A Moroccan accused of aiding the Hamburg al Qaeda cell in the Sept. 11 terror attacks was involved in the plot from the start and was a follower of radical Islam, prosecutors alleged Thursday as the trial began.
Abdelghani Mzoudi, 31, is being tried in the same courtroom as his friend and fellow Moroccan Mounir el Motassadeq, the first Sept. 11 suspect to be convicted in any country. El Motassadeq was found guilty six months ago and sentenced to the maximum 15 years in prison.
Mzoudi faces the same maximum sentence and charges as el Motassadeq — 3,066 counts of accessory to murder and membership in a terrorist organization.
Mzoudi, wearing a dark blue sweater and a full beard, listened quietly to the charges against him, occasionally bowing his head or talking with his lawyers.
"His actions were designed to support the terror attacks," federal prosecutor Matthias Krauss said. "He was integrated into the plans from the beginning."
He "showed an aggressive Islamist stance," Krauss added.
Mzoudi's lawyers have said he will not testify in his own defense.
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.
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 that Mzoudi helped conceal the whereabouts of suspected lead hijacker Mohamed Atta, suicide pilot 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 Qaeda.
Mzoudi found a room in a Hamburg student residence for Binalshibh and al-Shehhi that enabled 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.
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.
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."
Observers say prosecutors are going to have a difficult time proving their case against Mzoudi, largely because the original charges of aiding a terrorist organization were only raised to accessory to murder and membership in a terrorist organization after el Motassadeq's conviction.