WASHINGTON–A former Tunisian professional soccer player turned convicted al-Qaida fighter was extradited from Belgium to the United States on Thursday to face suicide bombing charges, officials said. Nizar Trabelsi, who was arrested just two days after the September 11 attacks in 2001, was sentenced to 10 years in jail in 2003 for plotting a suicide truck bombing against a Belgian air base where American troops are stationed. Washington has long sought his extradition, suspecting him of also being behind a more devastating al-Qaida plot. The 43-year-old Trabelsi has strongly resisted extradition to the United States, fearing “inhumane” treatment.
His last appeal was rejected on Sept. 23 by the Belgian Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, after 12 years in custody in Belgium serving time on Belgian charges. Belgium has received “assurances from U.S. authorities” that he would be tried by a civil court rather than a military tribunal and would not be sentenced to death if convicted, Justice Minister Annemie Turtelboom was quoted as saying by the Belga news agency. His extradition was requested by Washington in November 2008. Two years earlier, a grand jury in the U.S. District Court in Washington indicted Trabelsi, and a superseding indictment was filed the following year. According to the indictment unsealed Thursday, Trabelsi prepared to travel to Afghanistan to train for jihad while living in Germany in 2000.
He met with Bin Laden in Afghanistan in the spring of 2001 to volunteer for a suicide attack against U.S. interests.
At Bin Laden’s direction, Trabelsi later spoke with Al-Qaeda’s chief military planner Muhammed Atef. He then allegedly prepared for the attack in the following months by obtaining chemicals in Europe and enlisted associates to help him scout a U.S. military facility used by the U.S. government and U.S. Air Force. In June 2001, Trabelsi traveled to Pakistan to obtain money from an al-Qaida associate to carry out the mission, according to the indictment. He rented an apartment a month later in Brussels and purchased chemicals to produce a 1,000-kilogram (2,200-pound) bomb. “The Americans believe Nizar Trabelsi is an active member of an al-Qaida terrorist network, which was developing terror activities beyond what he was already been convicted of in Belgium,” said a spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor. Trabelsi faces U.S. charges of conspiring to kill Americans outside the United States, conspiracy and attempt to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization, and providing material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization. If convicted of the charges, Trabelsi faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. Trabelsi played football in Germany for Fortuna Dusseldorf, but later fell into drug use and became attracted to extremist ideas.