FRANKFURT, Germany — A 21-year-old Kosovo Albanian allegedly inspired by online jihad videos goes on trial Wednesday on charges that he gunned down two U.S. airmen outside Frankfurt airport, in the first successful attack by an Islamic extremist in Germany.
The March 2 attack drove home worries about the increasing danger of the "lone wolf" terrorist – individuals who are self-radicalized, unaffiliated with any organization, and don't show up on authorities' radar until they strike.
Arid Uka is charged with two counts of murder and three of attempted murder in connection with the attack. He faces a possible life sentence.
Prosecutors say Uka was radicalized over time by propaganda he saw on the Internet trying to incite jihad, or holy war.
The night before the attack, his attorney told The Associated Press, Uka watched a video entitled "what was done to our sisters," which purported to show American soldiers raping a teenage Muslim girl. It turned out to be a scene from the 2007 anti-war Brian De Palma film "Redacted," taken out of context.
"That is the irony of this case," said Uka's attorney. Jens Joerg Hoffmann. "It was an American film from a leading director that was so believable that it looked real."
Uka gave a detailed confession to authorities after he was apprehended at the scene. Hoffmann said Uka plans to make a statement to the court after the indictment is read, but would not elaborate.
No pleas are entered in Germany, so when the trial begins prosecutors will still have to lay out the facts for the court.
Hoffmann said the best Uka can hope for from the panel of three Frankfurt state court judges is the possibility of an early release after he serves 15 years. That will have to do with his motivation, and whether there were any mitigating circumstances.
Although Germany has suffered scores of terrorist attacks in past decades, largely from leftist groups like the Red Army Faction, the airport attack was the first by a suspected Islamic extremist to succeed.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks there have been about a half-dozen other jihadist plots that were either thwarted or failed – including a 2007 plan to kill Americans at the U.S. Air Force's Ramstein Air Base that was uncovered by German authorities acting on a tip from U.S. intelligence sources.
According to the indictment, Uka went to the airport armed with a pistol, extra ammunition and two knives. Inside Terminal 2, he spotted two U.S. servicemen who had just arrived and followed them to their U.S. Air Force bus.
After 16 servicemen, including the driver, were on or near the bus, Uka approached one of the men for a cigarette, prosecutors said. He confirmed they were U.S. Air Force members en route to Afghanistan, then "turned around, put the magazine that had been concealed in his backpack into his pistol, and cocked the weapon," the indictment read.
He first shot unarmed Senior Airman Nicholas J. Alden, a 25-year-old from South Carolina, in the back of the head, the indictment alleged. He then boarded the vehicle shouting "Allahu Akbar" – Arabic for "God is great" – and shot and killed the driver, 21-year-old Airman 1st Class Zachary R. Cuddeback of Virginia, before firing at others.
He wounded two others – one victim has lost sight in one eye permanently – before his gun jammed and he fled, prosecutors said. The shooter was then chased down and caught.
Some of the American airmen are expected to testify at the trial. At least one relative of the victims – Cuddeback's mother – has joined the trial as a co-plaintiff.
Attorney Marcus Steffel, who represents her but would not divulge her name for confidentiality reasons, said the case was a clear one, with witnesses as well as video surveillance of the attack.
"The defense has very, very little room for maneuver," he said.