Big sentence sought for 9/11 suspect
9 January 2004
HAMBURG – German prosecutors have urged a court to convict and jail a Moroccan man for 15 years for being an accomplice in the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
Although Abdel-Ghani Mzoudi has been released from custody by the court in Hamburg on the basis of new evidence, the chief prosecutor in the trial said he was convinced of Mzoudi’s guilt.
“There is enough evidence available to prove his involvement,” federal prosecutor Walter Hemberger said. “The federal prosecution is convinced that the accused is guilty.”
He called for the maximum 15-year prison sentence for the charges of being an accessory to murder in 3,066 cases and of being a member of a terrorist organization.
Hemberger said Mzoudi’s “high level of blame” warranted the maximum sentence.
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.
Germany’s Federal Supreme Court Thursday meanwhile 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 his case, Hemberger dismissed the testimony from an undisclosed informant – believed to be alleged chief 9/11 plotter Ramzi bin al-Shibh – as “completely false”.
Bin al-Shibh, who was captured in Pakistan in September 2002 and is being held in US custody, was lying to protect his friend, he said.
The prosecutor also maintained that the information provided by bin al-Shibh to US authorities was “unusable in any case” as it was unclear under what circumstances it was obtained.
He criticized presiding judge Klaus Ruehle for “a 180 degree turn” in last month releasing Mzoudi for the remainder of the trial, saying the arguments for the release were based on “speculation”.
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.
Prosecuting lawyer Gerhard Hummer said it was “inconceivable” that Mzoudi did not know of the September 11 terrorist plans. He described Mzoudi as “a man with two faces”.
Although witnesses had described Mzoudi as a quiet, helpful Moslem “this is only one half of the accused’s personality”. Mzoudi was a radical Islamist who “shared from the beginning the group’s violent ideological views” and was “an informed and reliable partner” of Atta, he said.
Mzoudi followed the day’s summaries without any outward signs of emotion. He listened attentively, often with his chin in his hands, as an interpreter translated the submissions into Arabic.
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.
Prosecuting lawyers also appeared resigned to Mzoudi being cleard of the charges. Schulz said: “One can no longer realistically expect the accused to be found guilty by this court.”
Hummer said if the court did not agree that Mzoudi’s association with the Hamburg cell meant he was an accessory to murder then he should at least be convicted of supporting a terrorist organization.
Prosecutors have suffered a series of setbacks in the trial including appeals against Mzoudi’s release and various requests to subpoena witnesses including bin al-Shibh himself.
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 say 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.
Hummer said Mzoudi was in particular the contact for Zakariya Essabar who was supposed to have been one of the 11 September pilots of the hijacked plane but had been unable to obtain a visa to enter the United States.
Mzoudi had paid Essabar’s student fees, health insurance payments and TV licence fee to disguise the fact that he was being trained at an al-Qaeda terrorist camp in Afghanistan, the lawyer said.
Mzoudi himself had been trained in Afghanistan. “Anyone who wants to learn how to handle a Kalashnikov and build bombs demonstrates impressively how he believes in solving political problems,” he said.
However, Mzoudi’s lawyers have said he was merely helping fellow Moslems and was not involved in the September 11 conspiracy.
The statement which led to Mzoudi’s release, and which the judge has attributed to bin al-Shibh, said that the only the people in Hamburg who knew of the 11 September plot were bin al-Shibh himself and plane hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah.
Mzoudi is only the second 11 September suspect after al-Motassadeq to go on trial anywhere in the world.
Subject: German news