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Court Sentences German to 18 Years for Tunisian Attack

A Paris court has sentenced a German Al-Qaeda militant to 18 years in prison for plotting the 2002 suicide bombing of a Tunisian synagogue that left 21 dead.

The Ghirba synagogue on the Island of Djerba

A suicide bomber driving a truck full of explosive crashed into the synagogue

A German national was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment by a Paris court late Thursday after being found guilty of involvement in a terrorist attack on a Tunisian holiday island seven years ago that killed 21 people.

The court said it had been proven that Christian Ganczarski, of Duisburg, knew of reparations for the attack, ascribed to an al-Qaeda offshoot, on the island of Djerba, and had been a member of the terrorist group.

The court also sentenced a second man, Walid Naouar, the brother of the suicide bomber, to 12 years in prison for his part in the attack. Both men had pleaded not guilty and are expected to appeal the verdict.

The prosecutors had called for longer sentences -- up to 30 years -- but Judith Adam Kom'ei, a lawyer for the German victims' relatives, said that she was confident her clients will be satisfied.

"The guilt of the two has been established, that's what's most important. How long the sentence is, is much less of an issue than the fact that the court has pronounced them guilty," she added.

Flimsy evidence?

Stephane Bono

Stephane Bono, lawyer of Christian Ganczarski, found the court ruling unacceptable

French and German investigators believe that between 1999 and 2001, Ganczarski travelled to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to meet Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden several times.

The main evidence linking him to the Djerba bombing is a telephone call taped by the German intelligence service. Just before the attack the suicide bomber had called Ganczarski asking him to pray for his soul. The German answered: If God wills it.

The controversy was as to whether this conversation was evidence of Ganczarski's involvement. In 2002, he had been detained by German police but was later released as the evidence was considered too weak.

Ganczarski's lawyer, Sebastian Bonnot, said that under the circumstances, the French court ruling is unacceptable.

“How is it possible, that in Germany the evidence is not enough to even arrest him and now in France they sentence him to 18 years in prison?" he asked.

Sheikh Mohammed to be tried later

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be tried at a later date for his involvement

Also implicated in the attack is 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was said to be al-Qaeda's military commander in charge of all foreign operations.

Due to the fact that Sheikh Mohammed is currently imprisoned in the US base in Guantanamo Bay and could not appear in court, judges decided to separate his case from the others in order to expedite the process. Mohammed will be tried at a later date.

The suicide bombing hit an ancient synagogue on the Tunisian island resort of Djerba on April 11, 2002, leaving 14 German tourists, five Tunisians and two French citizens dead. Suicide bomber Nizar Naouar, a native of Tunisia, drove a fuel tanker up to the synagogue and blew it up.

Ganczarski, a father of five children who converted to Islam in 1986, had denied any knowledge of the plot or any involvement in al-Qaeda, insisting that earlier travels to Afghanistan, and his meetings with Osama bin Laden and other high ranking terrorists, had nothing to do with it.

He had already been in pre-trial detention in France for five-and-a-half years.

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