PARIS (Reuters) – Three men, including one of the principal figures linked to the September 11 attacks in the United States, went on trial in Paris on Monday for their alleged role in a truck bomb attack on a synagogue in Tunisia in 2002.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Pakistani believed to be one of the planners of the attacks on New York and Washington, is suspected of organising the suicide attack in Djerba on April 11, 2002, in which 21 people, including two French nationals, died.
Currently held by U.S. authorities in Guantanamo Bay, he will be tried in his absence but his co-defendant, a German convert to Islam named Christian Ganczarski, did appear, wearing a brown jacket and murmuring prayers in the box.
“What is happening here is not a search for truth but an execution,” said Ganczarski, 42, at the opening of the trial in Paris.
“I have nothing to do with these attacks but when innocent people die, that touches me deeply.”
The third defendant, a Tunisian named Walid Nouar, brother of the Djerba suicide bomber Nizir Nouar, also faces trial and like Ganczarski, denies involvement in the attacks.
All three men face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if convicted.
The Djerba victims were killed when the bomber drove a tanker truck filled with cooking gas to the synagogue and blew it up as they were entering the building, which was virtually destroyed. A synagogue had stood on the site for 1,900 years.
As well as the two French victims, 14 Germans and five Tunisians were killed in the blast and 30 people were wounded.
According to court documents, Sheikh Mohammed and Ganczarski both received telephone calls from the suicide bomber just before the attack.
The call was made on a satellite telephone brought into Tunisia by Walid Nouar together with a modem and false papers, according to the documents.
German police also recorded a telephone conversation in which the bomber asked Ganczarski for his blessing together with the reply “May God reward you.”
The Polish-born Ganczarski, described by investigators as a computer and communications technology specialist, converted to Islam in 1986 and spent time in both Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, according to court documents.
A witness quoted in the documents said he “swore allegiance” to Osama bin Laden in 1998 and became one of al Qaeda’s specialists in radio, Internet and communication.
His lawyer Sebastian Bono said his client could not face a fair trial because Nicolas Sarkozy, the then interior minister who is now president, had publicly branded Ganczarski a lieutenant of bin Laden when he was arrested in 2003.
“There is no chance of guaranteeing my client a fair trial given that he has been officially and high-handedly presented as a senior figure in al Qaeda,” he told the court.