Suspect in Tunisia attack claims innocence at 1st hearing

AP News
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Posted: May 22, 2015 11:36 AM
Suspect in Tunisia attack claims innocence at 1st hearing

ROME (AP) — The Moroccan migrant accused of being involved in Tunisia's Bardo Museum massacre insisted Friday on his innocence and refused to voluntarily be turned over to Tunisian authorities.

Abdelmajid Touil, 22, had his first hearing in Milan's San Vittore prison after police arrested him on a Tunisian arrest warrant. Prosecutors said the warrant accused him of helping plot and execute the March 18 attack in Tunis that left 22 people dead.

They said Touil arrived in Sicily with a boatload of rescued migrants on Feb. 17, but Tunisian authorities have said he provided "indirect" support to the Islamic extremists responsible for the attack.

Touil told the judge he had nothing to do with the massacre and had been in Italy ever since he arrived, his lawyer, Silvia Fiorentino, told reporters.

Fiorentino said Touil refused to be handed over to Tunisian authorities, setting the stage for an extradition procedure that may be complicated by Italy's refusal to extradite people to countries with the death penalty. She said Touil didn't understand why he was in prison, but that overall he was in good health.

Even though Touil was ordered expelled from Italy after he arrived in Sicily, his Italian teacher has told prosecutors he was in class near Milan the days before and after the Bardo attack, making it all but impossible that he was physically present in Tunis.

Interior Minister Angelino Alfano initially hailed the "investigative success" and the anti-terrorism coordination between Italy and Tunisia that brought about Touil's arrest. But as evidence mounted that Touil wasn't in Tunisia at the time of the attack, Alfano distanced Italy from Tunisia's accusations, saying police were merely executing an international arrest warrant.

Tunisia has 40 days to provide Milan prosecutors with documentation and the extradition request, which prosecutors have three months to examine, Fiorentino said. She said she was hoping to have Touil freed in the meantime.