German Trial Of 911
Suspect Collapses
Embarrassment For Washington As Statement From
Mystery Witness Which Exonerates Accused

By Luke Harding
The Guardian - UK
12-12 03

BERLIN -- The trial of a Moroccan accused of plotting the September 11 attacks spectacularly collapsed last night after new evidence by a mystery witness - believed to be the al-Qaida mastermind Ramzi bin al-Shibh - was presented to a German court.
In an embarrassing blow to US efforts to bring those involved in planning the attacks to justice, a judge ordered the immediate release of Abdelghani Mzoudi.
Mr Mzoudi, 31, had been on trial for four months. He was allegedly a member of the Hamburg-based al-Qaida cell which organised the attacks, and was said to have provided logistical support to Mohammed Atta and the other hijackers.
Yesterday the judge, Klaus R¸hle, said the evidence clearly exonerated Mr Mzoudi. "If there is any doubt of his innocence he has to be released," he added. Mr Mzoudi grinned and walked out.
The trial's collapse came after the federal criminal office - Germany's equivalent of the FBI - submitted evidence it received on November 30 suggesting that Mr Mzoudi was not involved in the plot. Although the agency did not identify the source of the statement, the judge said there was little doubt it had come from Shibh, the chief al-Qaida plotter, who was arrested in Pakistan last year and is now in US custody.
He is believed to have told his interrogators that the attacks were the work of only three men - the Hamburg-based hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehi, and Ziad Jarrah - acting under his direction.
Last month Mr Mzoudi's lawyers failed in attempts to have Shibh's statements presented in court. The US authorities had passed on his testimony to the German authorities with the explicit understanding it would not be used in any court proceedings.
Last night it was not clear why the German authorities had chosen to ignore the advice, or why the Americans had apparently tried to suppress evidence that appeared to indicate Mr Mzoudi's innocence.
Within minutes of the trial's collapse, lawyers defending another Moroccan, Mounir el-Motassadeq, who was convicted by the Hamburg court on similar charges this year, said they would launch an immediate appeal.
Motassedeq is serving 15 years in prison. During his trial, his lawyers sought access to Shibh's testimony but the application was rejected.
The Moroccan is the only person so far to have been found guilty of involvement in the September 11 attacks. But after Mr Mzoudi's release, his conviction appears to be in serious doubt.
Yesterday Judge R¸hle conceded there was no possibility of verifying Shibh's statements. But he added: "We have no doubt that Ramzi bin al-Shibh is the witness and assume he was intensely interrogated about the attacks. There is a serious possibility that [Mzoudi] was kept away from all knowledge of the plan despite his links to the Hamburg group."
The prosecution cast doubt on the new evidence, and claimed Shibh, a Yemeni now believed to be held at Guanatanamo Bay, had merely been trying to protect others involved.
Earlier the court heard how Mr Mzoudi had handled money used to finance the September 11 attacks. He had also visited one of Osama bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan, it was alleged.
Mr Mzoudi, an electrical engineering student, admitted being a friend of the Hamburg-based suicide pilots. But he said he had no idea of their plans.
He said in an interview with Der Spiegel: "I can't imagine a Muslim would do something like that."
Mr Mzoudi faced 3,066 counts of being an accessory to murder, as well as being charged with membership of a terrorist organisation.
The trial's abrupt collapse is a grave blow for German intelligence experts, who have cooperated closely with US investigators, despite their countries' differences over Iraq.
Mr Mzoudi had been in prison since his arrest in October 2002. The trial had been due to start hearing closing arguments last month, but that was delayed to give the German government time to decide whether to hand over US records.
The office of the chancellor, Gerhard Schrder, requested more time to consider whether to make available transcripts of the interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, an alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks.
Mr Mzoudi's case has parallels with that of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only accused September 11 conspirator to be charged in the US.
Mr Moussaoui also wants to question Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other terrorist suspects now in American hands.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003,2763,1105153,00.html




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