Germany's highest-profile terror trial for decades took an unexpected turn on Tuesday when the accused said they wanted to confess. The four young men stand accused of plotting to carry out a series of terrorist attacks on US targets on German soil.
Adem Yilmaz was the first to show a change of attitude, asking the court for permission to talk things over with his three co-defendants. The judge was happy to oblige.
"I couldn't care less what you give me, whether it's 20 or 30 years," Yilmaz, a Turkish national raised in Germany, told the court. "I just want all this to be done with, it is boring." The trial, which began seven weeks ago in Düsseldorf, had been expected to last into next year with the prosecution alone planning to call 219 witnesses.
Yilmaz told the court on Tuesday that he wanted to meet with the other alleged members of the so-called "Sauerland Cell" -- Fritz Gelowicz, Daniel Schneider and Atilla Selek -- without their lawyers present. The four, who have been held in separate facilities, are accused of conspiring to commit murder, plotting to launch explosive attacks and of membership of a terrorist organization. They have all remained silent since their arrest 18 months ago in a quiet village in the Sauerland region of North Rhine-Westphalia.
The presiding judge, Ottmar Breidling, agreed to allow the men to hold a meeting and the prosecutors' office raised no objections. The trial, which is being held under tight security, was adjourned as the four left the courtroom with their lawyers.
After several hours of discussions the four returned to the court and their lawyers told the judge that their clients wanted to make full confessions. One of the attorneys added that there would be "surprises" ahead.
A confession could help to reduce any sentence, but it would most likely require the defendants to provide information on the planning of the attacks and more details about the Islamic Jihad Union. "Strictly speaking a confession leads to a reduction in a sentence if it is marked by regret and understanding," a court spokesman told reporters.
Yilmaz and his alleged accomplices are accused of forming a terror cell and planning huge car-bomb attacks on bars, discos and the US military air base at Ramstein with the aim of killing as many Americans as possible. It is thought that they wanted to influence a pending decision by the German parliament on an extension of the country's military deployment in Afghanistan.
The police had tracked the cell for months and pounced when it became likely the suspects were preparing to carry out the attacks. They are accused of buying hydrogen peroxide-based liquid explosives with the intention of building bombs. Three of the accused were arrested in September 2007 while the fourth was arrested later in Turkey.