- 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
- Motassedeq is serving 15 years in prison. During his
trial, his lawyers sought access to Shibh's testimony but the application
- 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
- Mr Moussaoui also wants to question Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
and other terrorist suspects now in American hands.
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