al-Bakr: 'We couldn't let him do anything to Germans'."

One of the men took a photo of the captive to a police station, and he was detained in the early hours of Monday.

Widely hailed as heroes in Germany, the three men were apparently implicated by Bakr in the bomb plot, German media reported, citing security officials in Leipzig.

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