Lebanese tried for near-miss bombing in Germany
Lost-and-found staff who opened a "lost" suitcase handed in by a German railway conductor got the shock of their lives when they prised it open to find the owner's address: it contained a bomb.
17 December 2007
Dusseldorf (dpa) - Lost-and-found staff who opened a "lost" suitcase handed in by a German railway conductor got the shock of their lives when they prised it open to find the owner's address: it contained a bomb.
On Tuesday, one of two Lebanese students alleged to have simultaneously planted bombs in Germany's near miss with Islamist terrorist attack goes on trial in the western city of Dusseldorf.
Though most of the pilots in the September 11, 2001 attacks that killed 3,000 in New York and Washington were Arab students at German university, there had been no Islamist attacks on Germany till July 31 last year.
Police say the two Lebanese made a mistake when making their two bombs, intended to cause carnage in two passenger trains, and the detonators failed to set off an explosion.
A defence lawyer will argue that Youssef Mohamad al-H, 23, mercifully made a deliberate mistake.
The trial, expected to last till the second half of 2008, will explore the origin of the plot.
Al-H is accused of attempted multiple murder. In Beirut, his alleged accomplice, Jihad Hamad, 22, and three other accused face verdicts on matching charges on the same day, Tuesday.
Lebanese law did not allow the extradition of Hamad, who was arrested in that country and pleaded guilty.
The indictment says both men were filmed at Cologne main station on July 31, 2006. Al-H was wearing a fan jersey like that of German football captain Michael Ballack. He was pulling one of the wheelie suitcases.
The other man caught a regional train towards Dortmund, where the bomb ended up in lost and found, and al-H took a similar train towards Koblenz, leaving it behind when he alighted near Bonn.
The 40-page indictment says al-H immediately went to Cologne airport, departed on a flight to Turkey and returned to his student hostel in Kiel, northern Germany a week later.
The prosecutors say he then panicked when German newspapers published the pictures taken of him by closed-circuit TV at the station and phoned his father in Lebanon for advice.
But the line was tapped and the Germans had identified him at last.
His father advised him to get out of Germany fast, but police were waiting when al-H arrived late at night at Kiel's railway station to take a train to Scandinavia.
The prosecutors say the two men planted the bombs as an act of revenge against Europe for the publication in Denmark several months earlier of cartoons that poked fun at the Prophet Mohammed.
Earlier allegations that a shadowy Islamist terrorist group commissioned the attack have not shown up in the indictment. Prosecutors accept it is possible the pair were fanatical freelancers inspired by Islamist ideology.
Evidence that the two men read websites associated with al-Qaeda, and probably obtained bomb-construction instructions on the internet, would not be enough to prove the existence of a wider conspiracy.
However Ottmar Breidling, one of Germany's leading trial judges dealing with Islamist conspiracies, has made clear he wants to re- investigate that issue at trial.
The presiding judge has announced that it is still conceivable al- H could be convinced of membership in a terrorist group, an even more serious charge.
Breidling has hinted at the duration of the trial by telling lawyers when he plans to take his summer vacation next July and will not be available for hearings.
The defence will argue that bomb explosions were not actually intended and that the bombs were dummies.
"We see the key issue as being, whey did the charges not explode? Maybe they were never meant to explode," said Bernd Rosenkranz, the Hamburg-based lawyer defending al-H.
The suitcases each contained an 11-litre canister of propane gas, 4.5 litres of petrol and other accelerants, an alarm clock and wires. The second bomb was found in Koblenz the day after the find in Dortmund.