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Terror Suspect Jaber al-Bakr Hangs Himself In German Prison

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, hanged 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.

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. “It shouldn’t have happened, but it did,” he said.

Bakr’s defence lawyer, Alexander Huebner, insisted the suspect had already broken light bulbs and tampered with power sockets. “How could this happen?” he asked, pointing out that Bakr had been refusing food and drink. “He must have been the best-guarded prisoner in Germany,” the lawyer said.

Prison officials rejected reports that Bakr was only being checked on an hourly basis, insisting he had top-level supervision, involving 15-minute intervals. His body was found at 19:45 (17:45 GMT) on Wednesday evening during a regular check, they said.

There was disbelief in Germany’s federal government. “What on earth’s going on?” tweeted family affairs minister Manuela Schwesig.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere demanded a “rapid and comprehensive inquiry”. He told German TV that Bakr’s death in jail had made the task of investigating an alleged bomb plot on a Berlin airport much harder.

Centre-right CDU politician Wolfgang Bosbach said it was a tragedy to lose such an important source of intelligence. The authorities in the eastern state of Saxony were due to give an initial briefing later on Thursday. Leading centre-left SPD politician Burkhard Lischka blamed the Saxony authorities for the death in custody and said years of underfunding were to blame.

Home-made Explosive

Jaber al-Bakr was granted asylum after coming to Germany in February 2015. German police had been watching him for months on suspicion of being linked to jihadist group Islamic State, but failed to arrest him when they raided his flat on Saturday. He was turned over to police on Monday by three other Syrian refugees after being on the run for two days.

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. 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. The explosives were “extremely dangerous”, police said. But Bakr managed to slip the net, and made his way to Leipzig, where he asked the Syrians for help.

The three told police they had heard about the manhunt and tied him up while one of them knelt on him. They alerted police who finally managed to arrest him.