4 convicted for plot targeting US sites in Germany

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DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) — Two German converts to Islam and two Turks were found guilty Thursday of plotting a thwarted attack that a judge said could have killed large numbers of U.S. soldiers and civilians in “a terrible bloodbath.”

The two Turkish citizens and two Germans received reduced sentences ranging between five to 12 years due to their willingness to detail in wide-reaching confessions how they were recruited, trained and convinced to carry out the attack by the radical Islamic Jihad Union.

The case rattled the public in Germany, which has not seen a large-scale terror attack, and exposed the allure of Islamic extremism to disillusioned young people in the West

“Increasingly, violent Islam has a devastating pull over young people in our society,” Judge Ottmar Breidling said in his ruling, calling international terrorism “the scourge of our time.”

“This case has shown with frightening clarity what acts young people who are filled with hatred, blinded and seduced by wrong-headed ideas of jihad are prepared and able to carry out,” he said.

The four men operated as a German cell of the radical Islamic Jihad Union, a group the U.S. State Department has said has ties to Osama bin Laden and fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar. They plotted to attack American soldiers and citizens at facilities including the U.S. Air Force’s Ramstein Air Base in Germany, the Duesseldorf state court found.

Had they succeeded, “there would have been a terrible bloodbath with an incredibly high of number of dead and injured, above all members of the U.S. army but also civilians,” Breidling said.

Defendants Fritz Gelowicz, 30, and Daniel Schneider, 24, both German converts to Islam, were convicted of membership in a terrorist organization along with Turkish citizen Adem Yilmaz, 31. Attila Selek, a 25-year-old Turkish citizen, was convicted of the lesser charge of supporting a terrorist organization.

All four also were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and preparing an explosive device with the power equivalent to 904 pounds (410 kilograms) of TNT.

“There has never been an attack, or even a plan for such an attack, in Germany,” Breidling said. “Not only running through their heads, but also their conversations, was the idea of carrying out an attack on the level of a second Sept. 11.”

Their confessions, which filled 1,700 pages, played a role in serving them relatively mild sentences, Breidling said. Gelowicz and Schneider were sentenced to 12 years in prison, Yilmaz to 11 years and Selek five.

Schneider, who was also convicted of attempted murder related to a confrontation with a police officer when he was arrested, faced life in prison. Gelowicz and Yilmaz had faced a possible 15 years, and Selek a possible 10 behind bars.

Schneider, Yilmaz and Selek told the court they would not appeal the ruling. Gelowicz declined to comment and has one week to decide.

Chief prosecutor Volker Brinkmann said he was “very pleased” with the outcome of the trial, which began in April in a high-security courtroom.

The defendants’ goal was to attack at least 150 Americans — at pubs, discos and other public places — ahead of an Oct. 2007 German parliamentary vote on extending the country’s military deployment in Afghanistan in an effort to influence that decision, the court found.

For that, the four were also found guilty of attempting to coerce parliament.

In detailing the steps that led to their plot, the four explained how they were drawn first to the Islamic faith, then later to Islamic extremism. Both Germans said that current events — for Gelowicz the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. and Schneider the abuses committed by American soldiers on Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison — had influenced their decision to carry out jihad, or holy war.

Yet despite their willingness to “serve as angels of death for Islam,” they possessed a “barely rudimentary knowledge” of the Islamic faith, the court said.

All four completed training at camps run by the Islamic Jihad Union in the Afghan-Pakistani border region, where they were trained in how to alter their appearances, voices and build bombs out of easily obtainable materials.

But German authorities — acting partly on U.S. intelligence — had been watching them and covertly replaced the hydrogen peroxide with a diluted substitute that could not have been used to produce a bomb.

German authorities arrested Gelowicz, Schneider and Yilmaz at a rented cottage in central Germany on Sept. 4, 2007. Turkey picked up Selek in November 2007 and later extradited him to Germany.