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HEIDELBERG, Germany — An American AAFES employee and her Turkish fiancé denied plotting to bomb U.S. facilities near the U.S. Army’s headquarters in Europe on the opening day of their trial here Friday.

Astrid Eyzaguirre, 23, who worked stocking shelves at an Army and Air Force Exchange Service liquor store, is accused of assisting Osman Petmezci, 25, in the plot after German police found gunpowder, pipes and chemicals that could be used to make explosives in the couple’s home in the nearby village of Walldorf.

Acting on a tip from U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command agents in Heidelberg, German authorities arrested the pair on Sept. 5, 2002.

Prosecutor Joerg Richter told the Heidelberg state court Friday that the couple had “anti-American and anti-Israeli” views and a “glowing admiration for Osama bin Laden.” He contended that they had been planning the attack on either the CID office in Heidelberg or the nearby shopping center where Eyzaguirre worked.

His jet-black hair tied back in a short ponytail, Petmezci confidently denied the charges in front of a packed German courthouse, however, saying the explosives were for fireworks, not bombs.

The Sept. 11 attacks “affected me just as much as if I were an American,” said Petmezci, flanked by his attorney.

“I never made such plans, or talked about anything like that,” said the German-born Turk, who could face up to 11 years and three months in prison if convicted. “It was never an issue.”

Wearing a black blouse and matching platform shoes, Eyzaguirre was largely silent during the first day of hearings, sitting at a separate table with her own lawyer.

Eyzaguirre was initially charged as a co-conspirator, but the court determined there was not sufficient evidence to support the indictment and reduced the charges to less-severe allegations of assisting Petmezci in the plot.

Her arrest in the case, however, shattered notions among many in the Heidelberg military community that terrorist fears could be left outside the heavily guarded gates of U.S. facilities and housing areas.

“A lot of people thought once you got inside the gate, you were safe,” said Stephanie Pappone, shopping with her husband, an Army contractor, in the same military shopping center were Eyzaguirre worked.

“All that changed after she was arrested.”

“That’s what got me,” said retired Sgt. 1st Class Austin Davis, “not only was she an American, but she was working inside the wire. It was a pretty big wake-up call.”

Staff Sgt. Charles Evelyn agrees.

“You always know there’s a potential for cracks in security, but you never think it would be one of us,” said the computer expert for U.S. Army Europe. “It was a shock. I just hope they’ve tightened the screening process in how they hire people.”

Ed Bouley, general manager for the some 950 AAFES employees in the Heidelberg and Mannheim area, said that there have been no changes to AAFES’ hiring procedures since the arrests, but added existing background checks required for new employees — whether they are U.S. or German applicants — were already very thorough.

“For local nationals, the process takes weeks,” he said, explaining German authorities check criminal records and provide a security statement before the applicant can be hired. “Even if they have too many traffic tickets, they can’t get that good-conduct letter,” said Bouley.

For U.S. employees, the procedure is similar, involving a nationwide criminal background check.

At the liquor store where Eyzaguirre worked, life has moved on.

“She never seemed like she would be involved in anything like that,” said one former co-worker. “It’s hard to imagine.”

Eyzaguirre’s and Petmezci’s trial is slated to run for several days with a verdict expected May 6.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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