The self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks goes on trial in absentia in France yesterday for allegedly ordering a deadly Tunisian synagogue bombing less than a year after the assault on New York and Washington.
The proceedings in Paris are expected to highlight the reach and complexity of al-Qaeda-linked networks in North Africa, although they are unlikely to directly affect the fate of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is being held by the US at Guantanamo Bay.
Also on trial in France are Christian Ganczarski, a German who converted to Islam, and Walid Naouar, the brother of the suicide bomber who drove a propane-laden truck into an ancient synagogue on the island of Djerba on April 11, 2002, killing 21 people.
Ganczarski and Walid Naouar are charged with complicity in the murders and complicity in attempted murder in the synagogue attack and face life sentences if convicted in the Paris trial, which is expected to last until Feb. 6.
French investigators say bomber Nizar Naouar, 24, called Mohammed by satellite telephone in Pakistan and received the order to attack on the day of the bombing.
The prosecution claims that Nizar Naouar also called Ganczarski, and phone taps by German police show that the suicide bomber sought his blessing for the attack. Nizar Naouar’s body was never found.
Prosecutors also say Ganczarski was in contact with top al-Qaeda officials, including Osama bin Laden, during trips to Afghanistan and worked with the network as a computer expert.
Prosecutors say they suspect that Walid Naouar knew an attack was planned and bought the satellite telephone that was found in his brother’s home and used for the calls to Pakistan and Germany.
The synagogue attack killed 14 German tourists, five Tunisians and two French.
A statement published a month after the attack in the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Quds said the attack was carried out by the Islamic Army for the Liberation of the Holy Sites, which had also claimed responsibility for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. US investigators have long linked the Islamic Army to al-Qaeda.
Mohammed said last month he would confess to masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks, throwing his death-penalty trial into disarray.
Mohammed has admitted to interrogators that he was the mastermind of the attacks — he allegedly proposed the concept to Osama bin Laden as early as 1996, obtained funding for the attacks from bin Laden, oversaw the operation and trained the hijackers in Afghanistan and Pakistan.