Lebanon Convicts 2 In German Bomb Plot

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 19, 2007

BERLIN, Dec. 18 -- Two college students who had been studying abroad were convicted in their native Lebanon on Tuesday of attempting to blow up German commuter trains with suitcase bombs last year in a plot that authorities said could have killed dozens of people.

Jihad Hamad, 22, a Lebanese citizen who had been attending school in Germany, was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a Lebanese court. His co-conspirator and fellow student, Youssef Mohammed el-Hajdib, 23, was convicted in absentia and sentenced to life in prison. Three other defendants were acquitted of lesser charges.

Meanwhile, Hajdib appeared before a German court in Duesseldorf as prosecutors began outlining their charges against him in a separate trial. He has been in German custody since his arrest in the northern city of Kiel in August 2006, shortly after police discovered suitcases loaded with gas canisters that had been stashed on two trains in western Germany.

German police have said the suitcase bombs were crudely fashioned and failed to detonate because of a faulty timing device. But their discovery on packed passenger trains in July 2006 stunned many Germans, who had not seen themselves as a potential target of Islamic extremists.

Many Germans were further rattled more than a year later, when police arrested two German converts to Islam and a third suspect in September, charging them with plotting to bomb American targets in Germany. Intelligence officials said the three men had trained in camps in Pakistan run by a Central Asian terrorist network that works closely with al-Qaeda.

"We've seen this summer that dangers of a larger dimension threaten us," Deputy Interior Minister August Hanning told German public television Tuesday. "We must be realistic that now, as before, we're in the sights of international terrorism."

German and Lebanese authorities said they had found no evidence that the suitcase bombing plot was connected to an international terrorist network such as al-Qaeda. Rather, they said, it was dreamed up by a handful of college students and their friends who were angry about the decision by a Danish newspaper to print cartoons lampooning Islam's prophet, Muhammad.

German prosecutors said Hajdib and Hamad downloaded bombmaking instructions from the Internet. On July 31, 2006, they carried the suitcases to a station in Cologne and boarded separate trains, heading in opposite directions. Leaving the bombs behind, they got off the trains.

The bombs failed to explode, however, and the two men fled the country. Hajdib was apprehended on Aug. 19 after he reentered Germany and returned to Kiel, where he had tried to resume engineering classes. Hamad turned himself in to police in Lebanon a few days later.

"These were second-class terrorists," said Rolf Tophoven, a terrorism analyst with the Institute for Terrorism Research and Security Policy in Essen.

At the opening of Hajdib's trial in Duesseldorf, his lawyers argued that he wanted only to scare people and that the bombs were rigged not to explode. "Perhaps they just wanted to send a message," defense attorney Bernd Rosenkranz told reporters.

Prosecutors scoffed. "They intended to kill as many people as possible," prosecutor Horst Salzmann said.

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