WASHINGTON (AP) – A member of al-Qaida who allegedly met with Osama bin Laden in 2001 has been extradited to the United States to face charges that he conspired to carry out a suicide bomb attack against Americans in Europe.
Nizar Trabelsi, a Tunisian national, was arrested in Belgium on Sept. 13, 2001, 2 days after the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.
He has spent the past 12 years in custody in Belgium, where he served time on Belgian charges.
A federal indictment unsealed Thursday says Trabelsi met in the spring of 2001 with bin Laden to volunteer for a suicide bomb attack against U.S. interests.
Trabelsi appeared at a court hearing in Washington late Thursday afternoon, wearing a black T-shirt and black sweatpants with white stripes. Sporting a black beard specked with gray, no mustache and a shaved head, he squinted repeatedly, as if he had just woken up. He pleaded not guilty through his public defender and was held without bond.
Trabelsi allegedly obtained chemicals in Europe and joined others to scout a potential target – a military facility that was used by the U.S. government and Air Force.
At bin Laden’s direction, Trabelsi later spoke with Muhammed Atef, a high-ranking member and chief military planner of al-Qaeda, the indictment states. Trabelsi also met with others with whom he was to form a cell to carry out a suicide attack.
In June 2001, the indictment states, Trabelsi traveled to Pakistan, where he obtained money from an al-Qaeda associate for use in carrying out his mission.
Trabelsi, 43, is accused of conspiring to kill U.S nationals outside of the U.S., attempting to use weapons of mass destruction and conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. If convicted of the charges filed in the indictment, Trabelsi faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. Trabelsi will face charges in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.
Since the end of his official prison time in Belgium, Trabelsi has been in extradition detention for a year because the U.S. issued an international arrest warrant on Nov. 16, 2007, the Belgian justice ministry said.
The Belgian justice ministry said the decision to extradite Trabelsi “was taken based on the fact that he had no residence permit in Belgium and that his request for political asylum has been twice refused.”
The ministry said Trabelsi could be extradited because the U.S. had agreed to try him in a common law court and not a military or exceptional court and that he will not face the death penalty.
Associated Press writers Raf Casert in Brussels and Frederic J. Frommer in Washington contributed to this report.