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Cablegate: Life in Prison for "Suitcase Bomber" in Landmark Decision

VZCZCXRO2046
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN RUEHLZ
RUEHNP RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSK RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHDF #0043 3441643
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 091643Z DEC 08
FM AMCONSUL DUSSELDORF
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0176
INFO RUEHLB/AMEMBASSY BEIRUT 0004
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUCNFRG/FRG COLLECTIVE
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RUEFHLC/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC
RUEHDF/AMCONSUL DUSSELDORF 0192

UNCLAS DUSSELDORF 000043

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PTER PGOV KISL KPAO KVPR KCRM LE GM
SUBJECT: LIFE IN PRISON FOR "SUITCASE BOMBER" IN LANDMARK DECISION

REF: A) 07 DUSSELDORF 38 B) 07 DUSSELDORF 34 C) 07 DUSSELDORF 30

1. (SBU) Summary: In a landmark December 9 decision, the
Duesseldorf Higher Regional Court sentenced Youssef Mohamad
El-Hajdib, aka the `suitcase bomber' of Cologne, to life
imprisonment for attempted murder in an undetermined number of
cases in connection with a failed terrorist attack on two
commuter trains in Cologne in July 2006. This is the first time
that a court in Germany has issued a life sentence in an
Islamist terrorism case. Agreeing with the Prosecution, the
court found El-Hajdib guilty of having planned with an
accomplice to kill as many `infidels' as possible in retaliation
for the publication of the Mohammed caricatures in the Danish
and German press. The Defense announced it would appeal the
verdict. End Summary.

2. (U) Almost exactly one year after it began (Ref A), the
trial against Lebanese national Youssef Mohamad El-Hajdib (24)
ended before the Duesseldorf Higher Regional Court on December 9
with his conviction and life imprisonment sentence. Judge
Ottmar Breidling, widely recognized as one of Germany's most
experienced judges in terrorism-related cases (Refs B and C),
presided over the trial at a specially designed high security
court house. The five-member panel of judges under Breidling
found El-Hajdib, a former engineering student at the University
of Kiel, guilty of having conspired with his Lebanese compatriot
Jihad Hamad (22), a Cologne resident at the time, to execute a
terrorist bomb attack on the German train system in retaliation
for the previous publication of Mohammed caricatures in the
Danish and other European press.

3. (U) Following the pronouncement of the verdict, Breidling
presented a detailed account of the reasons for the judgment.
Pointing out that Germany `has never been closer to a deadly
Islamist terrorist attack' than in this case, he made clear that
the court was convinced that Hajdib and his accomplice, who is
currently serving a 12-year prison term in Lebanon for his
involvement in the plot, intended to kill as many `infidels' as
possible by placing two suitcases containing IEDs and incendiary
material on two different commuter trains at the Cologne Central
Station on July 31, 2006. The bombs were to detonate
simultaneously, but did not go off due to faulty construction.
Experts said that a detonation would have caused a major shock
wave and fireball that could have killed dozens of people,
similar to the terrorist attacks on trains in Madrid and London,
Breidling said. He rejected as `false' claims by Hajdib and the
Defense that the IEDs were dummies never meant to go off and
that they were only to serve as a `warning signal' to the German
public in connection with the Mohammed caricatures. On these
grounds, the Defense had pleaded for acquittal. Immediately
after the verdict, Hajdib's defense counsels announced they
would appeal the December 9 decision with Germany's highest
appellate court, the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) in
Karlsruhe.

Comment

-------

4. (SBU) This high profile case marks the first time in an
Islamist terrorist trial in Germany where the charges were
attempted murder and where the defendant received a life
sentence. The verdict and sentence were clearly designed to
send a strong signal that Germany, through this court, takes
terrorism cases very seriously. Although the evidence was clear
and overwhelming, the trial took much longer than expected,
largely due to delaying tactics by the Defense and the slow and
hesitant responses by Lebanese law enforcement authorities to
requests for legal assistance (there is no legal assistance
agreement between Germany and Lebanon). In his oral remarks,
Presiding Judge Breidling called the procedural maneuvers by the
Defense a reason to reform German criminal procedure. He also
observed that video surveillance, while often viewed critically
in German society, played a critical role in resolving this
case. None of Breidling's judgments in terrorism cases has yet
been overturned by the Karlsruhe court. It remains to be seen
whether this will also hold true for this verdict, with the
maximum sentence possible under the German legal system.

5. (U) This message was coordinated with Embassy Berlin.

BOYSE

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