A surprise witness testified Thursday in the Hamburg trial of an alleged 9/11 conspirator that Iran was involved in the devastating terrorist attack.
The accused, Abdelghani Mzoudi, a Moroccan, was an associate of 9/11 suicide pilots Mohammed Atta; Marwan Alshehhi; Ziad Jarrah; and other Islamist radicals in the northern German city. He is believed to have belonged to al-Qaeda’s infamous ‘Hamburg cell’, which harbored the 9/11 death pilots. Mzoudi is charged with being an accessory to 3,066 murders and with membership in a terrorist organization. His trial is the second one to take place in Germany involving a 9/11 co-conspirator. Last February, Mounir el Motassadeq, another Moroccan, was convicted on the same charges and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The Iranian witness, who fled Iran last July and whose identity remained concealed, said he is a former agent in the Iranian intelligence service, from which experience he makes his claim that Iran was the author of 9/11. He didn’t appear in the courtroom, but instead a German intelligence official read statements from his interrogation out to the court, which heavily implicates Mzoudi in the attack. In it, the Iranian national claims the accused, who spent three months in Iran as well as time in Afghanistan before 9/11, was employed in the logistics side of the September 11 tragedy, collecting information and sending it on to associates.
In reference to the trial, another German intelligence official confirmed in court last Monday that Iran’s intelligence service worked closely with al-Qaeda. According to the official, Iranian intelligence contains a “Section 43”, which plans and executes strikes. A German federal prosecutor also said that federal attorneys have had information since last October about a possible involvement of Iran in the 9/11 attacks. Several al-Qaeda leaders, wanted by the United States, are also known to currently reside in Iran, which refuses to extradite them.
The Mzoudi trial has taken some interesting twists since it began last year. Last December, the Moroccan was, in a surprise development, freed from custody after statements from Ramzi Binalshibh, a 9/11 planner imprisoned in America, were entered into the court; they denied that Mzoudi was ever a member of the Hamburg cell and didn’t have any part in the attack. As a result, the trial’s presiding judge ruled that there now existed a grave possibility that, despite the Moroccan’s connection to the Hamburg cell and despite his stay in Afghanistan, he was excluded from the planning of the 9/11 strike and didn’t knowingly support it, and therefore ordered his release.
German prosecutors, on the other hand, saw no reason to lift the custody order. They say American officials denied them the opportunity to interrogate Binalshibh to verify the credibility of his statements and believe the terrorist in American custody is simply trying to protect the remaining members of the Hamburg cell. The Germans also claim Binalshibh has made “diverging and partly contradictory statements” in the past. Al-Qaeda terrorists, they say, were taught such “tricks” in Afghanistan regarding what to say and how to behave in interrogations to cover up the true background of their deeds.
The two efforts German prosecutors have made since last month to have Mzoudi’s custody order reinstated have both failed. They have also been ordered to produce their Iranian witness before the court next Thursday. German intelligence officials were evasive in court regarding questions concerning their witness’s credibility. His sources of information are also uncertain. This has caused Mzoudi’s defense attorney to remark that the Moroccan’s acquittal is not in jeopardy, saying the new witness’s testimony cannot be taken seriously, adding that any incriminating evidence from him also has to be proven first. The trial’s prosecutor says however it should only take one or two weeks to verify the witness’s credibility.
Last Thursday was also the day when judgment was expected on the charges against Mzoudi, but the prosecution’s surprise witness has caused the trial’s extension. However, even if acquitted, the Iranian says Mzoudi now still faces justice, only this time Islamist-style. According to his statement, the Iranian witness believes German authorities released Mzoudi from custody last month in the hope he would lead them to other Islamists connected to the Hamburg cell. And it is for this same reason, he told German intelligence officials, that al-Qaeda now wants to liquidate him.
If true, acquittal may be the worst thing that could happen to Mzoudi. Sharing a jail cell with Motassadeq in Germany for the next 15 years definitely seems a more inviting option than a bullet from a former comrade. Nevertheless, it is the one terrorist attack where 9/11 survivors and victims’ relatives would probably wish al-Qaeda all the best.