October 3, 2013 / 9:56 PM / 6 years ago

Tunisian man extradited to U.S. in NATO base attack case

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Tunisian man who served 10 years in a Belgian prison for planning to attack a NATO air base on behalf of al Qaeda was extradited to the United States on Thursday to face similar U.S. charges, the Justice Department said.

Nizar Trabelsi, 43, was arrested in Belgium two days after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and was convicted by a Belgian court in 2003 of plotting to blow himself up at the Kleine Brogel base, which housed U.S. soldiers.

Trabelsi - a former professional soccer player who played for German Bundesliga team Fortuna Duesseldorf in the 1980s - was imprisoned in Belgium until his extradition.

Based on the same alleged plot, he faces U.S. charges of conspiring to kill Americans abroad, conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction and supporting a foreign terrorist organization, according to an indictment in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

Trabelsi through a defense lawyer pleaded not guilty at a hearing on Thursday, a spokesman for prosecutors said. The defense lawyer was not immediately available for comment.

A hearing was scheduled for October 7.

Trabelsi in early 2001 met al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and offered to attack U.S. targets, the indictment said.

Months later, he allegedly scouted the Kleine Brogel base at night and had chemicals that could be used as a weapon.

Reporting by David Ingram; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Paul Simao and Cynthia Osterman

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