PARIS – A European convert to Islam allegedly caught on camera beside Usama bin Laden denied Monday any role in a 2002 suicide attack on a Tunisian synagogue allegedly ordered by the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.
Christian Ganczarski, a German, said he had nothing to do with the attack that killed 21 people, including 14 German tourists, on the resort island of Djerba. Prosecutors say the attack was carried out on the orders of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — who says he orchestrated the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington — and is being tried in absentia while he remains in U.S. detention at Guantanamo Bay.
Ganczarski, 42, is accused of giving the final go-ahead for the attack on the historic Ghriba synagogue with a truck laden with propane gas that was driven up to the walls of the synagogue and exploded.
"I have nothing to do with attacks and when innocent people die, it touches me profoundly," Ganczarski, speaking in German, told the court at the start of the long-awaited trial.
Ganczarski, with a long beard and wearing a khaki-colored vest, sat behind protective glass along with a third defendant, Wahid Naouar, brother of the man who drove the truck. Six police officers guarded them.
French prosecutors say Mohammed ordered the attack that also killed five Tunisians and two French nationals. The death of the French prompted the investigation and trial here.
The three defendants are charged with complicity in murder and complicity in attempted murder in a trial expected to last until Feb. 6. They face life in prison if found guilty, although Mohammed is to be tried by the United States.
Prosecutors say phone taps by German police show that 24-year-old Nizar Naouar, the suicide bomber, sought Ganczarski's blessing for the attack.
Prosecutors contend Ganczarski was in contact with top Al Qaeda officials, including Usama bin Laden, during trips to Afghanistan and worked with the network as a computer expert.
Prosecutors say they have a video showing Ganczarski beside Usama bin Laden and a recording of his conversation with Nizar hours before the attack.
French investigators say the suicide bomber also called Mohammed in Pakistan by satellite phone on the day of the attack. Prosecutors contend that Wahid Naouar knew an attack was planned and bought the phone that his brother used.
Ganczarski said that some German documents were not translated for the trial. "The aim is not to find and establish the truth but an execution."
His lawyer, Sebastien Bono, said French authorities have "already declared him guilty, and this poses a real problem for a fair trial."
Ganczarski spoke through a translator who for security reasons was not allowed to sit beside him. Ganczarski at one point appeared to be praying.
Family members of the victims, gathered in the courthouse, said they hoped for convictions and harsh sentences.
"We are hoping for a life sentence ... and we think there is sufficient evidence," said Judith-Adam Caumeil, a lawyer for the family members of the German victims.
A month after the Tunisia attack, a statement carried in the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Quds said the attack was carried out by the Islamic Army for the Liberation of the Holy Sites.
The group had also claimed responsibility for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. U.S. investigators have long linked the Islamic Army to Al Qaeda.
Mohammed has told interrogators he was the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, saying he proposed the plan to bin Laden as early as 1996.