THE LOOP — The plot Sami Sami Hassoun wanted to carry out on Sept. 19, 2010, would have made the Boston Marathon bombing "look like a minor incident," a judge said Thursday, before sentencing the Lebanese national to 23 years in federal prison.
Hassoun planned to drop an explosive-laden backpack into a garbage can on Clark Street in Wrigleyville, with the hopes of killing and maiming thousands exiting a Dave Matthews Band concert at Wrigley Field.
Prosecutors said the bomb Hassoun hoped to detonate could have taken out half a city block - making the Boston bombing look miniscule in comparison.
“Nobody here can think about this case without thinking about [Boston],” U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman said as he handed down the sentence. “If the bomb had been real it would have made Boston look like a minor incident.”Hassoun didn't know when planning the attack that he'd been conspiring with undercover federal agents who gave him a fake bomb — a paint can filled with ball bearings, seven sticks of fake C4 and a timer.
Hassoun wanted to drop it in a garbage can, and wait for the explosion, prosecutors said. He pleaded guilty to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted use of an explosive device last year.
“I totally accept responsibility and I aaccept the consequences of my actions," Hassoun, 25, said in court Thursday. "The amount of guilt I have inside me is indescribable.”
He turned to his sobbing parents, and his voice shook as he apologized to them for "the shame I've brought upon you."
According to prosecutors with the U.S. Department of Justice, Hassoun chose the location in the 3500 block of North Clark Street because "it presented the opportunity to inflict a greater number of casualties than other locations he considered."
Hassoun "wanted to make explosions bigger than the Oklahoma City bombings," argued Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Hammerman. The Chicago Cubs weren't playing, but the streets were teeming with people attending a Dave Matthews Band concert at Wrigley Field.
Defense attorneys argued Hassoun wouldn't have carried out the plot without the help of undercover federal agents.
"If the informant had never stepped into Sami Hassoun’s life, nothing would have happened,” said defense attorney Matthew Madden. "...Samir feels sickened that he got that far."
Prosecutors played recordings of meetings between Hassoun and federal agents in which he declared his desire to undermine Chicagoans' sense of security, and talked of undermining the city's infrastructure, police and then-Mayor Richard M. Daley. He said attacking the city's nightlife would achieve his goals.
On one video, Hassoun walked around Wrigleyville, pointing at the popular destination: "This is the heart of Clark."
Hassoun's plan to drop an explosive-laden backpack in a garbage can would succeed, he said in recordings, because "nobody would notice because they're drunk."
Prosecutors argued Hassoun's efforts to scope out possible bombing locations with the camera showed his dedication to his mission. Defense attorneys, however, argued that part of the video showed Hassoun easily deterred when he began chatting with a woman and followed her into a bar.
"The surveillance video is [him] giving the agents what they want and ask for, and the second he has a better option, he takes it," said defense attorney Alison Seigler.
Prosecutors sought the maximum sentence as a deterrent to future terrorists. Throughout their recruitment of Hassoun, federal agents gave him opportunities to walk away from the plot.
"At any time you can get up and walk away," they said in a July 21, 2010, recording. "There's no shame in that."
Hassoun will be deported back to his native Lebanon after serving his sentence.
Some have called on the court to go easy on the Lebanese youth, portrayed as vulnerable and in the midst of an alcohol induced haze when he conspired with undercover agents to terrorize Chicago.