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Would-be bomber sentenced in Chicago sting

CHICAGO -- A young Lebanese immigrant was sentenced Thursday 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.

Sami Samir Hassoun's sentencing in federal court in Chicago came little more than a month after bombs concealed in backpacks exploded at the Boston Marathon, killing three people and wounding hundreds more.

In imposing the sentence, the judge invoked the specter of the Boston Marathon, saying had Hassoun's bomb been real, it would have made Boston look like a minor incident by comparison.

Minutes before, Hassoun, a 25-year-old onetime Chicago baker and candy-store worker, apologized for what he'd done in a five-minute statement. Crying, he also turned to look at his mother and several friends on a nearby bench and told them he was sorry "for the shame I brought on you."

His mother sobbed aloud and said to her son: "I love you."

The defense has depicted Hassoun as a uniquely gullible youth sucked into the 2010 terrorism sting during an alcohol-addled stretch of his life by an informant eager to please his FBI handlers.

But prosecutors say he showed enthusiasm and initiative, including by deciding to drop the device given to him by undercover agents into a trash bin near Wrigley Field and a bar packed with late-night revelers.

As part of a plea deal with the government, Hassoun pleaded guilty last year to two explosives counts. In return, he faced a sentencing range of 20 to 30 years, rather than a maximum term of life in prison.

At yesterday's hearing, government attorneys displayed the fake bomb undercover agents gave to Hassoun on a September weekend in 2010. It's a paint can fitted with blasting caps and a timer.

They also played a surveillance video of Hassoun dropping the device into a trash bin near the stadium shortly after receiving it. FBI agents arrested him moments later.

Before yesterday's sentencing, Hassoun apologized in a seven-page letter to his sentencing judge, Robert Gettleman. He also insisted he's worked hard at becoming a better person, including by doing yoga in jail.

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