FRANKFURT, Germany — Arid Uka, who has confessed to killing two U.S. airmen at Frankfurt Airport last March in what prosecutors called a “personal jihad” denied Thursday at his murder trial that he had trained as a terrorist.
Uka’s statement came in a hearing examining the veracity of a newspaper story claiming Uka, a Kosovo-Albanian who grew up in Germany, had attended a terrorist training camp in Bosnia in 2010.
“I was never in a summer camp. I was with my family in Kosovo,” Uka told the court on the day he was originally scheduled to receive judgment and sentencing. “It’s not true.”
Uka is charged with two counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder in the March 2 shooting.
The trial schedule was changed so the three professional judges could question the journalist who wrote the story — which claimed that interviewees in Zenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, recognized a photo of Uka. But the journalist was ill and did not appear in the Frankfurt court on Thursday. Instead, the judges questioned an investigator with the German criminal investigative service, the BKA, about the newspaper story and Uka’s whereabouts in the summer of 2010.
Uka’s defense lawyers asked whether the BKA found any evidence that Uka had been in Bosnia, and the investigator said, no.
Investigators knew Uka had gone to Kosovo that summer from the end of June to mid-July, and had airline records and other evidence confirming the trip, the investigator said. Investigators also had photos on Uka’s cell phone that appeared to show he was in Kosovo with his relatives on July 7, 15 and 17, leaving little time for an overnight trip to Bosnia. The investigator said Uka told them he had been in Kosovo the whole time, and they believed he was telling the truth.
Prosecutor Gerwin Moldenhauer said if the newspaper story were true, it would be significant.
“The judge told us, if it would be true, we’d have to think about if Uka told the truth. It would seem the reason for his crime was not the video, but more like a terrorist,” he said.
On the first day of his trial in August, Uka, 21, confessed to shooting the U.S. airmen, who were boarding a bus at Frankfurt Airport en route to a deployment in Afghanistan. He also told the court that he was influenced by jihadist propaganda on the Internet and decided to kill Americans after seeing a video purporting to show U.S. soldiers raping an Afghan girl. The video turned out to be a scene from the movie “Redacted,” about the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl and her family.
According to trial testimony, Uka shot Senior Airman Nicholas Alden, 25, in the head as he stood outside the bus, then boarded and shot the driver, Airman 1st Class Zachary Cuddeback, 21, in the temple. Both Alden and Cuddeback died.
Uka is also accused of shooting and wounding Staff Sgt. Kristoffer Schneider, 25, and Senior Airman Edgar Veguilla. A third attempted murder count involved Staff Sgt. Trevor Brewer, 23, who testified that Uka had shot twice at him but the gun had jammed.
Moldenhauer said Uka is already facing Germany’s harshest penalty of life in prison and that wouldn’t change. In Germany, a life sentence allows for parole eligibility after 15 years. Findings of “severe guilt” would extend the time before parole was possible, perhaps by five years, German legal experts have said.
Marcus Traut, the lawyer representing Uka’s victims, said he did not know whether the BKA or the newspaper was correct.
“I’m not convinced, but I’m very interested,” he said. “In my view, it makes a difference whether Arid Uka is a young man who did this on his own, or if he’s a member of a terrorist cell. For my clients it’s important to know.”
Prosecutors and police have said that Uka was on a “personal jihad” and that he’d acted alone.
James Alden, Nicholas Alden’s father, had come to Germany to see Uka’s sentencing, which initially had been scheduled for Thursday, and instead found himself in the hearing examining the claims in the newspaper story.
“Sometimes, justice takes a little while,” Alden said.
“If it turns out to be credible, it is important the court knows it,” Alden said.
He also said the idea that Uka had been self-radicalized made no sense. “So it’s a more likely scenario, that he was trained,” he said.
The journalist is now scheduled to testify Feb. 2, court officials said.