Court convicts four men for Al-Qaeda plot to bomb Germany

CHANGING: European hostages being held by Al Qaeda are seen surrounded by masked gunmen in an undisclosed location in Mali. A US Congress committee panel will approve new rules to deal with the detention of terrorism suspects. photo: REUTERS
CHANGING: European hostages being held by Al Qaeda are seen surrounded by masked gunmen in an undisclosed location in Mali. A US Congress committee panel will approve new rules to deal with the detention of terrorism suspects. photo: REUTERS

A German court on Thursday convicted four Islamists for a bomb plot that judges said was approved by terrorist kingpin Osama bin Laden before he was killed by US Navy Seals.

The leader of the quartet, Abdeladim El-K, 33, was sentenced to nine years in prison for membership in a terrorist group and for conspiracy to commit a crime endangering the state.

His full surname was withheld under German privacy rules.

The rest of the defendants were sentenced to at least four and a half years at the end of a trial in the western city of Dusseldorf that has lasted more than two years.

The three main plotters were arrested in an April 29, 2011, raid on their shared Dusseldorf apartment as evidence from surveillance showed the flatmates were assembling a bomb to be packed with shrapnel for a potential attack in Germany.

Three days later, US soldiers killed bin Laden in a compound where he had been hiding in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

A document produced in court, which might have been seized by the US soldiers from bin Laden's computers, suggested Moroccan-born El-K had been sent to Europe by the al-Qaeda terrorist network to set up a terrorist attack.

The court was told intelligence analysts believed El-K was the author of an e-mail to bin Laden that said, "O sheikh, we are keeping our promise. Victory or martyrdom: After the preparations we will begin slaughtering the dogs."

A specific target was never identified, but police told the court the flatmates studied security at both the annual Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich and the national parliament in Berlin.

"The court is convinced the accused were intended by the al-Qaeda leadership to mount terrorist attacks in Germany," a court media spokesman said.

Prosecutors said El-K, who refused to testify and was repeatedly held in contempt of court during the trial, was the most senior al-Qaeda terrorist ever tried in Germany.

That ranked him higher than two men convicted of aiding the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. Three of the men who piloted the four planes hijacked in those attacks were Arab men from Germany who were also said to have been chosen by bin Laden.

El-K "regarded random murder of civilians as work in the service of Allah," presiding Judge Barbara Havliza said while delivering the verdict. He regarded the 2001 attacks as "exemplary and worthy of imitation."

The others jailed were Moroccan-born Jamil S, 34, who received a seven-year sentence; Iranian-born Amid C, 23, jailed for five and a half years; and German-born Halil S, 30, sentenced to four and a half years.

A defence lawyer challenged the state case, arguing that intelligence agencies had provided evidence that could not be verified, often with parts of documents blacked out.

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