A Tunisian man who the Justice Department accused of working with members of Al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden, to plot a suicide bomb attack against Americans in Europe was acquitted Friday by a Washington, DC, jury of all charges he faced – a rarity in a terror trial.
The federal trial against Nizar Trabelsi – which began in May – ended Friday in unanimous not-guilty verdicts for the three charges he faced: conspiracy and attempt to use a weapon of mass destruction as well as conspiracy to kill US nationals outside the states.
“Innocent. Finally, I am innocent. 22 years,” Trabelsi, a former professional soccer player in Germany, said after members of the jury left following his acquittal, according to his attorney.
Trabelsi was extradited to the US in 2013 after being indicted by a US grand jury in 2006. Prior to his extradition he served a decade in prison in Belgium following a conviction for planning an attack on the Kleine-Brogel Air Force Base, which housed American soldiers in the country in 2001.
“The verdict reflects the best of our legal system,” Trabelsi’s attorney, Sabrina Shroff, told CNN. “Mr. Trabelsi was very lucky – he had an intelligent and fair jury who reached the right verdict.”
“Mr. Trabelsi hopes the government of Belgium will right its wrong – a wrong that cost him 22 years of his life,” Shroff added.
“We respect the jury’s verdict and thank them for their service,” Patricia Hartman, a spokesperson for the US attorney’s office in DC, told CNN.
Prosecutors had alleged in Trabelsi’s indictment that he met with then-al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the Spring prior to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and “offered to carry out a suicide bomb attack against United States interests.” CNN has previously reported that during his 2003 trial in a Belgian court, Trabelsi admitted that he had planned to drive a car bomb into the air base and intended to kill American soldiers.
However, Trabelsi said during his US trial that his past confessions were false, according to the Washington Post.
US officials also accused Trabelsi of traveling to Pakistan in June 2001 to meet with and receive funds from an “al Qaeda associate.” They alleged he then purchased chemicals that could be used to make explosives in Belgium, according to court documents.
Had he been convicted, the 52-year-old Trabelsi faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.
In recent years, at least two men accused of backing or operating on behalf of al Qaeda and charged with conspiracy to murder US nationals have been found guilty. In 2018, Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, an American, was sentenced to 45 years, while Ibrahim Suleiman Adnan Adam Harun was sentenced to life in prison.