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Tunisia agrees synagogue attack was terror act

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 24, 2002

TUNIS, Tunisia -- A gas truck explosion outside the oldest synagogue in Africa was a deliberate criminal attack -- not an accident -- the Tunisian government has acknowledged.

The statement came a day after Germany's interior minister, visiting Tunisia to check up on the investigation, said his country was "100 percent" convinced the April 11 incident was a terrorist attack. The blast killed 16 people, 11 of them German tourists.

Germany has raised the possibility Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network was behind the explosion at the 2,000-year-old Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian resort island of Djerba. If confirmed, it would be the first completed terror attack by al-Qaida since Sept. 11.

Tunisia had insisted until Monday that the explosion was an accident, but now says it was "a premeditated criminal act."

It said the blast was carried out by a Tunisian citizen, Nizar Naouar, and an accomplice who also lived in the North African country. Naouar is believed to have died in the blast, said German Interior Minister Otto Schily.

Schily said there is "technical proof" that the explosion was deliberate, citing how the gas tanks were mounted on the truck, the substance they contained and how the blast took place.

Last week, the London-based pan-Arab dailies Al-Quds Al-Arabi and Al Hayat said they had received a claim of responsibility from a group calling itself the Islamic Army for the Liberation of the Holy Sites.

The group, which said it was retaliating for "Israeli crimes" against Palestinians, used the same name as a group that claimed responsibility for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. That 1998 claim described bin Laden as a "source of inspiration" and referred to him as the "warrior sheik."

* * *

German police on Tuesday arrested 11 members of a Palestinian organization that prosecutors contend was planning terrorist attacks in the country.

At dawn, police, border guards and antiterror squads in several cities raided 19 apartments connected to a Sunni Muslim group that authorities identified as Al Tawhid and accused of supporting a worldwide holy war.

A statement from the federal prosecutors contended that the group forged passports and other identification papers, collected donations and smuggled fighters in support of the battle against the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan.

Police in Berlin, Hamburg, Dusseldorf, Munich and other cities recovered personal computers and discs, as well as false passports and forgery equipment, prosecutors said.

They arrested a man they identified as "Yaser H.," a 36-year-old Iraqi-born Palestinian from Essen, and alleged that he was the mastermind of the cell, which maintained contacts across Germany. German authorities do not fully identify suspects.

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