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Germany

A Year Later, the Pain Lingers for Victims of Tourist Attacks

Twelve months after a terrorist set off a blast outside a Tunesian synagogue and killed 21 people, authorities have made a string of arrests. But for one German family, the horror of that April day will not go away.

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The Ghriba synagogue after the blast last April.

The destination was a real tourist gem -- the Ghriba synagogue, one of the oldest synagogues in Africa and one of Judaism's most holy sites. But just as the tourists were getting out of the bus to visit this place of peace on the Tunesian island of Djerba, their vacation turned into hell on Earth.

A terrorist, who was later linked to the al Qaida network, drove a truck loaded with propane gas into a wall of the synagogue, triggering an explosion that killed 21 people, including 14 Germans.

The attack on April 11, 2002, left a searing scar on the family of Michael Esper, all of whom survived the attack.

"We are just happy that we are still alive," the 36-year-old Esper told the news service ddp.

The pain lingers in the family

Brandopfer auf der Intensivstation

A victim of the Djerba attack is treated at a Berlin hospital last year.

But it is has been a painful life, too. Esper's son, Adrian, suffered burns over 50 percent of his body. Since then, he has undergone 22 operations and is expected to undergo countless others on his way to full health. "Adrian now has about 98 percent of normal movements," the boy's father said. But he still has to wear a special compression suit because of the burns and scars.

Like Adrian's doctors, investigators have devoted large amounts of time to the case, trying to track down the people who are behind it. One of the terrorists, the 25-year-old Nizar Naouar, was killed in the blast. Authorities are still looking for a second person suspected in the case.

In the 12 months since the attack, the investigation has stretched from Tunisia to France, Germany, Spain and Saudi Arabia. As a result of the inquiry directed by the Paris anti-terrorist judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, three suspected conspirators have been arrested in France -- Naouar's brother, uncle and a friend of the family. Two suspected money launderers of al-Qaida also have been detained in Spain.

Suspected mastermind arrested

In March, Pakistani officials made the biggest arrest in the case. They captured a man who is suspected of masterminding not only the Djerba attack but also the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. After the arrest, U.S. officials described the suspect, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, as being one of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden’s "most senior and significant lieutenants."

The most recent arrest in the case was made this month in Saudi Arabia. The suspect, Christian Ganczarski of Duisburg, fled Germany late last year after prosecutors said there was not enough evidence to arrest him in the Djerba attack. But the Saudis apparently have. Ganczarski is suspected of having a satellite telephone conversation with Naouar shortly before the attack.

To Esper and his family, such events are still far away and do nothing to eliminate the memories that the blast left behind. "Anyone who has not experienced that cannot understand it," he said. "You simply cannot describe it in words."

But he said the effects will be long lasting. "After the attack, we have a totally different way of looking at life. Everything has changed."

The attack also has changed life in Tunesia. As a result of the blast, the number of tourists visiting the northern African country dropped 35 percent last year.

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