Tunisia court sentences jihadists to life for deadly 2015 attack

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A Tunisian court has sentenced seven jihadists to life in prison for the deadly 2015 attacks at a museum and a beach that left 60 people dead, including many tourists, prosecutors said Saturday.

The two closely linked incidents occurred months apart in Tunis and Sousse, and saw dozens of defendants face two separate trials.

Twenty-one defendants appeared in the Tunis courtroom for the March 2015 shooting at the Bardo museum in Tunis, while 44 suspects appeared in a separate trial on the June 2015 shooting in the Sousse tourist resort.

Three were given life sentences for homicide over the first attack, in which two gunmen killed 21 foreign tourists and a Tunisian security guard. Four received the same term for the shooting rampage in June, which killed 38 people, mostly British tourists.

Other defendants were sentenced to between six and 16 years, said prosecution spokesman Sofiene Sliti on Saturday.

Following the trial, prosecutors said that they planned to launch appeals in both cases.

Defendants claimed that the two attacks, both claimed by the Islamic State group (IS), were organised by fugitive Chamseddine Sandi, who was reportedly killed by a US air strike in neighbouring Libya in February 2016.

Six security personnel were among the defendants, accused of failing to help people in danger during the Sousse attack.

One suspect questioned in court, Tunis labourer Mahmoud Kechouri, said he helped plan the attack, including preparing mobile phones for Sandi. Other defendants said they had only discussed ideas with friends. Several alleged they were tortured in detention.

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

“It was important for us to see – and especially to hear – to try to understand the role” of each defendant, one French survivor told AFP. “Arriving at the end of the process will help us to turn the page, even if we can never forget.”

“The trial allowed them – by organising the video conferencing and giving the floor to lawyers chosen by the victims – to finally be recognised as victims by the Tunisian state,” said Gérard Chemla, a lawyer for the French victims.