Saxony: the deadly cost of missed communication


By the time terror suspect Jabar Al-Bakr (22) was found hanging in his jail cell in Leipzig, questions had already been raised regarding the co-ordination and readiness of local and federal authorities to conduct a successful security operation in Saxony.

In the early days post Al-Bakr’s death in custody, the state police department has taken pains to indicate the importance of federal security agents and their expertise supporting local efforts against terrorism. In this regard, federal justice minister Heiko Maas has gone on the record to request that Saxony get its house in order regarding protocols and regulations for terror suspects.

Federal Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière has also asked for a full briefing from his counterpart in Saxony – state minister Markus Ulbig – registering his disappointment at the loss of valuable information Al-Bakr could have provided.

Solitary cell in the correctional facility Wuppertal-Ronsdorf, Germany, Wikimedia Commons
Solitary cell in the correctional facility Wuppertal-Ronsdorf, Germany, Wikimedia Commons

Apparently information was not a high priority for local authorities, despite protestations to the contrary.

The initial capture of the suspect was possible despite the fumbling of the police in Chemnitz (not securing the perimeter) and also in Leipzig (not being able to understand a phone call from the Syrian informants). It took the unprecedented measures of the informants securing the suspect themselves, taking a photo as proof of capture, and then travelling to the police station to ask for police assistance.

Despite knowing that the suspect was on the loose and probably still in Saxony, it is incredible that no hotline or language support was ready for such a phone call.

A translator was found for the initial questioning and then dismissed. An assessment followed (without linguistic support) from a psychologist, who erroneously believed that the would-be suicide bomber presented no danger to himself.

32 hours passed without extra linguistic support, despite some attempts to find translators on an ad-hoc basis. Offering below market rates and not being under the auspices of the justice department, how was any of this going to end well?

Despite two incidents involving a broken lamp and a PowerPoint being tampered with, no further dialogue was possible with the suspect. It seems local authorities were waiting out a short period before the suspect would be transferred out of their jurisdiction.

How can it be that a state prison cannot keep a suspect in their custody alive for a few days?

When any death occurs in custody, it indicates a system failure and no excuse is really possible. The consequences in this case are that valuable information is lost, and that the suspect died without facing the full force of the law.

This episode indicates something deeper, though. The unwillingness to keep a translator nearby and not providing linguistic support for callers reporting a crime (or a criminal’s whereabouts) demonstrate a lack of commitment to tackling the complex demands of living in a globalised city, characterised by the movement of people.

A city of this size with an emerging international segment needs to care more about communication and intercultural competence. Lives depend on it.

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