Saturday, May 27, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Athlete Extradited to Face al-Qaida Plot Charge

MANHATTAN (CN) - A Tunisian man who has been in a Belgian prison since his arrest two days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has been extradited to the United States for allegedly plotting suicide attacks on a U.S. military post in Europe.

Nizar Trabelsi, who played for two German soccer teams, allegedly met with Osama bin Laden in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the spring of 2001. There, he is believed to have accepted the codename "Abu Qa'Qa," taken explosive training and planned with co-conspirators to bomb a U.S. target.

That summer, he allegedly picked up money for the mission in Pakistan, and researched how to buy chemicals for the attack in the Netherlands. He traveled in August to Belgium where he rented an apartment in Brussels and purchased the ingredients for a 1,000 kg bomb, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday.

Authorities believe Trabelsi settled upon that country to launch a suicide bombing on the Kleine-Brogel Air Force Base.

In September, Trabelsi moved the chemicals to a restaurant "operated by a conspirator known to the grand jury, after police had visited his apartment for an apparently innocuous purpose," the indictment states.

Belgian courts reportedly arrested Trabelsi on Sept. 13, 2001, and sentenced him to 10 years for the plot. In 2006, a federal grand jury in Washington secretly indicted the prisoner on four counts of conspiracy and material support for terrorism.

Federal prosecutors unsealed those charges, which carry the potential for life imprisonment, in announcing the 43-year-old's extradition Thursday.

The revelation falls days after the D.C. Circuit weighed the issue of whether a military commission can try conspiracy and material-support-for-terrorism cases. Such convictions are routinely upheld in U.S. federal courts as clear violations of domestic law. They have been overturned, however, in cases at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on jurisdictional grounds because they are not designated as violations of the international laws of war.

Critics of military commissions point to this as a reason for trying terrorism cases in federal court.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.