Punishing Failed Terror Plot: Cologne Suitcase Bombers Get Long Sentences
A court in Beirut has sentenced one of the two Lebanese men who planted suitcase bombs on German trains last year to 12 years in jail. The other one was sentenced in absentia to life in prison. The crudely-made bombs didn't go off but prosecutors argued they could have killed many people.
Youssef el-Hajdib, 23, went on trial in a German court on Tuesday. A Beirut court on Tuesday sentenced him to life imprisonment in absentia.
The men made the bombs from tanks filled with propane gas and crude detonators, hid them in suitcases and placed them on two German regional trains in Cologne station in July 2006. The triggers went off but failed to detonate the canisters. German authorities said they could have caused many deaths if they had.
A court in Beirut sentenced Jihad Hamad, 22, to 12 years in prison on Tuesday. It also sentenced his accomplice Youssef Mohammed el-Hajdib, 23, to life in prison, even though el-Hajdib is in custody in Germany, where he went on trial on Tuesday in a court in Düsseldorf. Lebanon's judicial system allows courts to try Lebanese citizens suspected of committing a crime abroad.
Hamad said the plot was intended as revenge for cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that were first published in a Danish newspaper in 2005 and sparked protests across the Muslim world. European publications including a German newspaper reprinted the cartoons as an affirmation of the right to free speech.
At the start of the trial in Düsseldorf, prosecutor Horst Salzmann accused el-Hajdib of planning the attacks together with Hamad in April 2006 in a bid to "kill an indeterminate number of people."
Dressed in a beige, hooded sweatshirt and sporting a beard and shoulder-length black hair, el-Hajdib told the German court about growing up poor in a conservative district of Tripoli, a northern Lebanese city.
"I went to the mosque every now and then but did not pray on a regular basis," he said softly in Arabic, describing himself as tolerant in religious matters.
El-Hajdib's lawyer Bernd Rosenkranz told reporters that his client had deliberately built the bombs so they would not explode. "I would not call him a dangerous terrorist," he said.
Hamad, who turned himself in to Lebanese authorities in August 2006, has confessed to his role in the plot but also says it was meant to create fear rather than kill. "We were expecting the punishment to be much lighter," his lawyer Fawwaz Zakariya said after the verdict in Beirut, adding that he would see whether there were grounds for an appeal
El-Hajdib was arrested by police in the north German city of Kiel, where he studied engineering, after he was identified from security camera footage. The German trial is expected to last until mid-2008.
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