BFF-30 Tunisia awaits verdicts on jihadist massacre suspects

338

ZCZC

BFF-30

TUNISIA-UNREST-TRIAL

Tunisia awaits verdicts on jihadist massacre suspects

TUNIS, Feb 8, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – A Tunisian court was holding final hearings
Friday in two trials over jihadist attacks in 2015 on a museum and a tourist
resort that left dozens dead, lawyers told AFP.

Twenty-one defendants, including two women, appeared in the Tunis
courtroom for a closed hearing on the March 18, 2015 shooting at the Bardo
museum in Tunis, which killed 21 foreign tourists and a Tunisian security
guard.

“Only three defendants still have to give their pleas, and the verdict
will be announced this evening,” lawyer Monia Bousalmi told AFP.

Victims’ family members in France and Belgium watched the hearing via a
live video feed.

Bousalmi said a verdict was also expected Friday evening on 44 suspects in
a separate trial on the June 26, 2015 shooting rampage in the Sousse tourist
resort, which killed 38 people, most of them British tourists.

The court has heard that the two attacks, both claimed by the 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.

Defendants in the two trials could be sentenced to death if found guilty,
although Tunisia has had a freeze on capital punishment since 1991.

Four French nationals, four Italians, three Japanese and two Spaniards
were among those killed in the Bardo attack, before the two gunmen
themselves, armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, were shot dead.

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

Other defendants accused of helping prepare the attack said they had only
discussed ideas with friends. Several alleged they were tortured in
detention.

Since a 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali,
jihadist attacks in Tunisia have killed dozens of members of the security
forces.

The Bardo and Sousse attacks dealt a heavy blow to the vital tourism
sector in Tunisia, already suffering high unemployment.

BSS/AFP/SSS/1942 hrs