The Washington Post

Paul Wong
Concrete barriers cordon the public entrance of the court house in Frankfurt, Germany yesterday.AP PHOTO

BERLIN – With its single spire, the Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame, once the tallest building in Christendom, has dominated the skyline of the French city of Strasbourg for centuries. On Dec. 23, 2000, the marketplace beneath the cathedral was bustling with shoppers and tourists – a scene captured on video by a group of men believed to be Algerians who had traveled by car from Germany.

“This cathedral is God’s enemy,” an Arabic speaker said on the shaky 20-minute video, which also recorded jihad battle songs on the car’s cassette player as the men allegedly planned a bomb attack on the marketplace. “Here we see the enemies of God as they stroll about. You will go to hell, God willing.”

The video captured the group’s final preparations to set off a bomb eight days later, during New Year’s celebrations, and unleash what could have been one of Europe’s deadliest terrorist attacks, according to German police and prosecutors.

An intercepted phone call between one of the men seeking more cash and the group’s alleged leader, who was based in London, tipped British intelligence to the plot, according to a report by Italy’s antiterrorist police.

On Dec. 26, a special German police unit raided apartments the men had rented in Frankfurt. The police found a bomb-making laboratory and seized a detonation device, machine guns, rifles with long-distance sights, $14,000 in cash, fake passports made in Thailand and the homemade video.

Yesterday, in one of the first major trials of a cell linked to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network, five men went on trial in Frankfurt for planning the attack in Strasbourg. They are charged with planning to commit murder, planning to cause an explosion, belonging to a terrorist organization and falsifying documents, as well as various weapons offenses.

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