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Belgian Court Convicts Tunisian-Born Terrorist - 2003-09-30

A Belgian court has convicted a Tunisian-born former professional soccer player of plotting to blow up a military facility used by U.S. forces in Belgium and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.

Nizar Trabelsi once played soccer in the German Bundesliga, but he later drifted into a life of drugs and alcohol. Then he became an Islamic militant, went to Afghanistan, and offered his services as a suicide bomber to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Nizar Trabelsi, who was arrested by Belgian police two days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States, listened impassively as a Belgian judge found him guilty of planning to drive a truck laden with explosives into a Belgian military base where local environmentalists say nuclear weapons are stored.

Belgium does not have any specific anti-terrorist laws, so the court found Nizar Trabelsi guilty of attempting to destroy public property, illegally possessing weapons and belonging to a private militia.

During his trial in May and June, Nizar Trabelsi admitted his part in the plot. He was the only one of the 23 defendants to do so.

The others were charged with plotting attacks as well as recruiting fighters in Europe for al-Qaida and the now-deposed Taleban in Afghanistan, and furnishing them with stolen or phony passports.

Chief among the other suspects was Tarek Maaroufi, a Tunisian-born Belgian citizen, whom French anti-terrorism officials describe as a leading al-Qaida recruiter in Europe.

Tarek Maaroufi was sentenced to six years in jail for his involvement in the assassination of Ahmed Shah Masood, the Afghan anti-Taleban commander who was killed on September 9, 2001, by two suicide bombers posing as journalists. French and Belgian officials say the two killers carried stolen Belgian passports that were provided by Tarek Maaroufi.

A spokeswoman for the prosecution says that 20 of the 23 defendants, all of them of North African origin, were convicted in Belgium's biggest terrorism trial.