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Hamburg Terror Cell Suspect Is Charged

Abdelghani Mzoudi conspired with Sept. 11 hijackers, German authorities allege.

May 10, 2003|Jeffrey Fleishman | Times Staff Writer

BERLIN — A second Moroccan man said to have ties to Al Qaeda training camps was charged by German prosecutors Friday as an accomplice to murder for allegedly conspiring with a terrorist cell that was planning the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S.

Abdelghani Mzoudi, who was arrested in October, was formally charged in Hamburg as an accessory in the deaths of 3,066 people and for belonging to a terrorist organization. Prosecutors say that Mzoudi was not a key member of the Hamburg cell but that he did have contacts with cell leader Mohamed Atta and Mounir Motassadeq, a Moroccan sentenced by a German court in February to 15 years in prison on similar charges.

Mzoudi is accused of giving logistical and financial support to cell extremists. He shared a Hamburg apartment with Ramzi Binalshibh, a cell lieutenant who was arrested last fall in Pakistan, and with Zakariya Essabar, another suspected terrorist who remains at large. Prosecutors allege that Mzoudi arranged bank transfers of more than $900 to fund Essabar's failed attempt to enroll in a U.S. flight school.

A statement released by prosecutors Friday asserted that Mzoudi "was aware of the group's aim to carry out terrorist attacks and supported the planning and preparation of the attacks."

Police allege that Mzoudi trained in Afghan camps in 2000 and had at least one previous association with Atta, who is believed to have piloted the Boeing 767 that struck the north tower of the World Trade Center. On April 11, 1996, Mzoudi and Motassadeq -- the first suspect convicted in the Sept. 11 attacks -- signed Atta's will at the Al Quds mosque in Hamburg.

Police say Mzoudi helped disguise the whereabouts of Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, who is believed to have piloted the second plane to hit the World Trade Center, while they were in the U.S. preparing for the attacks. Prosecutors said that the trips to Afghanistan by Mzoudi and others "served above all to consult with Osama bin Laden and his followers on the targets for the attacks and details of their preparation."

Mzoudi has admitted knowing Atta and other members of the cell while they lived in Germany and attended the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg. He denies any involvement in terrorist operations.

In an interview with the magazine Der Spiegel, Mzoudi was asked if he was a strict Muslim.

"Strict or not strict, I can't hear it anymore," he said. "There are just Muslims and those who are not. There is nothing in between."

When questioned about his relationship with Atta, he responded: "Atta was so soft. I never thought a Muslim could do such a thing. A Muslim shouldn't kill children, old people, women."

Mzoudi was arrested after months of police surveillance and wiretaps. He was a frequent visitor to the Attawhid bookshop in Hamburg, where prosecutors say he often spoke of radical views with seven other Muslims from Egypt, Morocco and Afghanistan. Police raided the bookshop and arrested the men, but only Mzoudi was alleged to have ties to Al Qaeda.

In an interview shortly after Mzoudi's arrest in October, the bookshop owner, Abdelhak Safer, said the police were "just looking for scapegoats." Safer's computers and records were confiscated, and his store stayed closed for three months after the raid, costing him about $15,000 in lost business, he said. The men who met at his shop, he said, sipped tea and did not speak of jihad.

"The police said we wanted to 'die for Allah,' " Safer said. "No one said that."

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