DUESSELDORF, Germany, (Reuters) – A German court sentenced a Lebanese man to life in prison on Tuesday for trying to bomb German trains in 2006, describing the incident as the closest Germany had over come to an Islamist attack.
The court in the western city of Duesseldorf convicted Youssef al- Haj Deeb of attempted murder of an undefined number of people. Prosecutors said the planned attacks in western Germany could have caused up to 75 casualties.
“Germany has never been closer to an Islamist attack than in this case,” judge Ottmar Breidling said, adding the devices had not exploded due to an error in their construction.
The plot shocked Germany, which, unlike European countries such as Britain and Spain, has not experienced a major militant attack in recent years.
Prosecutors said Haj Deeb, 24, and his accomplice Jihad Hamad boarded two trains in Cologne, one headed for Koblenz, one for Dortmund, in July 2006 with suitcases containing tanks of propane gas and crude detonators.
Both men were filmed by video cameras at the station. The bombs failed to go off due to a technical fault.
Haj Deeb told the court during the trial he had not intended to kill anyone with the devices, saying he had intentionally built them in such away that they would not explode.
“I am sorry,” he told the court last week. He said his actions had been meant as a warning after cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad were published in a Danish newspaper in 2005, and reprinted by other European publications. The cartoons sparked protests across the Muslim world.
Haj Deeb made an obscene gesture to reporters as he entered the court room, but did not react when the verdict was read out.
Prosecutors said Haj Deeb had been the driving force behind the planned attacks and had held “terrorist motives”.
Haj Deeb’s lawyers, who had called for the acquittal of their client, have said they will appeal the verdict.
Haj Deeb was given a life sentence by a Beirut court last December although he was being held in Germany at the time. Jihad Hamad was sentenced by the Beirut court to 12 years behind bars for his role in the plot.