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German officials grilled on al-Bakr death

dpadpa 12/10/2016

The death in a prison cell of a Syrian refugee suspected of planning a bomb attack in Germany should not have happened, the justice minister says.

German officials says they found no indication that the Syrian refugee suspected of planning a bombing attack at an airport in Berlin was at risk of suicide, a day after he was found dead in his prison cell.

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

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 death, 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 100km 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. The veracity of that claim is unclear.

Prison officers had initially conducted checks on the suspect's cell every 15 minutes before increasing the intervals to 30 minutes following a psychological assessment, the head of the correctional facility said.

Rolf Jacob said al-Bakr had displayed no signs of an acute risk of suicide and that a psychologist had found al-Bakr's 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.

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

Al-Bakr's defence lawyer said earlier on Thursday he was "appalled and saddened" by the suicide.

"No matter what my client was accused of, it was a young person who took his life," Alexander Huebner said, adding he was "under the impression that he was being watched constantly."

Meanwhile, German politicians reacted angrily to the death. In comments to Deutschlandfunk, Green politician Konstantin von Notz called the death a "fiasco" of Saxony's justice system.

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.

Investigators suspect that the planned attack was linked to Islamic State.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

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