5 February 2004
HAMBURG – In a widely expected ruling, a court in Germany Thursday acquitted Abdel-Ghani Mzoudi, 31, on charges of being an accomplice to the 11 September attacks.
Judge Klaus Ruehle said the prosecution had failed to prove that Mzoudi, a Moroccan-born student at a technical school in Hamburg, had been an integral part of the alleged plot by a cell of Hamburg terrorists to carry out the attacks on New York and Washington.
Acquittal had been expected in the trial, which has seen prosecutors suffer a series of setbacks, including appeals against Mzoudi’s release and various requests to subpoena witnesses.
Tension mounted at Thursday’s proceedings when co-plaintiffs for families of the 11 September victims asked Judge Ruehle for permission to introduce a last-minute witness. Ruehle turned down the request.
The cornerstone of the prosecution case was 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 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 pursued his electrical engineering studies in the northern port city.
“Mzoudi belonged to the students around (hijack pilot Mohammed) Atta and did indeed spend time in Afghanistan – but nothing more than that,” said chief defence lawyer Gul Pinar.
The prosecution demanded Mzoudi be convicted and jailed for 15 years in connection with the 3,000 deaths at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania in the autumn of 2001.
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.
However, 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 the chief prosecutor’s insistence that he was convinced of Mzoudi’s guilt.
The Hamburg court in December 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.
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.
But even with Mzoudi’s acquittal, German security officials still regard Mzoudi as having been involved in the terrorist scene in view of his links with the Hamburg cell of terror pilots and for attending an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in 2000.
They intend to deport Mzoudi to his native Morocco if he is acquitted, according to a report in Der Spiegel news magazine.
Mzoudi, 31, was charged with 3,000 counts as an accessory to murder in the 11 September 2001 plane attacks and for belonging to a terrorist grouping.
Subject: German news