Tunisian court sentences seven terrorists to life for deadly 2015 attacks

In this file photo taken on June 27, 2015, journalists stand in front of the Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel, at the site of a shooting attack, in Port el Kantaoui, on the outskirts of Sousse south of the capital Tunis. (AFP)
Updated 09 February 2019

Tunisian court sentences seven terrorists to life for deadly 2015 attacks

  • A Tunisian court has sentenced seven terrorists to life in prison over attacks at a museum and on a beach in 2015 that left dozens of tourists dead
  • Two separate trials were held over the closely linked attacks which occurred just months apart in Tunis and Sousse

TUNIS: A Tunisian court has sentenced seven extremists to life in prison over attacks at a museum and on a beach in 2015 that killed 60 people, many of them British tourists, prosecutors said on Saturday.
Dozens of defendants faced two separate trials over the closely linked shootings, which occurred just months apart in Tunis and Sousse, but many were acquitted.
Four were sentenced to life in prison for the shooting rampage at a Sousse tourist resort in June 2015, which killed 38 people, mostly British tourists.
Five other defendants in the Sousse case were handed jail terms ranging from six months to six years, while 17 were acquitted, prosecution spokesman Sofiene Sliti said.
Three were given life sentences for the earlier attack in March 2015 at the capital’s Bardo National Museum, in which two gunmen killed 21 foreign tourists and a Tunisian security guard.
Others found guilty of links to the Bardo attack were sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to 16 years, and a dozen defendants were acquitted, Sliti said.
The prosecution will appeal, he added.
One of the lawyers for relatives of French victims in the Bardo attack, Gerard Chemla, expressed “enormous bitterness” that the families had not been given more input into the proceedings.
He said a live feed of Friday’s hearing had brought some degree of comfort but lamented that the relatives of those killed had not been compensated.
Geraldine Berger-Stenger, another of the lawyers, said the hearings had not revealed the full truth of what took place.
“A page has turned, but this isn’t a trial that can satisfy the victims,” she said. “There is a taste of unfinished business.”
Tunisia retains the death penalty for terrorism offenses despite carrying out no executions since the 1990s.
The court heard that the two attacks, both claimed by Daesh, were closely linked.
Several defendants pointed to the fugitive Chamseddine Sandi as mastermind of both.
According to Tunisian media, Sandi was killed in a US air strike in neighboring Libya in February 2016, although there has been no confirmation.
Among those who were facing trial were six security personnel accused of failing to provide assistance to people in danger during the Sousse attack.
That shooting was carried out by Seifeddine Rezgui, who opened fire on a beach before rampaging into a high-end hotel, where he continued to fire a kalashnikov and throw grenades until being shot dead by police.
Four French nationals, four Italians, three Japanese and two Spaniards were among those killed in the Bardo attack, before the two gunmen, armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, were themselves shot dead.
Investigations showed one of the gunmen, Yassine Laabidi — who was born in 1990 and was from a poor district near Tunis — had amphetamines in his body.
His fellow attacker Jaber Khachnaoui, born in 1994 and from Tunisia’s deprived Kasserine region, had traveled to Syria in December 2014 via Libya.
One suspect questioned in court, Tunis laborer Mahmoud Kechouri, said he had helped plan the Bardo attack, including preparing mobile phones for Sandi, a neighbor and longtime friend.
Kechouri, 33, said he was driven by a “duty to participate in the emergence of the caliphate,” that Daesh supremo Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi proclaimed in June 2014 across swathes of territory the militants controlled in Iraq and neighboring Syria.
Other defendants accused of helping prepare the attack said they had only discussed ideas with friends. Several alleged they were tortured in detention.
Survivors and relatives in France and Belgium, who watched the live feed of Friday’s hearing, said it had helped them to turn the page.
“It was important for us to see, and especially to hear — to try to understand the role” of each defendant, said one French survivor.
“Arriving at the end of the process will help us to turn the page, even if we can never forget.”
The Sousse attack, which killed 30 Britons, is also the subject of proceedings in front of the Royal Courts of Justice in London, which is seeking to establish what happened.
After holding inquests into the British deaths in January and February 2017, judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith concluded that the response of Tunisian police was “at best shambolic, at worst cowardly.”
There have been significant improvements in security at Tunisian tourist resorts since the massacre and, in July 2017, Britain lifted its warning against “all but essential travel” to the North African country.
The attacks and resulting travel warnings dealt a devastating blow to Tunisia’s vital tourism sector from which it has taken time to recover.
Since a 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, militant attacks in Tunisia have killed dozens of members of the security forces.
Thousands of Tunisians have also traveled abroad to join extremist organizations, according to the United Nations.


Jordan criticizes Israel over Al-Aqsa Mosque changes

Updated 18 August 2019

Jordan criticizes Israel over Al-Aqsa Mosque changes

  • Palestinians welcomed the Jordanian position but expressed concerns over a decline of support for Amman’s custodianship of the holy places at Al-Aqsa

AMMAN: Jordan has stepped up its diplomatic pressure on Israel, demanding that they do not change the status quo at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Zaid Lozi, director-general of Jordan’s Foreign Ministry, summoned Israeli Ambassador to Jordan Amir Weissbrod to protest Israel’s actions in Jerusalem.

According to Petra News, Lozi told the envoy that recent remarks by Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Ardan over changing the status quo at Al-Aqsa Mosque are unacceptable. Lozi added that the mosque is a place of worship for Muslims only.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi addressed a group of EU ambassadors in Amman and “stressed the urgency of effective international steps against Israel’s violations of Holy Sites in occupied Jerusalem.”

Safadi told Arab News that the situation in Jerusalem is challenging and must be addressed. He said that he will present a detailed report on Jordan’s position to Parliament on Monday.

The ministry denounced the Israeli authorities’ closure of the mosque’s gates and demanded that Israel respects its obligations in accordance with international humanitarian law.

HIGHLIGHT

• Muslims insist that all 144,000 square meters of the UNESCO World Heritage Site are a single unit that has belonged to them for 11 centuries.

Hatem Abdel Qader, a member of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, told Arab News that Israeli authorities had been attempting to enforce major changes at the mosque.

“Security forces barged into the mosque yesterday. They went to the Bab Al-Rahmeh Mosque where they confiscated carpets and the closet where shoes are kept.”

Jordan’s diplomatic statements follow comments by Ardan, who said that Israel is disappointed with the current state of affairs at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

According to Israeli officials, the mosque area is sovereign Israeli territory, despite it being administered by Jordan. Muslims insist that all 144,000 square meters of the UNESCO World Heritage Site are a single unit that has belonged to them for 11 centuries.

Qader said that Palestinians welcomed the Jordanian position but expressed concerns over a decline of support for Amman’s custodianship of the holy places at Al-Aqsa.

“There appears to have been a gradual deterioration of Arab and Islamic support to Jordan. It surprises me that Muslims have been quiet, perhaps they see an advantage if Jordan’s role is diminished? If true, this would be dangerous.”

Qader, a former minister in the Palestinian government and a current member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, told Arab News that Jordan’s position “guarantees continuation of the status quo.”