Syrian refugees hailed as "heroes" deny role in German terrorist plot

Three Syrian refugees hailed as "heroes" by Germany's media for their role in the arrest of a suspected terrorist, believed to have been planning an attack on a Berlin airport, have denied any involvement in the plot.

The trio overpowered Jaber al-Bakr, 22, bound him with electric cable and held him in an apartment in the eastern German city of Leipzig after they realized he was wanted by the police.

They refused al-Bakr's offer of money to release him as they waited for the police to arrive.

Al-Bakr hanged himself in his Leipzig prison cell on Wednesday, sparking a major political scandal, with the government in the state of Saxony refusing on Friday to hold an independent inquiry into the events surrounding the suicide.

Before his death, al-Bakr had claimed the three refugees - who had provided him shelter after he narrowly escaped police capture at the weekend - were part of the terrorism plan, which the authorities said had "an Islamic State context."

"We did not know who he was," one of the three Syrians, identified as Mohamed A, told the daily Bild, which along with other media has referred to Mohamed and his two friends as heroes.

"He wanted to take revenge on us from behind bars because we had turned him over to the police," Mohamed told the newspaper.

Members of the Syrian refugee community have praised the three and two lawmakers in Chancellor Angela Merkel's national ruling coalition have said they should be decorated with state honours.

"He is a hero, because when the terrorists find out his identity they will massacre his entire family in Syria," 26-year-old Ammar told dpa, referring to one of the three Syrians, his neighbour in Leipzig identified only as Ali.

The three Syrians are now in hiding fearing revenge from the Islamic State extremist group. "Up until today, we are still not protected," the 37-year-old Mohamed told Bild.

The authorities have refused to provide any details about the three Syrians, who Bild said were questioned by police on Monday before being released.

The prosecutor in Saxony, Klaus Fleischmann, said Thursday that he had no knowledge that the three were not part of the investigation into al-Bakr, adding that he had no idea where there were.

Saxony Justice Minister Sebastian Gemkow has repeatedly rejected suggestions that he should resign in the wake of al-Bakr's suicide, while federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the death was a blow to the fight against terrorism.

Saxony's premier, Stanislaw Tillich, admitted on Friday that mistakes had been made in the handling of al-Bakr's incarceration but ruled out holding an independent inquiry into his death.

"In any event, the suicide should have been prevented," Tillich told the upper house of the German parliament, the Bundesrat, which represents the country's 16 states.

"Dealing with a prisoner accused of terrorism was not handled in necessary way," he said. But "the establishment of an independent investigation commission is opposed by both the Saxony state government and myself."

Last update: Fri, 14/10/2016 - 13:34

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