- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 5, 2004

HAMBURG, Germany — A Moroccan who signed the will of the lead September 11 hijacker was acquitted yesterday of helping the plotters of the attacks, ending weeks of wrangling by prosecutors trying to salvage their case with new evidence and testimony.

The Hamburg court reluctantly cleared Abdelghani Mzoudi of more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder and charges of belonging to a terrorist organization in only the second trial anywhere of a September 11 suspect.

“Mr. Mzoudi, you have been acquitted, and this may be a relief to you, but it is no reason for joy,” said presiding Judge Klaus Ruehle, turning to Mr. Mzoudi on the defendant’s bench. “You were acquitted not because the court is convinced of your innocence, but because the evidence was not enough to convict you.”

The acquittal came after the court rejected a last-ditch motion from an attorney for relatives of American victims of the attacks urging the court to ask U.S. authorities again for testimony by Ramzi Binalshibh, an al Qaeda operative linked to the hijackers.

Washington has refused to release the information. Binalshibh is in U.S. custody.

Chief federal prosecutor Kay Nehm criticized the refusal and urged the United States to reconsider.

“They must have their reasons, which they did not communicate to us,” he said. “I find this conduct by the United States incomprehensible.”

Judge Ruehle said the five-judge court — which freed Mr. Mzoudi in December on surprise evidence that suggested he had no knowledge of the plot to attack the United States — had to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Prosecutors, who had sought the maximum 15 years in prison, said they would appeal the verdict. Last February, similar evidence secured the maximum sentence on the same charges against Mr. Mzoudi’s friend Mounir el Motassadeq, the world’s first September 11 conviction.

Mr. Mzoudi had signed lead hijacker Mohamed Atta’s will while both studied in Hamburg and had moved into an apartment vacated by Atta in 1999.

Prosecutors said Mr. Mzoudi provided logistical support to the Hamburg cell of al Qaeda, helping with financial transactions and arranging housing for members to evade authorities’ attention. Mr. Mzoudi spent time at a terrorist camp in Afghanistan in 2000.

His lawyers denied the charges, saying that while their client had been friends with many of the September 11 principals, he had known nothing of the plot to attack the United States.

Mr. Mzoudi, 31, smiled as he left the courtroom with his lawyers, shaking his head at reporters’ questions.

His attorneys said he intends to resume his electrical-engineering studies in Hamburg. “It’s a great day for justice,” defense attorney Michael Rosenthal said.

Earlier, Andreas Shulz, an attorney for relatives of the American victims, said he had “new information” — apparently incriminating Mr. Mzoudi — from the U.S. Department of Justice but was “not authorized” to tell the court what it was.

He urged the court to ask U.S. authorities for testimony by Binalshibh, a Yemeni thought to be the Hamburg cell’s key contact with al Qaeda, saying there were signs recently that they might release the information.

Rejecting the motion, Judge Ruehle said he saw no signs that anything had changed. “U.S. authorities are following this trial closely and would immediately inform those involved if they planned to allow new evidence,” he said.

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