Al Qaeda's 9/11 mastermind tried in synagogue bombing

6th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

The Kuwaiti-born militant, who has confessed to being the architect of the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, is reputed to have been Al-Qaeda's military commander responsible for all foreign operations.

Paris -- A German convert to Islam pleaded innocent Monday when he and Al-Qaeda's 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were put on trial for plotting a bloody 2002 suicide bombing of a Tunisian synagogue.

"Every time innocents die, that touches me deeply," insisted Christian Ganczarski, when he appeared in a Parisian anti-terrorism court to face a charge that he and Sheikh Mohammed planned the attack, which left 21 dead.

A Tunisian, Walid Nawar, has also been charged.

"What's going on here is not a hunt for the truth, but an execution," the 42-year-old Ganczarski declared, speaking through an interpreter after his defense counsel urged that the charges against him be dropped.

Sheikh Mohammed is in the US military's Guantanamo Bay prison and will not attend the French hearings, but Ganczarski and Nawar were in court.

The Kuwaiti-born militant, who has confessed to being the architect of the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, is reputed to have been Al-Qaeda's military commander responsible for all foreign operations.

The French trial, however, will focus on Ganczarski, a German of Polish origin who converted to Islam and allegedly played a leading role in Al-Qaeda's network of Islamist militants in Europe.

Monday's hearing was held before a specially constituted panel of seven expert magistrates, rather than a jury, at the main criminal court in Paris.

It opened with a motion from Ganczarski's lawyer Sebastien Bono, who argued that his client's right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty had been violated and demanded the charges be dropped.

Bono recalled that when Ganczarski had been detained France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was then serving as interior minister, had announced "the arrest of an Al-Qaeda leader, in contact with Osama bin Laden."

The defense lawyer also questioned why Sheikh Mohammed could not be called as a witness, since he was supposedly the ringleader. The judges, however, ruled that as a co-accused, Sheikh Mohammed cannot also be a witness.

French prosecutors have charged the trio with "complicity in attempted murder in relation to a terrorist enterprise" and they face a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail if convicted of the April 11, 2002 attack.

On that day, suicide bomber Nizar Nawar detonated a fuel tanker rigged with explosives in front of the Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba, killing 14 German tourists, five Tunisians and two French nationals.

Nawar is alleged to have contacted both Ganczarski and Sheikh Mohammed shortly before the bombing. Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the attack.

French and German investigators believe Ganczarski traveled several times between 1999 and 2001 to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to meet Al-Qaeda's Saudi-born figurehead leader bin Laden.

The operative, who was in regular contact with Sheikh Mohammed, put his expertise in radio and Internet communications at the service of Al-Qaeda and helped recruit members in Europe, according to investigators.

Western intelligence agencies tracked down Ganczarski after identifying a call from the Djerba suicide bomber's cell phone and he was arrested in June 2003 on his arrival in France from Saudi Arabia.

Ganczarski is said to have given Nawar the green light to carry out the attack during the phone call.

Tunisian national Walid Nawar is said to have helped his brother carry out the Djerba bombing, notably by purchasing in France the cell phone from which he called Ganczarski and Sheikh Mohammed.

The bomber's uncle, Belgacem Nawar, was convicted in Tunisia in June 2006 of involvement in the attack and sentenced to 20 years.

The trial in Paris opened one month after Sheikh Mohammed appeared before a US military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to answer charges that he was the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks.

The Paris trial is scheduled to end on February 6.

Michel Moutot/AFP/Expatica

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