A man guilty of trying to bomb German passenger trains was sentenced to life in prison. Investigators said the botched bombing could have ended in a bloodbath. The defense argued the devices were not intended to explode.
Youssef al-Hajj Dib was sentenced on Tuesday
A Dusseldorf court Tuesday, Dec. 9, convicted the 24-year-old Lebanese Youssef al-Hajj Dib of planting bombs on two trains in Germany that would have caused mass carnage if they had exploded.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment for multiple attempted murders. His accomplice, Jihad Hamad, was convicted at a separate trial in Lebanon and is serving a 12-year prison term in Beirut.
German authorities said Dib was a hardened Islamic extremist who was trying to kill as many people as possible in revenge for the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in Europe.
The suitcases contained gas cannisters primed to explode
Men identified by police as Dib and Hamad were captured on security cameras placing suitcases packed with homemade explosives on two trains carrying 280 people on July 31, 2006.
The images ran in heavy rotation on national television as the country digested how close it may have come to the first Islamist attack on German soil since the anti-US suicide hijackings of Sept. 11, 2001, which were planned in part in the German port city of Hamburg.
"Germany was never closer to an Islamist attack," state prosecutor Duscha Gmel said.
Prosecutors argue that the explosions could have killed up to 75 people, saying only a technical fault prevented a massacre in a plot allegedly modeled on the deadly train blasts in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005.
Accused tells of plan to scare not murder
The defendant told the regional superior court in this western city on Dec. 2 at the end of his year-long trial that he had never planned to murder anyone but had aimed to frighten the German public over the Mohammed cartoons.
"I swear by God Almighty that it was never my intention to kill," he said in a final statement to the court, adding that he knew "there would be no explosion" when he left the device on the train.
He said Hamad, who is serving a 12-year sentence in Beirut over the case, was lying when he told Lebanese investigators that the two had plotted mass murder.
"It is because he was tortured," Dib asserted.
Would-be bombers fled to Lebanon
Both men had lived as students in Germany. After putting the suitcases on the trains, they each disembarked at the next station and flew from Cologne to Istanbul and then Lebanon, where Hamad was captured.
Jihad Hamad is serving 12 years in Lebanon
Dib was arrested after he returned to Germany days later.
His defense lawyer Bernd Rosenkranz told the court that his client had made a conscious decision not to include oxygen in gas canisters used in the homemade bombs -- the missing ingredient necessary for an explosion.
"The aim was to frighten people with a mock-up," he said ahead of the verdict.
Presiding judge Ottmar Breidling expressed doubts about this version of events in a hearing in late October, noting that dummy explosives would have no need for detonators, as were found in the suitcases on the trains.
A "foothold" in religious extremism
Dib is the youngest of 13 children. Two of his brothers were killed combat in the Middle East, while two others are being held in Lebanese prisons on suspicion of terror.
Due to his limited knowledge of German, Dib's university applications in Germany were repeatedly turned down. Court psychologists said he likely turned to Islamic extremism because he could not live up to his parents' expectations. They had apparently hoped he would return to Lebanon with an engineering degree.
After his rough start in Germany, Dib found a "foothold in religion," he'd told the court.