Shadi Abdellah, 26, a Palestinian with Jordanian citizenship, is standing trial in Dusseldorf accused of helping to plot terror attacks in Germany.
Abdellah is facing up to 10 years in prison if convicted of membership of a worldwide operating radical Islamic group called Al Tawhid.
The group is accused of planning to shoot people in a square in one German city and detonate a hand grenade near a Jewish or Israeli target in another.
Prosecutors have not identified the precise targets.
He is also accused of forging passports for Al Tawhid members, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an al-Qaida lieutenant, with whom prosecutors said he had developed a “close and trusting relationship”.
Abdellah told the court that he had immersed himself in Islam after falling in with radical Islamists after smoking cannabis with them at a mosque in Krefeld, North Rhine-Westphalia.
He said he was a drifter who “never thought about the future”. The court heard how after travelling to Mecca in 1999, he went on to an al-Qaida training camp where he served as a member of bin Laden’s elite bodyguard division between December 1999 and May 2001.
It was at this camp that he met Jordanian militant al-Zarqawi, Al Tawhid’s operational leader, who in May 2001 told him to return to Germany and help Mohammed Abu Dhess, a Jordanian who headed the Al Tawhid cell there. During a September 2001 meeting in Iran, al-Zarqawi allegedly told Abu Dhess to attack Jewish or Israeli institutions in Germany.
Abdellah, who arrived in Europe in 1995 after dropping out of his training as a hairdresser and an automobile technician, knew Abu Dhess from his home city of Irbid.
Authorities in Germany allowed Abdellah to stay in the country on humanitarian grounds after an asylum application was rejected. He had applied for asylum under false identities in both Germany and Belgium, he told the court.
He drifted from job to job and by early 1999 was living on welfare in the town of Krefeld. “I wasn’t even trying to find a job,” he said.
His arrest last year came after he allegedly ordered a pistol with a silencer and a crate of hand grenades from another cell member.
The trial is expected to last for three months and armed police have sealed off roads and adopted a heavy presence in and near the court because of fears for his safety.
Last November Abdellah testified at the trial of Mounir El Motassadeq, a Moroccan sentenced to 15 years by a German court earlier this year for being an accessory to murder over the September 11 suicide plane attacks in New York.
Four other suspected Al Tawhid members, including Abu Dhess, remain in custody in Germany. Four others have been released but remain under investigation.
Prosecutors have not linked the Al Tawhid cell to the Hamburg-based cell involved in plotting the September 11 attacks.