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Facing US extradition, 9/11 suspect attacks French prison guards

Benoit Peyrucq, AFP | Court sketch taken on Jan. 5, 2009 at Paris courthouse, shows Christian Ganczarski on trial.

A German national believed to have been linked to Osama bin Laden and convicted for a 2002 attack on a Tunisian synagogue attacked four guards in a northern French prison on Thursday, weeks before becoming eligible for extradition to the US.

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Christian Ganczarski, a German convert to Islam who spent time in Afghanistan and is believed to have been an adviser to former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, was arrested in France in 2003.

He was sentenced in 2009 to 18 years in prison for being one of the masterminds behind the attack in the Tunisian island of Djerba that killed 21 people.

The victims were killed when the bomber drove a tanker truck filled with cooking gas to the synagogue and blew it up as they were entering the building, which was virtually destroyed. A synagogue had stood on the site for 1,900 years.

Ganczarski, whose sentence was due to end in February, is being held at the Vendin-le-Vieil prison in northern France. The United States had indicated it wanted him extradited for his suspected role in the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Prison officials said he attacked four guards with a bladed weapon on Thursday.

"The head of the establishment told him that he would be extradited to the United States where he is suspected of being one of the organisers of the September 11 attacks," said Jean-François Forget, secretary general of the UFAP-UNSA penitentiary union. "He was recorded in a telephone call saying he would do something to stay in France."

A second union official, Yoan Karar, said that Ganczarski had been put in isolation ahead of his extradition.

‘Unacceptable’

Prosecutors opened a counter-terrorism investigation into Thursday's attack, which will inevitably delay any possible extradition.

"What happened in Vendin-le-Vieil is absolutely unacceptable," said Forget. "He was placed in solitary confinement, with reinforced security measures after wiretaps suggested he was about to act and because he kept to himself the isolation measures were relaxed Monday by the head of the institution.”

The UFAP-UNSA union has been calling for complete isolation of the most dangerous radicalised prisoners from the rest of the prison population and for the construction of "small, ultra-secure institutions".

Phone calls from the suicide bomber

Ganczarski was one of three men -- including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the principal figures linked to the 9/11 attacks in the United States -- who were originally tried in Paris for the Djerba attacks.

According to court documents at the time, Sheikh Mohammed and Ganczarski received telephone calls from the suicide bomber before the attack.

German police also recorded a conversation in which the bomber asked Ganczarski for his blessing together with the reply, "May God reward you."

The Polish-born Ganczarski, described by investigators as a computer and communications technology specialist, converted to Islam in 1986 and spent time in both Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.

A witness quoted in court documents said he "swore allegiance" to bin Laden in 1998 and became one of al Qaeda’s telecom specialists.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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