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Couple held in terror plot on word of witness seen as unreliable

From Sheila MacVicar
CNN

Eyzaguirre and Pekmezci have been in custody since September.
Eyzaguirre and Pekmezci have been in custody since September.

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An American woman and her fiance have been held in prison under suspicion of terrorism since September, largely on the word of a witness seen as unreliable. CNN's Sheila MacVicar reports (January 15)
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HEIDELBERG, Germany (CNN) -- An American woman and her fiance arrested this past September on suspicion of plotting to blow up a U.S. Army base in Germany are still being held in prison, largely on the word of a witness discredited by others who knew her.

Astrid Eyzaguirre, a U.S. citizen, and her German-born Turkish fiance, Osman Pekmezci, were arrested September 5, 2002 after the witness, herself a young American woman, told authorities the two were making explosives in their suburban apartment and planning an attack on the military base -- headquarters for the U.S. Army in Europe -- on the anniversary of September 11.

No charges been brought against either Eyzaguirre or Pekmezci, but are expected soon. The prosecution has indicated the two will be charged with terrorist-related offenses. In Germany, certain criminal suspects can be held for up to six months without charges.

The witness worked at the base liquor store with Eyzaguirre. She told authorities Eyzaguirre had warned her "if you walk down the main street of Heidelberg, stay away from the buildings. Don't go to the PX at the base. Stay away from CID (Criminal Investigation Division) headquarters on the base, because Osman is building bombs."

The witness also alleged that Eyzaguirre and Pekmezci were supporters of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden who hated Jews and Americans, accusations strongly denied by family members and friends.

At the time of the police raid of the couple's apartment, German officials announced that five pipe bombs, and hundred of kilos of chemicals to make explosives had been found. German officials also said they had found a poster of Osama bin Laden hanging on the wall. They claimed to have averted a major terrorist attack.

The witness told authorities the couple planned to bomb the military facility where Eyzaguirre worked.
The witness told authorities the couple planned to bomb the military facility where Eyzaguirre worked.

But police documents obtained by CNN, detailing the search, show no pipe bombs were found. And a forensic analysis of chemicals found in the apartment carried out by the German prosecution and seen by CNN states that construction of a bomb would not have been possible without additional chemicals and materials not found in the apartment. Police did find a small amount of "black powder," a kind of home-made gunpowder that Pekmezci and Eyzaguirre say was for home-made fireworks. Friends of Pekmezci say he has made his own fireworks since he was a young boy.

Pekmezci worked at a chemical plant. He has a prior conviction, according to his lawyer, for drug offenses related to possession of marijuana. He has told German authorities the chemicals found in the apartment were herbicides and fertilizers for marijuana plants the couple planned to grow in their basement. The forensic analysis of the chemicals shows the fertilizer found was not suitable for use in bomb-making without sophisticated alteration.

Eyzaguirre was born in Germany when her father, a career U.S. serviceman, now the deputy directory of U.S. Naval Postal Facilities in Virginia, served there. She and Pekmezci met in high school. Both have lived in the Heidelberg area all their lives.

Friends and family of the two deny that either were anti-Semitic, or hated Americans. They point out that the couple had happily vacationed in the United States with her family.

The prosecution acknowledges that the witness' story is key to the case, and the main reason why the suspects remain in prison.

But Eyzaguirre's lawyer, Stephen Kling, contends the prosecution is being driven by fear of terrorism.

"It's the influence of September 11. It's the influence of Bali," Kling said. "It's the new dimension of terrorism."

CNN has learned that a number of people in Germany, who are not connected to either of the two suspects, have told police they believe the witness is deceitful and lacks credibility. The German police have carried out an extensive investigation into her character.

A spokesperson for the German prosecution acknowledged to CNN that the witness is not reliable, but added, because of the materials found in the apartment, especially the "black powder," they believe that in this instance, the witness was being truthful.



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