- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

BRUSSELS — A former pro soccer player who joined terror network al Qaeda was convicted and sentenced to prison yesterday for plotting to bomb a NATO base believed to contain nuclear weapons.

Nizar Trabelsi of Tunisia, who once played professional soccer in Germany, received the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison from a court that also convicted 17 other men and acquitted five in the largest terrorism trial in Belgium’s history.

Trabelsi admitted planning to drive a car bomb into the canteen of the Kleine Brogel Air Base, a Belgian military post used by NATO, where U.S. troops are stationed.

He testified that he had intended kill American soldiers, not to detonate the nuclear warheads believed to be at the base.

Two accomplices — Amor Sliti, 44, and Abdelcrim El-Haddouti, 26 — each got five years in prison.

The court also sentenced Tarek Maaroufi, a Tunisia-born Belgian citizen, to six years for aiding the Sept. 9, 2001, assassination of Ahmed Shah Masood, a leading Afghan military commander who led opposition to the then-ruling Taliban regime in his country.

The court sentenced the 14 other men for lesser crimes, including forgery and handling stolen goods. The sentences ranged from two to five years in prison.

The four-month trial was held under extreme security at the ornate Justice Palace in the center of the capital, Brussels.

“Terrorism has destroyed the liberty and freedom of individuals,” said Judge Claire de Gryse. “These acts must be sanctioned most severely.”

Defense attorney Yves de Quevy said the court ignored Trabelsi’s remorse for plotting the attack, and that he would talk with his client about a possible appeal.

Trabelsi, 33, who says he met Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and asked to become a suicide bomber, was arrested two days after the September 11 attacks.

His arrest led to the discovery of the raw materials for a huge bomb in the back of a Brussels restaurant.

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