BERLIN (Reuters) - A 36-year-old German man and a 27-year-old Turkish citizen went on trial in Berlin on Thursday charged with membership of a foreign terror group in Syria.
Federal Prosecutor Matthias Krauss said the suspects had traveled to Syria in 2013 where they joined Junud al-Sham, a group of Chechen origin, with whom they received training and went on to fight.
Junud al-Sham aims to establish a caliphate in the region operating under sharia, Islamic law, Krauss said. Germany’s Institute for International and Security Affairs describes it as a well-trained group which has often cooperated with the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in the Syrian war.
The trial was adjourned after the defense filed a complaint that some members of the court were biased and the suspects would not receive a fair trial.
Last month Germany’s top public prosecutor said the German justice system was struggling to cope with the number of suspected jihadists returning from Syria and the resulting investigations and trials.
Thousands of Western volunteers have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join militant groups, raising fears in Europe and the United States of attacks by returning fighters. About 550 German citizens have joined fighting in Syria and about 180 are believed to have returned, officials have said.
In the first trial of its kind, a 20-year-old German man of Kosovan origin was sentenced to three years and nine months in jail last month after he admitted joining Islamic State militants in Syria.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in an interview with public broadcaster ZDF on Thursday that 400 investigations were underway in Germany in connection with a ban that Berlin imposed on Islamic State in September.
In the interview, he said that Germany’s federal police were preventing someone from leaving the country every week.
De Maiziere said there was no concrete evidence of any planned attacks in Germany and added that no assault had been prevented at the preparatory stage either.
(This story has been corrected to change de Maiziere’s title to interior minister)
Reporting by Reuters Television and Hans-Edzard Busemann; writing by Alexandra Hudson and Michelle Martin; Editing by Janet Lawrence/Noah Barkin