Would-Be Chicago Backpack Bomber Gets 23 Years

Michael Tarm, San Francisco Chronicle, May 30, 2013

A judge raised the specter of the Boston Marathon on Thursday as he sentenced a young Lebanese immigrant to 23 years in prison for placing a backpack he believed contained a powerful bomb along a bustling city street near the Chicago Cubs‘ baseball stadium.

Everyone at Sami Samir Hassoun‘s sentencing in a crowded courtroom in Chicago could not help but think of the bombs that went off a month ago concealed in backpacks on the East Coast, killing three people and wounding hundreds more, U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman said.

“Let’s give the elephant in the room a name: It’s called the Boston Marathon,” he said. “What would have happened had (Hassoun’s) bomb been real would have made Boston look like a minor incident.”

Earlier, prosecutor Joel Hammerman held up the ominous-looking but harmless device fashioned from a paint can that Hassoun put in a trash bin near Wrigley Field, placing it in front of the judge. Hassoun was told by undercover FBI agents, the prosecutor said, that it would destroy half the city block and kill dozens of people.

Minutes before the sentence was announced, Hassoun, a 25-year-old one-time Chicago baker and candy-store worker, apologized for what he’d done in a five-minute statement. {snip}

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During the hearing, prosecutors played secret video recordings of Hassoun during the sting in which he talks about killing people. He explains that one reason to stage the attack along bar-strewn Clark Street is that late-night revelers will be so drunk they wouldn’t notice him dropping a bomb into the trash bin.

In another chilling video shown in court, Hassoun smiles and hums a tune to himself on the night of Saturday, Sept. 18, 2010 — moments before heading off to what he thought would be a major terrorist attack.

“You feel good?” an undercover agent asks.

“Yeah, I’m (doing) great man,” Hassoun responds.

{snip}

Prosecutors also played a surveillance video of Hassoun, wearing a black hoodie, dropping the device into a trash bin at about 12:20 a.m. on Sept. 19, 2010—while people crowded the sidewalk and music blared from area bars. FBI agents arrested him moments later.

{snip}

The Beirut-born Hassoun blamed his actions in part on childhood trauma living in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. During civil strife there, Hassoun, then 11, witnessed machete killings from an apartment balcony, he wrote.

His family moved from Lebanon to the U.S. in 2008.

To dampen his lingering emotional pain, he wrote that he drank alcohol “all day, every day” for months before the would-be stadium attack in 2010. He favored whole bottles of Johnnie Walker Black, he wrote.

{snip}

Undercover agents also repeatedly asked Hassoun if he wanted to back out, telling him there would be no shame in doing so. But he repeatedly declined, saying he wanted to press ahead,” Hammerman told the court Thursday.

“It was his understanding that in 15 minutes (after placing the backpack in the bin), there would be death and carnage all over Clark Street,” the prosecutor said.

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