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Attorneys on both sides discount reporter’s testimony in airport shooting trial

FRANKFURT, Germany — Both prosecutors and defense attorneys discounted testimony Thursday by a journalist who said he had gathered evidence showing that the man charged with killing two U.S. airmen at Frankfurt Airport last March had been in Bosnia-Herzegovina the previous summer and was likely associated with radical Islamists. 

Arid Uka, charged with two counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder in the March 2 shooting of U.S. airmen as they boarded a bus at Frankfurt Airport, was to have been sentenced last month. But the publication of an article in a Stuttgart newspaper alleging that Uka had been seen in the central Bosnian town of Zenica in the summer of 2010 led the court to call the journalist to testify.

Appearing in court Thursday, the journalist, Franz Feyder, said he had written the story based on an anonymous German government source, a “secret NATO paper,” a list from an anonymous source of Germany-based terrorist trainees and three of 15 people he spoke to in Zenica who said they recognized Uka.

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Prosecutors, who said Uka acted alone on a “personal jihad,” were skeptical.

Germany’s criminal investigative service, the BKA, and the federal domestic intelligence agency have said there was no evidence that Uka had traveled to Bosnia. Uka also denied going there.

“I know where I was,” Uka said. “In my opinion, this whole thing (hearing) is unnecessary.”

Uka, 21, confessed to shooting the airmen, who were en route to a deployment in Afghanistan, on the first day of his trial in August. He said he had been influenced by jihadist propaganda on the Internet. He said he 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.

“All the evidence — except Herr Feyder — shows that he (Uka) is telling the truth,” said prosecutor Jochen Weingarten. “Nothing has changed for the federal prosecutor’s office,” he said.

He said prosecutors were still asking for Uka to receive a life sentence without possibility for early parole, Germany’s harshest penalty. 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.

Uka’s defense attorneys, meanwhile, who previously called Feyder’s story a “fairy tale out of ‘1,001 Nights,’ ” said they had numerous witnesses and photographs to show that Uka in the summer before the shooting had never left Kosovo, where he was visiting relatives.

Only the lawyers for the victims and their families suggested Feyder’s story might be correct, citing the three people Feyder said identified Uka in the area of a Wahabist mosque in Zenica.

Senior Airman Nicholas Alden, 25, and Airman 1st Class Zachary Cuddeback, 21, were both killed in the shooting. Staff Sgt. Kristoffer Schneider, 25, and Senior Airman Edgar Veguilla were wounded. 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.

Judgment and sentencing now are set for Feb. 10.

montgomeryn@estripes.osd.mil

abramsm@estripes.osd.mil

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