15 January 2004
HAMBURG – Defence lawyers urged a court in Germany Thursday to acquit a Moroccan man of charges of being an accomplice to the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States.
Lawyers for Abdel-Ghani Mzoudi argued that the prosecution has been unable to produce compelling evidence that their client was an active member of the alleged cell of Islamic terrorists who are believed to have plotted and carried out the airliner hijacking attacks.
Amid mounting indications that Mzoudi is likely to be acquitted, prosecutors have suffered a series of setbacks in the trial, including appeals against Mzoudi’s release and various requests to subpoena witnesses.
The cornerstone of the prosecution case is that 11 September was conceived and led by a cell of eight students from Hamburg who obtained financial and logistical assistance from al-Qaeda.
However, lawyers for Mzoudi insisted again Thursday that the attack was planned by al-Qaeda not by the Hamburg cell and the defendant was unaware of what was going on as he continued with his electrical engineering studies in the northern port city.
During the trial, the court has heard of Mzoudi’s friendship with members of the Hamburg cell for whom it is alleged he handled money and provided other logistical support.
The defence’s final arguments came after a prosecution demand for Mzoudi to be convicted and jailed for 15 years in connection with the 3,000 deaths at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.
The sentence would be the same as that passed on another Moroccan, Mounir al-Motassadeq, who was jailed in February in Hamburg on identical charges of being an accessory to murder and of being a member of a terrorist organization.
In a dramatic turn of events at the height of the current trial, Mzoudi was released from custody by the court in Hamburg on the basis of new evidence, despite vehement arguments by the chief prosecutor in the trial that he was convinced of Mzoudi’s guilt.
Germany’s Federal Supreme Court earlier turned down an appeal by al-Motassadeq to be released from custody in view of the ruling to free Mzoudi for the remainder of his trial.
The Hamburg court last month released Mzoudi from custody after receiving new information suggesting he did not belong to the Hamburg al-Qaeda terrorist cell which carried out the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
In summing up their case, defence lawyers called the prosecution’s case weak and decried the fact that the US State Department had blocked attempts to subpoena key witnesses to testify on behalf of the defendant.
The defence maintained that one such witness, alleged chief 9/11 plotter Ramzi bin al-Shibh, would have been able to prove that Mzoudi was not involved in plotting or carrying out the attacks.
Bin al-Shibh, who was captured in Pakistan in September 2002, is being held in US custody and the State Department has refused to grant the German court’s request for him to appear as a witness.
The prosecution, in summing-up arguments last week, denied that bin al-Shibh’s testimony would have offered any viable evidence one way or the other. The prosecution said Mzoudi bore a “high level of blame” for the 11 September attacks.
Lawyers representing co-plaintiffs in the case also called for Mzoudi’s conviction.
Andreas Schulz, representing trial participants from the United States, said Mzoudi belonged from the beginning to the group around Mohammed Atta, one of the leading 11 September hijackers.
Trial observers say as a result of developments in the case over the last four weeks they now expect Mzoudi to be acquitted when the verdict is announced, possibly on 22 January.
Mzoudi is only the second 11 September suspect after al-Motassadeq to go on trial anywhere in the world.
Subject: German news