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Major terror trial due in Belgium

Trabelsi
Suspect Trabelsi played soccer for Wuppertaler Sport Verein FC.

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BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Belgium's biggest ever terrorism trial begins Thursday with 13 suspected al Qaeda collaborators accused of fraud, possession of firearms, belonging to a criminal organization and recruiting for a foreign armed force.

The charges include planning to attack a U.S. air force base and dealing in false passports that were used by the killers of an Afghan opposition leader.

The men, among them a former professional soccer player, are suspected of being members of a Muslim fundamentalist group with ties to al Qaeda. They face jail terms of up to 10 years if found guilty.

The trial, expected to last four weeks, comes as the United States and Europe are on high alert for possible attacks by radical Muslims and the revelation of a planned airline suicide attack in Saudi Arabia. (Terror fears high)

Brussels has often been seen as a possible target because it hosts the European Union and NATO.

One of the accused is Tunisian-born soccer player Nizar ben Abdelaziz Trabelsi. Last year he confessed in a telephone conversation aired on RTBF radio to planning a bomb attack on the Belgian air force base of Kleine Brogel, which anti-nuclear activists say houses U.S. nuclear weapons.

Trabelsi, 32, said in the interview he knew and admired Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born leader of al Qaeda.

Before moving to Brussels in the late 1990s Trabelsi lived in London and attended several London mosques.

Trabelsi was arrested in Brussels in possession of explosives and firearms two days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Two other key suspects are Algerian-born Amor ben Mohamed Sliti and Tarek ben Habib Maaroufi of Tunisia.

Their charges concern trafficking in false passports and other crimes linked to the death of Ahmad Shah Masood, who led the Northern Alliance's fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan before the Muslim fundamentalists were overrun by U.S. forces in 2001.

The charges are linked to the theft of Belgian passports in 1999 from the Belgian consulate in Strasbourg, France, and the Belgian Embassy in the Netherlands.

Two of the stolen passports were later found on the bodies of Masood's killers.

The charismatic opposition leader died at the hands of suicide bombers, disguised as journalists, in Afghanistan two days before the September 11 attacks.


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