International Law

Nizar Trabelsi Extradited, Indictment Unsealed

By Raffaela Wakeman
Friday, October 4, 2013, 2:22 PM

From this FBI press release, we learn that Nizar Trabelsi, a Tunisian former professional soccer player-turned Al Qaeda member, has been extradited to the United States after spending the last twelve years imprisoned in Belgium.

Trabelsi was arrested a few days after September 11, 2001 in Belgium and convicted in October 2003, along with 17 other individuals, in the largest terrorism trial in that country, for his role in a plot to drive a car into the canteen at the NATO/U.S. Air Force Base Kleine-Brogel. He received the maximum sentence of 10 years.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., a grand jury indicted Trabelsi in 2006 for conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals outside the United States, attempt to use WMDs, conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization, and providing material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization. The district court sealed the indictment until Trabelsi was extradited.

The indictment, unsealed this week, details Trabelsi's alleged involvement with Al Qaeda: among other connections, it says that Trabelsi traveled to Afghanistan to attend a jihadist training camp, offered to carry out a suicide attack to Osama bin Laden in the spring of 2001, was present when Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden merged their organizations into Al Qaeda in a symbolic ceremony, and scouted out the Kleine-Brogel Air Force Base in Belgium---which is used by NATO and home to the U.S. Air Force's munitions support squadron---in August and September 2001 for an attack that fall.

The U.S. commenced extradition proceedings in late 2007, and the Belgian Chamber of Indictments authorized the extradition in 2009. Trabelsi, however, challenged the authorization all the way to Belgian's highest court, as well as before the European Court of Human RightsCNN says that a 2007 plot to break Trabelsi out of prison was thwarted. The ECHR, however, chose to not issue a final decision until Belgium's highest court, the State Council, ruled on his claims.

After Trabelsi's decade-long sentence concluded, he was placed in extradition detention. The highest Belgian court  just last month rejected his claims that he would be subjected to inhumane treatment if he was sent to the U.S.

The BBC reports that the Belgian Justice Minister received several assurances from the United States to facilitate the extradition: Trabelsi would be tried in a U.S. civilian court, rather than by a military commission, would not receive the death penalty if convicted, and would not be transferred to a third country without Belgium's permission.