Jihadists get life for deadly 2015 Tunisia attacks on tourists

Updated February 10, 2019

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In this Friday June 26, 2015 file photo, injured people are treated near the area where an attack took place in Sousse, Tunisia. ─ AP/File
In this Friday June 26, 2015 file photo, injured people are treated near the area where an attack took place in Sousse, Tunisia. ─ AP/File

TUNIS: A Tunisian court has sentenced seven jihadists 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 offences despite carrying out no executions since the 1990s.

The court heard that the two attacks, both claimed by the militant Islamic State group, 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 neighbouring 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 travelled to Syria in December 2014 via Libya.

One suspect questioned in court, Tunis labourer Mahmoud Kechouri, said he had helped plan the Bardo attack, including preparing mobile phones for Sandi, a neighbour and longtime friend.

Kechouri, 33, said he was driven by a “duty to participate in the emergence of the caliphate”, that IS supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed in June 2014 across swathes of territory the jihadists controlled in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2019