22 January 2004
HAMBURG – The Iranian intelligence service was the initiator of the 11 September 2001 suicide-jet attacks on New York and Washington, according to a defector quoted Thursday by German police at the Hamburg terrorist trial.
One Federal Crime Office interrogator said he had taken down a statement in Berlin on Monday from a former Iranian agent who insisted that Iran had employed Saudi radical Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network to carry out the attacks.
The defector could not appear himself in court because he had been promised anonymity, two police officers told the trial of accused plotter Abdel-Ghani Mzoudi, a Moroccan student who lived in Hamburg and was friends with three of the four suicide pilots.
The shock claim emerged on the day when a verdict had been scheduled. The prosecution asked for the delay to hear the new evidence. The end of the trial may be delayed for weeks.
The defector, who stated he had fled Iran in July 2001, two months before the attacks, claimed ultimate responsibility lay with a man named Saif al-Adel, who was an official in Iran of Hezbollah, a radial Shiiite organization with close links to Iranian intelligence.
According to the defector, “Department 43” of Iranian intelligence was created to plan and conduct terror attacks, and mounted joint operations with al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden’s son, Saad bin Laden, had made repeated consultative visits to Iran.
According to the unnamed agent, Mzoudi too had visited Iran for three months, though the agent said he had never seen him, and did not know at what point in time the visit took place.
The claim runs directly counter to the received wisdom about the attacks: that they were conducted by young Sunni Moslems loyal to Osama bin Laden, a radical Saudi with ideas rooted in his country’s Wahabi brand of Islam. Iran’s Islam is the opposed Shiite variety.
The 28-year-old police witness said the defector claimed to have first received information about Mzoudi by e-mail after his defection and from “other Iranian intelligence sources”.
The defector alleged that following the 11 December release of Mzoudi from trial custody, the sources told him they believed Mzoudi had only been released so that he could be tailed by western investigators hoping he would lead them to other terrorists.
“That is why al-Qaeda is going to liquidate Mzoudi,” the defector was said to have stated.
The defector also declared that immediately after fleeing Iran, he had approached CIA station officers at the U.S. embassy in Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic adjoining Iran, to warn them attacks were planned.
“He wrote a five-page letter stating that something would happen on 10 or 11 September without precisely delineating what it could be,” said the police witness.
The man claimed he had been passing information to the CIA since 1992 and had been promised USD 1.2 million in payment, but had never received the promised money after his defection. He had therefore resolved to sell information to the Germans or French.
“He says he wants to negotiate terms for further cooperation with the federal prosecutor general’s office,” he said. That prosecutor, assisted by the Federal Crime Office, heads Germany’s fight against terrorism.
A second police officer, aged 29, said he found the claims of the defector were “not unrealistic”, given what Germany know of the structures of the Iranian intelligence service. But the court was unable to establish more about the credibility of the defector.
The policeman said he did not know why the defector had waited so long to come forward with such explosive information.
Presiding judge Klaus Ruehle pressed both police officers to offer their personal impressions of the man they interrogated.
“It is noticeable that you are both very cautious every time we ask for an assessment of this witness,” the judge said to them.
Federal prosecutors suddenly announced Wednesday they had new evidence, more than a week after closing arguments by both sides. The court had been widely expected to pronounce Mzoudi acquitted on Thursday.
Federal prosecutor Walter Hemberger said Thursday that though he had applied for a 30-day extension of the trial, “I don’t think we will need the full 30 days.” He said a week or two would be enough to weigh the Iranian’s credibility.
Mzoudi is accused of assisting in more than 3,000 murders and of being a member of Egyptian student Mohammed Atta’s terrorist organization in Hamburg. The state contends Mzoudi must have known what his close friends were planning and was therefore a conspirator.
Prosecutors have demanded he go to jail for 15 years, like Mounir al-Motassadeq, another Moroccan, who was convicted in Hamburg in February last year. But judges freed Mzoudi on December 11 after earlier hearsay evidence relayed by the Federal Crime Office.
In that instance, a person thought to be self-confessed plotter Ramzi bin al-Shibh said Mzoudi had not been privy to the conspiracy.
German trial procedure allows such hearsay evidence, which would be prohibited under the Anglo-American legal tradition. Judges said the second-hand statement they attributed to bin al-Shibh created reasonable doubt about Mzoudi’s guilt.
Hezbollah is a militant Shiite movement with Iranian and Lebanese branches.
After the 11 September attacks, US diplomats are alleged to have put out feelers to the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah, offering a truce with the anti-US group in exchange for all the Shiite group knew about the activities of rival Sunni terrorists.
Hezbollah’s spiritual leadership claimed in late 2001 they had received such approaches, but denounced them as an attempt to drive a deeper wedge between the two main denominations of Islam.
The US government has accused Iran of harbouring al-Qaeda operatives, but has not alleged that Iran was behind the attacks.
Subject: German news