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Moroccan Allegedly Linked to Al Qaeda Arrested in Germany


BERLIN — A Moroccan with alleged ties to Al Qaeda training camps and to the terrorist cell that plotted the Sept. 11 attacks was arrested in Hamburg on Thursday as German police continued their search for those who provide logistical and financial support to extremist networks.

Abdelghani Mzoudi is not suspected of belonging to the inner circle of the terrorist group led by Mohamed Atta, the Egyptian believed to have piloted the Boeing 767 that struck the north tower of the World Trade Center. But over the years, according to prosecutors, Mzoudi had contacts with the Sept. 11 hijackers and received terrorist training in Afghanistan in 2000.

Authorities allege that Mzoudi had connections to Mounir Motassadeq, who faces trial Oct. 22 on charges of managing a bank account that "transferred large sums of money" to members of Atta's extremist group. Mzoudi also shared a Hamburg apartment with suspected terrorists Zakariya Essabar and Ramzi Binalshibh. Essabar remains a fugitive; Binalshibh was arrested in Pakistan last month and is in U.S. custody.

Prosecutors said Mzoudi "was aware of the aim of the group to commit terrorist attacks and supported it logistically." He is charged with supporting a terrorist organization.

Surveillance of Mzoudi began a year ago, when Hamburg police--stunned that several of the Sept. 11 hijackers once lived in the city--began wiretapping suspected radicals. Part of the investigation focused on the Attawhid bookshop, where, police allege, Mzoudi discussed extremists views with seven other Muslim men from Morocco, Egypt and Afghanistan. The bookstore and homes of the men were raided, but police determined that only Mzoudi had a strong link to Atta and his group.

The police portray Mzoudi as close to, but not at the center of, the group. There is no evidence yet released suggesting that he had been considered for membership in the group of suicide attackers.

However, prosecutors alleged that the 29-year-old suspect helped find an apartment for Marwan Al-Shehhi before the militant left Germany in mid-2000 to enroll in a Florida flight school. Authorities believe that Al-Shehhi was flying the Boeing 767 that hit the south tower of the trade center.

Mzoudi is also suspected of attempting to arrange financing for Essabar to receive pilot training. Essabar failed to obtain a U.S. visa and later disappeared.

Authorities say that Mzoudi, Essabar and Motassadeq underwent terrorist training in Afghanistan during the summer of 2000. They allegedly were instructed by Al Qaeda leaders in providing cover and logistical support for the Hamburg cell.

Mzoudi came in contact with Atta at least twice, police say. The men appear in a video taken during the 1999 wedding of terrorism suspect and fugitive Said Bahaji. And on April 11, 1996, Mzoudi and Motassadeq signed Atta's will at the Al Quds mosque in Hamburg. In an interview with the German weekly Der Spiegel last Oct. 21, Mzoudi said he knew Atta from the library at the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg, where both attended classes. He said that he and Atta prayed together at various mosques and that he moved into Atta's room after the latter left Hamburg for the United States.

When asked if he was a strict Muslim, Mzoudi told Der Spiegel: "Strict or not strict, I can't hear it anymore. There are just Muslims and those who are not. There is nothing in between."

"Atta was so soft," he added. "I never thought a Muslim could do such a thing. A Muslim shouldn't kill children, old people and women."

With 3.5 million Muslims, Germany became an ideal crossroads for terrorists traveling between the Middle East and the United States. Authorities believe that many of them passed through Hamburg, where much of the Islamic community lives in segregated neighborhoods supported by 50 mosques. Officials believe that 1,000 extremists--including 100 who are considered dangerous--remain active in the port city.

"It is a very difficult society to penetrate," said Heino Vahldiek, head of Hamburg's domestic intelligence agency. "They speak in codes, and now that they know the state is watching them, they are keeping a low profile."


Special correspondent Dirk Laabs in Hamburg contributed to this report.

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