Germany Begins Trial for Terror Suspect
HAMBURG, Germany (AP) _ A Moroccan accused of aiding the Hamburg al-Qaida cell in its plot to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was involved in the plot from the start and was a follower of radical Islam, prosecutors alleged at the opening of the man’s trial Thursday.
Abdelghani Mzoudi is being tried in the same courtroom where the first Sept. 11 terrorist to stand trial anywhere was convicted six months ago. He faces charges of 3,066 counts of accessory to murder and membership in a terrorist organization for allegedly providing logistical support for lead hijacker Mohamed Atta and other members of the Hamburg cell.
``His actions were designed to support the terror attacks,″ federal prosecutor Matthias Krauss said in presenting the charges against Mzoudi. ``He was integrated into the plans from the beginning.″
He ``showed an aggressive Islamist stance,″ Krauss added.
Mzoudi, 30, listened quietly to the charges against him, occasionally bowing his head or talking with his lawyers. He faces a possible 15 years in prison _ the same sentence handed down to fellow Moroccan Mounir el Motassadeq, convicted in February of the same charges.
Mzoudi’s lawyers have said he will not testify in his own defense. However, in response to a judge’s questions, he briefly described growing up in a Shiite family in his native Marrakesh.
``My mother taught me the good values of Islam: honesty, not to steal and not to kill,″ said Mzoudi, wearing a dark blue sweater and a full beard.
Mzoudi is accused of taking care of financial matters in Hamburg for alleged cell member Zakariya Essabar while he was training at one of Osama bin Laden’s camps in Afghanistan in 2000, and ensuring Essabar’s finances were taken care of by a third person during his own trip to Afghanistan. Essabar is wanted by Germany on an international warrant.
The 61-page indictment also alleges Mzoudi helped conceal the whereabouts of Atta, suicide hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi and Ramzi Binalshibh, a Yemeni in U.S. custody who is believed to have been the Hamburg cell’s key contact with al-Qaida.
Mzoudi found a room in a Hamburg student residence for Binalshibh and al-Shehhi that allowed them to stay in Germany unnoticed, and he allowed al-Shehhi and Atta to use his Hamburg mailing address while they were taking flying lessons in Florida, the indictment says.
Defense attorney Michael Rosenthal told the court that the charges ``contain many unproven assumptions″ and were based on ``a lack of understanding for other cultures,″ an apparent reference to the ties among Arabs in a foreign country.
He said he may call into all question all evidence about the attacks, claiming the investigation has been tainted by the U.S. government, which he said used Sept. 11 ``like a new Pearl Harbor″ to pursue an aggressive foreign policy.
``We see substantial need for further inquiry of the attacks _ an informed representative of an American agency cannot be sufficient,″ Rosenthal said making an apparent reference to the testimony of an FBI agent in el Motassadeq’s trial.
Guel Pinar, Mzoudi’s other lawyer, questioned prosecutors’ portrayal of Mzoudi as an Islamic radical and called for Binalshibh to be called to testify _ something the United States refused to allow in el Motassadeq’s trial.
The case against Mzoudi is believed to be less firm than that against el Motassadeq, largely because the original charge of aiding a terrorist organization was only raised to accessory to murder and membership in a terrorist organization after el Motassadeq’s conviction.
In an interview given the month after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mzoudi told the German magazine Der Spiegel that while he was friends with all three Hamburg-based suicide pilots and other cell members, he was not privy to their plans.
``I was totally shocked when I heard that Atta may have had something to do with the attacks,″ Mzoudi told Der Spiegel. ``I can’t imagine a Muslim would do something like that _ a Muslim would never do in children, elderly and women.″