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“Suitcase bombers” wanted to blow up World Cup stadium

Published on January 10, 2008

Dusseldorf (dpa) - Two Lebanese involved in a foiled attempt to blow up German trains in July 2006 originally planned to target a football stadium used for the World Cup shortly beforehand, a court heard Thursday.

But the pair gave up their plan because of the tight security in operation for the mammoth event, a senior police officer said at the trial of one of the men in Dusseldorf.

Youssef al-Hajj Dib is charged with attempted multiple murder for his role in the failed attack. In December, he was convicted by a court in Lebanon, which sentenced him to death in absentia, commuted to an effective 21 years. His co-conspirator, Jihad Hammad, 22, was given 12 years.

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

The police officer told the court he had been told of the original plan by Hammad when he interviewed him in Lebanon.

The witness also contradicted claims by al-Hajj Dib’s defence that the young men deliberately designed the bombs not to detonate, intending only to scare the German public.

He said Hammad left him in no doubt that they wanted to kill "as many people as possible."

During the Beirut trial, Hammad admitted in court that their action had been a protest against the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed originally published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten in September 2005.

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 set about leaving the country. Neither bomb exploded.

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.

German police said the two Lebanese men, dubbed the "suitcase bombers" by the German press, 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.

The month-long World Cup, which attracted millions of visitors to Germany, ended July 9, 2006, three weeks before the bombs were left on the trains.

Commuter trains were bombed by Islamic 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.