German "suitcase bombers" get stiff sentences

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A court in Beirut sentences two Lebanese nationals to long jail terms after finding them guilty of attempted mass murder for a failed bomb attack on two trains in Germany in July 2006.

19th December 2007


The bombs, had they detonated, could have caused carnage on the scale seen in Madrid in March 2004 and in London in July 2005.

Jihad Hammad, 22, was given 12 years and his co-conspirator, Youssef al-Hajj Dib, 23, was sentenced to death in absentia, commuted to an effective 21 years.

Youssef al-Hajj Dib went on trial Tuesday in the German city of Dusseldorf for his role in the failed attack, charged with attempted multiple murder.

Three other suspects, Khalid al-Hajj Dib, 20, Ayman Hawwa, 23, and Khalil Boubou, 24, were freed by the Beirut court.

A sixth man linked to the case, Saddam al-Hajj Dib, the brother of Youssef, was killed on May 21 during clashes between security forces and Fatah al-Islam militants in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.

During the Beirut trial, Hammad admitted in court that he and al- Hajj Dib had bought two gas canisters, wires and two suitcases.

Their action had been a protest against the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed originally published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005, he said.

The two men built the bombs using designs they found on the internet, placed them in the suitcases and went together to Cologne station on July 31, 2006.

They took trains in opposite directions, left the bombs on board and left the country. Neither bomb exploded.

Hammad has always denied that he was a follower of any "Muslim fundamentalist group or jihadist group." He also denied any links with al-Qaeda.

His lawyer, Fawaz Zakaria, described the sentence as "high and harsh," saying that Hammad appeared "sad and sorrowful" when learning of his punishment.

"I will appeal in 15 days and try to reduce this harsh sentence," Zakaria told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa, adding that al-Hajj Dib had influenced his client.

Al-Hajj Dib, who was arrested at Kiel railway station in northern Germany in August 2006, is reported to have shared an apartment in Cologne with Hammad just weeks before the attempted bombings.

He told the court in Dusseldorf that he was the man on CCTV footage taken at Cologne station showing a person dressed in a German football shirt pulling a suitcase on rollers which prosecutors said contained one of the bombs.

German police said the two Lebanese men had assembled the devices wrongly.

Had there not been errors in the bombs' construction, the explosions near the cities of Hamm and Koblenz would have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people.

In Dusseldorf, long queues formed outside the high-security court Tuesday, delaying the start of proceedings, as police conducted body searches of those entering.

Al-Hajj Dib appeared calm as he entered the heavily guarded courtroom and greeted his legal team.

Al-Hajj Dib's defence plans to argue that the young men deliberately designed the bombs not to detonate, intending only to scare the German public.

This is contested by the prosecution, which argues that the bombs' construction points to an intent to cause death and serious injury.

Ottmar Breidling, one of Germany's leading trial judges dealing with Islamist conspiracies, is presiding at the German trial, which is expected to last for months.

The judge did not rule out that al-Haj Dib might also be convicted of membership of a terrorist organization.

Commuter trains were bombed by Islamist extremists in Madrid in March 2004, claiming 191 lives. The London attacks in July the next year caused 52 deaths, apart from the four suicide bombers.



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