TERRORISM

Al Qaeda terror trial begins in Paris

The trials of two suspected Al Qaeda leaders and a third man went on trial Monday in a Paris court. The three men are accused of planning the 2002 suicide bombing of a historic synagogue in Tunisia that killed 21.

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AFP - Al-Qaeda's supposed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was put on trial in absentia in a Paris court Monday, accused of plotting the 2002 suicide bombing of a Tunisian synagogue that left 21 dead.

Sheikh Mohammed is in the US military's Guantanamo Bay prison and will not attend the French hearings, but alleged accomplices German national Christian Ganczarski and Tunisian Walid Nawar, the bomber's brother, appeared in court.

The Kuwaiti-born militant, who according to US officials has confessed to being the architect of the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, is thought 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 trial was held before a specially constituted panel of seven expert magistrates, rather than a jury, at the main criminal court in Paris.

The hearing 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."

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 travelled 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 cellphone 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 uncle was found guilty of helping his nephew build the bomb, a large fuel container and detonator.

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.

Two other suspects in the attack -- Jouar Suissi and Tarek Hdia -- are to stand trial before a separate Paris court in February on more minor charges of violating immigration rules and possession of fake documents.

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