GERMANY POLICE TERROR JABER AL-BAKR.jpg
Rolf Jacob, director of the Justizvollzugsanstalt (JVA) Leipzig prison gets ready to speak about the death of suspect in custody, Jaber al-Bakr, during a press conference in Dresden, Germany, 13 October 2016. Jaber al-Bakr, who was arrested on suspicion of terrorism, was found hanged in his cell in the Leipzig prison on 12 October 2016.
Photograph: EPA/ARNO BURGI

German officials said on Thursday they found no indication that the Syrian refugee suspected of planning a bombing attack at an airport in Berlin was at risk of suicide, one day after the key terrorist suspect was found hanged in his prison cell.

Jaber al-Bakr, 22, hanged himself in his cell in the eastern city of Leipzig with his own T-shirt, Sebastian Gemkow, minister of justice in the German state of Saxony, told the press.

The minister insisted that judicial authorities did all they could to prevent the suspect from taking his own life.

"It should not have happened, but it did," Gemkow added.

Gemkow accepted political responsibility for the suicide, but refused to resign over the latest embarrassment in the case, which has been fraught with errors since a botched raid on Saturday.

Al-Bakr narrowly avoided arrest during the raid on his flat in the city of Chemnitz and was then able to make the journey of around 100 kilometres to Leipzig, despite a major police operation.

He was later captured and handed over to police by three of his compatriots. The Syrian refugees were lauded by politicians and the press as heroes.

However, sources have told dpa that al-Bakr had accused the refugees of complicity in the planned attack.

Thursday's press conference in the Saxon capital of Dresden focused on the circumstances surrounding al-Bakr's death and provided scant details on the ongoing investigation surrounding the suspected plot, which investigators say was linked to Islamic State.

Prosecutor Klaus Fleischmann said at the press conference that the three unnamed Syrians who captured al-Bakr are not part of the investigation. Fleischmann was not aware of their whereabouts after they apparently went into hiding for fear of Islamic State reprisals.

A magistrate had notified the prison that al-Bakr was at risk of taking his own life as he was on a hunger strike, the head of the correctional facility, Rolf Jacob, said. However, following a psychological assessment, prison officers increased the intervals between cell checks from 15 to 30 minutes.

Jacob said al-Bakr had displayed no signs of an acute risk of suicide and that a psychologist had found his behaviour "quiet, reserved" but not unusual.

He had alerted officers to a broken light in his cell, Jacob added. "That was considered vandalism," as opposed to indicating a risk of suicide.

Officers at the facility later noticed that electrical sockets had been tampered with in the cell where Jaber al-Bakr later hanged himself with his own T-shirt.

The law in Saxony rules out video monitoring of prison cells, authorities said.

The prison chief wondered if the inmate could have been treated differently. "Were we indeed perhaps a bit too trusting? Did we assign too much importance to outwards appearance?"

He concluded that officials had done everything within their power.

Al-Bakr's defence lawyer told dpa earlier Thursday he is "appalled and saddened" by the suicide, adding that he was "under the impression that he was being watched constantly."

Meanwhile German lawmakers reacted angrily to the death. In comments to Deutschlandfunk, Green politician Konstantin von Notz called the suicide a "fiasco," while Christian Democrat Wolfgang Bosbach called the suspect's death a "tragedy," adding that "an important source of information" had been lost.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere earlier Thursday said the "setback" in the investigation would make it difficult to establish details and identify further suspects.

Despite his death, authorities have insisted that the investigation into al-Bakr's terrorist plans will continue with the same intensity. One accomplice has now also been placed under permanent suicide watch.

State broadcaster MDR reported that al-Bakr had visited the Syrian city of Idlib after arriving in Germany as a refugee in February 2015. Citing his housemates in Germany, the report said that he had changed after his return from Syria.

De Maiziere confirmed Wednesday that al-Bakr had been investigated in 2015 but that authorities had failed to find anything.

"It is not clear when he started to become radicalized," the minister said.

Latest news

Austria seeks to create jobs, but new EU immigrants need not apply

Austria plans to create 160,000 jobs in the next three years by subsidizing companies, but the project has raised concerns because it effectively excludes people who recently immigrated from other EU countries.

Juncker: Not good for W. Balkans that some in Washington want to water down EU

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Tuesday it was not good for Western Balkan countries that some people in the new US administration gave the impression of being against the European Union because those countries needed the prospects of EU membership.

German state approves full-face veil ban

Legislation that bans face veils in select public spaces and situations was agreed by the government of the southeastern German state of Bavaria on Tuesday.

Indian restaurant Gaggan in Bangkok named Asia's best for third year

Bangkok's Indian eatery Gaggan on Tuesday was named the best restaurant in Asia for the third consecutive year by Asia's 50 Best Restaurants.

HGK: 16 Croatian companies to exhibit at IDEX defence exhibition

Sixteen Croatian companies will exhibit their products at the 13th IDEX 2017 defence exhibition in Abu Dhabi, to be held on February 19-23.

Trump and the nuclear codes: Carnival again takes aim at politicians

US President Donald Trump, Brexit, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Germany's right-wing AfD party: Floats unveiled Tuesday for this year's Carnival parades in Cologne and Mainz once again turn to political satire to entertain revellers.

Barcelona police open fire on stolen lorry laden with gas canisters

Security forces in Barcelona opened fire on a stolen lorry laden with gas canisters to bring a rampage through the city to an end, police in the Spanish city said on Tuesday.

Stuttgart to issue bans on high-polluting diesel vehicles from 2018

Most diesel vehicles will be banned from roads in the southern German city of Stuttgart during times of heavy pollution, a bid to clean up the city's air, the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg decided Tuesday.

Slovenia welcomes construction of LNG terminal off Krk, but won't join for now

Slovenia is not planning for now to connect to the floating LNG terminal to be built off Omisalj on the northern Croatian Adriatic island of Krk, but welcomes any additional energy source, Slovenian media say.

German court rules against automatic refugee status for Syrians

Syrians fleeing the multi-sided civil war in their home country do not have an automatic right to refugee status under the Geneva Convention, a German court ruled Tuesday.

Business conference pushes for intensified privatisation in Croatia

As long as the state authorities pay high bills, this means that the government has not yet seriously delved into the privatisation of state-run companies, although their sale can alleviate the pressure on the state budget, a business conference in Zagreb heard on Tuesday.

HND condemns judge's verbal tirade against reporters

The Croatian Journalists' Association (HND) on Tuesday condemned a verbal tirade by Sibenik Municipal Court Judge Maja Supe against reporters in the courtroom, claiming that they were not educated to report on trials and that they had called her the "most corrupt judge in the country."

Mosque attended by Berlin attacker Amri closed, police confirm

The mosque in Berlin attended by Berlin truck attacker Anis Amri has been closed. The mosque is permanently closed, read a note in German and Turkish on the door of the prayer rooms which was seen on Tuesday.

German army to expand to almost 200,000 soldiers

Germany's Bundeswehr, plans to expand its number of professional soldier to 198,000 by 2024 because of increasing duties, the German Defence Ministry announced on Tuesday.

Fired Audi engineer says he was 'sacrificed' for emissions scandal

A fired Audi engineer was "sacrificed" amid the ongoing VW group diesel emissions scandal, his lawyer claimed in court on Tuesday as he contested his client's dismissal.