Tunisian man held in Cologne ‘sought to build biological weapon’

A Tunisian man arrested in western Germany is suspected of trying to build a biological weapon using the deadly poison ricin, prosecutors said on Thursday, stressing however there was no indication of any "concrete attack plans".

Tunisian man held in Cologne 'sought to build biological weapon'
Special chemical units in front of the suspect's Cologne flat on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

The 29-year-old, identified as Sief Allah H., was detained after police stormed his flat in Cologne late Tuesday, where they found unknown “toxic substances” that turned out to be ricin.

“He is strongly suspected of intentionally manufacturing biological weapons,” federal prosecutors said in a statement.

The suspect has been charged with violating German law on the possession of weapons of war, and “preparing a serious act of violence against the state”.

But prosecutors cautioned that it remained unclear whether he was planning to use ricin to carry out an Islamist attack in Germany.

“There are no indications that the accused belongs to a terrorist organization, nor of any concrete attack plans at a certain time or place,” they said.

According to German media, the police raid came after German intelligence services were tipped off by foreign authorities who had grown suspicious of the suspect's online purchases.

Prosecutors said Sief Allah H. started buying the necessary equipment and ingredients to make ricin in mid-May — including an online purchase of “a thousand castor seeds and an electric coffee grinder”.

He succeeded in manufacturing the toxin earlier this month. The dangerous substance has been secured by the authorities, they added.

Ricin — a poison that is produced by processing castor beans — has no known antidote and is one of the world's most lethal toxins.

It is 6,000 times more powerful than cyanide.

German news weekly Der Spiegel reported that Sief Allah H. was thought to have been following instructions disseminated by the Islamic State group on how to build a bomb containing ricin.

The case comes less than a month after French authorities said they had foiled a terror attack possibly involving the use of ricin. Two brothers of Egyptian origin were arrested.

Germany remains on high alert for jihadist attacks after several assaults claimed by the Islamic State group in the country.

In the worst such attack, Tunisian asylum seeker Anis Amri rammed a truck into crowds at a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016, killing 12.

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Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

The German government says it is in talks over further compensation for victims of the attack on the Munich Olympics, as the 50th anniversary of the atrocity approaches.

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

Ahead of the commemoration in September, relatives of the Israelis killed have indicated they are unhappy with what Germany is offering.

“Conversations based on trust are taking place with representatives of the victims’ families,” a German interior ministry spokesman told AFP when asked about the negotiations.

He did not specify who would benefit or how much money had been earmarked, saying only that any package would “again” be financed by the federal government, the state of Bavaria and the city of Munich.

On September 5th, 1972, eight gunmen broke into the Israeli team’s flat at the Olympic village, shooting dead two and taking nine Israelis hostage, threatening to kill them unless 232 Palestinian prisoners were released.

West German police responded with a bungled rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, along with five of the eight hostage-takers and a police officer.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists  held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Horst Ossingert

The spokeswoman for the victims’ families, Ankie Spitzer, told the German media group RND that the amount currently on the table was “insulting” and threatened a boycott of this year’s commemorations.

She said Berlin was offering a total of €10 million including around €4.5 million already provided in compensation between 1972 and 2002 — an amount she said did not correspond to international standards. 

“We are angry and disappointed,” said Spitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer who was killed in the attack. “We never wanted to talk publicly about money but now we are forced to.”

RND reported that the German and Israeli governments would like to see an accord by August 15th.

The interior ministry spokesman said that beyond compensation, Germany intended to use the anniversary for fresh “historical appraisal, remembrance and recognition”.

He said this would include the formation of a commission of German and Israeli historians to “comprehensively” establish what happened “from the perspective of the year 2022”.

This would lead to “an offer of further acts of acknowledgement of the relatives of the victims of the attack” and the “grave consequences” they suffered.