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Mon 8 Dec 2008 12:25 AM

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Verdict due in German train bomb plot

Lebanese student planted bombs which failed to explode due to technical fault.

A verdict is due Tuesday in the trial of a Lebanese man accused of a botched attempt to bomb German passenger trains that investigators say could have ended in a bloodbath.

German authorities say Yusef Mohammed Al-Hajj Dib, 24, 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.

Men identified by police as Dib and a Lebanese associate, Jihad 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 September 11, 2001, which were planned in part in the German port city 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 modelled on the deadly train blasts in Madrid in 2004 and London the following year.

Dib could face life in prison, generally 15 years in actual jail time in Germany, if he is convicted on multiple counts of attempted murder.

He told the regional superior court in this western city on December 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.

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.

Dib was arrested after he returned to Germany days later.

His defence lawyer Bernd Rosenkranz told the court that Dib 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.

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.

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