The FBI issued a press release Thursday morning announcing that Nizar Trabelsi, a 43 year-old Tunisian and alleged member of al Qaeda, has been extradited to the United States from Belgium. After twelve years in custody, Trabelsi faces charges stemming from a plot to bomb an overseas NATO base and has been held in Washington D.C. since his arrival in the country.
Trabelsi was indicted by a grand jury in Washington D.C. in 2006, and the indictment was unsealed Thursday. He is charged with conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals outside of the United States, conspiracy and attempt to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization, and providing material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization.
Authorities say that in the spring of 2001, he met with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and volunteered for a suicide bombing mission. He was arrested for the plot two days after the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the United States, and was convicted in Belgium in 2003.
The 2006 indictment alleges that Trabelsi was residing in Germany in 2000, and traveled to Afghanistan the next year to meet with Osama bin Laden to volunteer as a suicide bomber. At bin Laden’s direction, Trabelsi spoke with a high-ranking member and chief military planner of al Qaeda, and met with others with whom he was to form a cell to carry out the suicide bombing. After this meeting, Trabelsi allegedly traveled to Brussels in 2001, where he began taking steps to carry out the attack when he rented an apartment and bought chemicals to try to make a 1000- kilogram bomb. He is also accused of scouting a military base where NATO forces are stationed, including members of the U.S. Air Force, in preparation for an attack.
In addition to highlighting the differences between addressing the crimes of an alleged terrorist in civilian vs. military court, Trabelsi’s case is a model of international cooperation in ensuring joint security from the most dangerous of terrorists.
Belgium is known for its notoriously short prison sentences, particularly for egregious crimes. Sources from Belgium have reported that Trabelsi has been far from rehabilitated in prison; if anything, his views have become even more radicalized during his stay behind bars. European terrorism officials who feared that because of shorter sentences in Belgium, Trabelsi could be freed and pose a threat to the United States. His extradition, and our country’s tough stance on terrorism, ensures that Trabelsi will be prevented from carrying out any future attacks.
The BBC reports that before Belgium would agree to the transfer, the United States was forced to assure them that Trabelsi would be tried by civilian court rather than military tribunal, in addition to not being subject to the death penalty if convicted.
The so-called “War on Terror” is not a battle one country, even a superpower like the United States, can fight on its own. By acting in tandem with other countries dedicated to fighting terrorism, we can become a powerful force to ensure the world is secured from those terrorists intent on carrying out the most heinous of attacks. As Trabelsi’s case demonstrates, the cooperation of countries dedicated to fighting terror is an integral global tool for curbing the effectiveness of al Qaeda and similar organizations.
Kelly Ann Taddonio, Senior Research Fellow
Center for Policy & Research