Skip to comments.Soccer Player Convicted in Terror Trial
Posted on 09/30/2003 10:21:05 AM PDT by machman
BRUSSELS, Belgium Sept. 30
A former pro soccer player who joined the al-Qaida terrorist network was convicted and sentenced to prison Tuesday for plotting to bomb a NATO base believed to contain nuclear weapons.
Nizar Trabelsi of Tunisia, who once played professional soccer in Germany, received the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison from a court that also convicted 17 other men and acquitted five others in the largest terrorism trial in Belgium's history.
Trabelsi admitted planning to drive a car bomb into the canteen of the Kleine Brogel air base, a Belgian military post used by NATO where U.S. troops are stationed.
Trabelsi testified that he intended kill American soldiers, not to detonate the nuclear warheads that are believed to be at the base.
Two accomplices Amor Sliti, 44, and Abdelcrim El-Haddouti, 26 each got five years in prison.
The court also sentenced Tarek Maaroufi, also of Tunisia, to six years for aiding the Sept. 9, 2001, assassination of Ahmed Shah Massood, a leading Afghan military commander who led opposition to the then-ruling Taliban regime in his country.
The court sentenced 14 other men for lesser crimes, including forgery and handling stolen goods, and imposed sentences ranging from two to five years in prison.
The 4-month trial was held under extreme security at the ornate Justice Palace in the center of Brussels.
"Terrorism has destroyed the liberty and freedom of individuals," said Judge Claire de Gryse. "These acts must be sanctioned most severely."
Defense attorney Yves de Quevy said the court had ignored the Trabelsi's remorse for plotting the attack and he would talk with his client about a possible appeal.
"They made an example of Mr. Trabelsi after the Sept. 11 attacks," de Quevy said. "We believe it was an overly severe sentence."
Trabelsi, 33, fidgeted in his seat during the lengthy court session, smiling at times and tried to talk to his co-defendants. His face was impassive as the sentences were read.
Federal prosecutors said the group formed a "spider's web" of Islamic radicals, plotting attacks and recruiting fighters in Europe for al-Qaida and the now-deposed Taliban in Afghanistan.
Trabelsi, who says he met Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and asked to become a suicide bomber, was arrested two days after the Sept. 11 attacks.
His arrest led to the discovery of the raw materials for a huge bomb in the back of a Brussels restaurant.
"While bin Laden was preparing for attacks on the United States, Trabelsi and others were preparing and looking for explosives in Europe," the judge concluded.
She said phone and credit card records showed Trabelsi's links with terrorist cells in other parts of Europe. Evidence from Belgian army experts on the explosives gathered by Trabelsi showed the attack was "technically possible," de Gryse said.
Trabelsi has denied allegations, made by a terrorist suspect held in France, that he plotted to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Paris. French authorities are investigating the accusation.
Because Belgium has no specific anti-terrorist laws, Trabelsi was charged with attempting to destroy public property, illegal arms possession and membership in a private militia.
Maaroufi, 41, was accused of involvement in a fake passport ring linked to the Sept. 9, 2001, killing of Massood. The anti-Taliban leader was killed by two suicide bombers allegedly traveling on false Belgian passports. A Tunisian-born Belgian citizen, Maaroufi was also accused of trying to recruit for a foreign military force.
The other suspects, who are all of North African origin, faced a range of charges including forgery, conspiracy to commit a crime, handling stolen goods or membership of a private militia.