Nizar Trabelsi, from attacker to terrorist: story of a promise from the Liege Standard ended in planning attacks with Bin Laden


When the Belgian police did raid in his house he didn’t recognize him. A long beard, loose clothing, that expanse of bare skin where before there was a forest of pigtails. They nailed his hands behind his back and told him it was fake. Forever. Then they escorted him out. Along the corridor, beyond the entrance door, on the dark sidewalk, inside the steering wheel. Nobody remembered having heard of him before. Nizar Trabelsi. Letters that I don’t want to say anything anymore. A name that will soon be replaced by a number. Because Nizar Trabelsi was arrested the morning of September 13, 2001, when what remained of the twin towers he hadn’t stopped smoking yet.

The police kept it under observation for a few months already. That is, since he had received the news that a Tunisian was planning a attempt against the military base of Kleine-Brogel. Not just any target, but a strategic point in the Old Continent for US aviation. Also because inside, it was said, there were dozens of nuclear warheads. The plan was very simple: cram 950 kilograms of explosive on a truck and launch at full speed against the base entrance. Just at breakfast time, when the concentration of stars and stripes soldiers would have been maximum. A suicide bombing.

An attack that would have given Nizar Trabelsi that eternal glory that he had not obtained from soccer player. Because it had been just the ball to bring it in Europe several years earlier. He had started playing in the sunny streets of Sfax, east coast of Tunisia. A city that is above all a port center, an open mouth on the Mediterranean that spits ships full of olive oil, fresh fish and dreams of glory every day. Trabelsi watches and plays them, stares and marks them. And also discreetly. Start to get noticed in the Tunisian youth, until it ends up on an observer’s notebook Standard Liege. The boy has talent, he can carve out a future. So the Belgian club decides to offer it a contract.

Trabelsi accepts and thanks, signs and throws his things in one suitcase. The time has come for him to leave Tunisia. Not on board a ship, but on an airplane. In red and white, however, only one year remains. Then it’s time to leave. Another plane, another hope closed in the bag. This time he lands in Germany, waits for him on Fortuna Dusseldorf. The red and white begin and end the season in ninth place. A year without chills, months spent floating in mediocrity. Nizar doesn’t play practically never. He isolates himself, begins to think that he can only act on more modest and creaking stages. The rest is done therealcohol and the cocaine. On the pitch, things are even worse.

So, without even realizing it, Trabelsi is sucked into the football suburbs. Every year he is forced to play downward. Switch to Wuppertaler, then to FC Wülfrath, to the Wermelskirchen and finally to VfR Neuss. Always without a trace, without anyone being able to print his name on his head. In 1994 Trabelsi has 24 years. And his football career is practically dead. The boy is on the edge of the precipice and does everything he can to not look down. The definitive push, however, gives him a meeting. The one with Tarek Maaroufi, one who in the curriculum could boast the title of first Belgian citizen who had seen himself since the post-war period remove nationality. A record that must not seem so serious to Trabelsi.

Maaroufi, who commits suicide a few years later, shows him a whole new life. Bring it with you to London, in the mosques more radicalized who have long been under the radar of the international police. Then he knows Djamel Beghal. And, if possible, things start to get worse. The former footballer flies in Afghanistan and makes it lose track. For me yes. In 2000 reappears in Germany. But he has no intention of staying long. He just has to order his wife to follow him. Thanks to two fake passports I’m back in Afghanistan. This time a Jalalabad. It is now only a matter of time. He must remain in the shadows and wait patiently. And plan his next move.

After some time he manages to meet Osama Bin Laden. In person. They meet in a villa symbolically called the house of peace. They take a tea. They exchange some opinions. “He told me I could consider him as a father – Trabelsi will then say to the judges – that’s why I love him “. An affection that seems to be reciprocated. Bin Laden knows all about him. Even from that distant time in which he took kicking a ball. So he entrusts him with a first task: there are two statues to break down. At the beginning of 2001 Trabelsi executes the orders. A commando positions some dynamite under the two statues of the Buddha of Bamyan. They were 55 and 33 meters high and were a world heritage site. The Taliban considered them pagan symbols to be cut at all costs. They had to send a message, they had to make the world understand that that attention to those two figures carved in the rock about 2 thousand years ago it was disgusting given that the Afghan people suffered from hunger.

Someone resumes the scene. Two very strong explosions and one immense cloud of dust that rises to the sky before settling on the ground. Then peace again. But this is not enough for Nizar. Not anymore. He wants to become a martyr of Al Qaeda. So come back in Belgium and plans the attack on the Kleine-Brogel military base. What he does not know is that in the meantime Djamel Beghal he has been arrested. And he said something. Because in addition to confessing his plan to blow up the American Embassy, ​​he had also told of intentions of his friend. When the police raid her apartment she finds it weapons, fake passports e formulas to prepare explosives. Trabelsi is arrested and confirmed.

In June of 2004 is sentenced to 10 years in prison. But Nizar is not a model prisoner. In 2006 he attacks one prison guard. So the former attacker is transferred to the maximum security prison of Nivelles. The calm does not last long. In 2007, when Christmas was only a few days away, the police discovered there was a plan to do so escape and arrest 14 more people. Not that it gets better with friends. “He was blasting a CD with prayers in Arabic where explosions and gunshots were heard – he tells a La Libre Belgique an ex-convict – the guards didn’t want to have anything to do with him, they were content to do it lower the volume”.

In 2013 Trabelsi’s story seems to have come to an end. Instead, the United States is demanding and obtainingextradition. As soon as he arrived in America, the Tunisian learned the news: he would have discounted thelife sentence in a prison in the Virginia. Without the possibility of probation. Trabelsi is not there. He writes to the European Court of Human Rights. He claims that that sentence tramples his dignity and its fundamental rights. The Court gives him reason and condemns Belgium, which had given the green light to extradition, to compensate Trabelsi with 90 thousand euros between moral damages and legal fees. Good news for the former striker. But there is no time to rejoice. A few months later, in fact, the Strasbourg court will affirm another truth rejecting his appeal against Belgium for extraditing him to the United States.

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