A German court on Thursday jailed four terror suspects who dreamed of "mounting a second Sept. 11" for a thwarted plot to attack U.S. soldiers and civilians in Germany.
Sentencing the four -- who included two German Muslims -- to between five and 12 years, judge Ottmar Breidling said that they planned to stage a "monstrous bloodbath" with car bombings in German cities.
In what Breidling called the "biggest terror plot in German post-war history," the four were convicted in a high-security courtroom in the western city of Duesseldorf after a more than 10-month trial.
The two Germans, Fritz Gelowicz and Daniel Schneider, each received 12-year jail terms.
Adem Yilmaz, a Turkish citizen, got 11 years while Atilla Selek, a German of Turkish origin, was given five years in prison for what the court called a "supporting role in the plot."
The judges stopped short of handing down the maximum 15 years because they had confessed. The bearded men sat impassively as the sentences were read out.
"Extraordinarily dangerous plot"
Breidling said the accused, now aged 24 to 31, had schemed to carry out "an extraordinarily dangerous and sweeping attack plot" with visions of "mounting a second Sept. 11."
"If the accused had managed to do what they planned, it would have led to a monstrous bloodbath, primarily among U.S. army personnel and also civilians," he said.
Proposed targets included pubs and nightclubs in several German cities frequented by Americans but also U.S. airbases and diplomatic facilities.
Breidling said there were now in Europe "many impressionable young men and men who have already been led astray, ready to kill for notions of Jihad."
They aimed to kill Americans, but also punish Germany for its military involvement in Afghanistan, he said.
The so-called Sauerland cell, named after the region where three were captured in September 2007, admitted to belonging to a "terrorist organization", plotting murder and conspiring for an explosives attack.
Authorities said they captured the men just in time, as they were planning attacks before Oct. 12, 2007, when parliament was to vote to extend German participation in the NATO force in Afghanistan.
After the biggest criminal surveillance operation in postwar history, police using U.S. and German intelligence caught three of the suspects red-handed, mixing chemicals to make some 410 kilograms (900 pounds) of explosives.
This was 100 times the amount used in the 2005 London bombings that killed more than 50 people, prosecutors said.
The fourth suspect, Selek, was arrested soon after in Turkey.
If the accused had managed to do what they planned, it would have led to a monstrous bloodbath, primarily among U.S. army personnel and also civilians
German judge Ottmar Breidling
The cases of Gelowicz and Schneider in particular shocked the country, raising questions how seemingly ordinary Germans could become radicalized by militants preaching and attend terror training camps.
The group said it was acting on behalf of the Jihad Union, a militant group with ties to al-Qaeda that is believed to have set up training camps along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Chief prosecutor Volker Brinkmann told reporters he was "very satisfied" with the sentences and said authorities had gleaned crucial insights into extremist recruitment and training from the defendants' confessions.
Gelowicz, Schneider and Selek, 25, had each renounced extremism and described their actions as a "mistake".
Three of the defendants said they would not appeal, while Gelowicz said he wanted to "sleep on it" before deciding, according to a defense lawyer.
In addition to the other charges, Schneider was also convicted of attempted murder for grabbing the handgun from a police officer while being captured and firing off a shot. No one was wounded.
Germany, which opposed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq but has more than 4,000 troops in Afghanistan under NATO command, has beefed up security and surveillance in response to the threat of Islamic militant attacks.
The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States were planned in part in the German port city of Hamburg by an al-Qaeda cell led by Mohammed Atta, the hijacker of the first plane to strike New York's World Trade Center.