German authorities are under pressure to explain how a detained Syrian man suspected of planning an airport bombing attack was able to take his own life, with politicians demanding answers and calling the death in custody a "fiasco" and a "tragedy". 

Sebastian Gemkow, Saxony's justice minister, said in a press conference in Dresden that Jaber al-Bakr, 22, strangled himself on Wednesday evening by tying his shirt to the bars of his jail cell.

German police hunt bomb-plot suspect

"This should not have happened even though we did everything we could to prevent it," Gemkow said on Thursday.

Earlier on Thursday, Bakr's defence lawyer Alexander Huebner said that he had been informed his client was "under constant surveillance.

"How could this happen?" asked Huebner. "I'm unbelievably shocked and absolutely speechless that something like this could have happened." 

Rolf Jacob, the head of the prison where Bakr was held, told reporters that a trainee guard checked on the prisoner at 730pm on Wednesday, and that when he returned for another check 15 minutes later he found him dead.

Jacob said authorities who assessed him when he entered the prison had noted there was a suicide risk but did not consider it acute. He said the suspect was checked on every quarter of an hour and given pants without a belt as a precaution.

Bakr's lawyer,  Alexander Huebner, said he is 'unbelievably shocked and absolutely speechless' [Arno Burgi/EPA]

Bakr was arrested earlier this week after a two-day manhunt following the discovery of explosives and other bomb-making equipment at his flat in the nearby city of Chemnitz. 

German authorities have said that they believe he had links to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group and was thought to be planning to attack a Berlin airport, possibly as soon as this week.

Thomas de Maiziere, Germany's interior minister, said on Thursday that Bakr's death would make the investigation into whether he had accomplices in the thwarted plot far more difficult.

"What happened last night demands a very quick and comprehensive explanation," he told ZDF public television.

Wolfgang Bosbach, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, called the suspect's death a "tragedy", adding that "an important  source of information" had been lost.

In comments to Deutschlandfunk, Green politician Konstantin von Notz called the suicide a "fiasco" of the justice system in the eastern state of Saxony.

Source: News Agencies