The mysterious murder in Germany this year of three used car dealers from Georgia was an act of religious hatred, one of the two accused claimed Monday at the start of their trial, dpa reported.
Testifying in Arabic, the Iraqi-born defendant, 40, declared his innocence and accused the other defendant, a 26-year-old Somali, of murdering the trio as an expression of "a special form of fundamentalism."
Police confirmed they had employed the Arabic-speaker as a spy. He told the court his job was to observe the Somali, who had found the Georgian victims' Christian religion objectionable.
Prosecutors in the town of Frankenthal reject that claim and say the two accused killed the Georgians simply to seize their wads of cash. The dealers had come to Germany to obtain second-hand cars to take home.
The Somali, speaking fluent German, also insisted on his innocence, saying he had been present, but was surprised by the brutal murders and dared not object for fear that he too would be killed.
"I'm not an Islamist," he said. "It does not disturb me if someone wears a cross."
Both accused appeared handcuffed and in shackles with court security strict.
The bodies of the victims, aged 28, 39 and 48, were found in Germany's Rhine river in January.
The trial continues.