HAMBURG, Germany – Lawyers for a Moroccan man accused of aiding the Hamburg cell of Sept. 11 hijackers appealed Wednesday for a court to press U.S. authorities for the testimony of top Al Qaeda suspect Ramzi Binalshibh (search).
Attorney Michael Rosenthal said that without the testimony of Binalshibh, a Yemeni believed to be the Hamburg cell's key contact person with Usama bin Laden (search)'s network, he could appeal to the European Court of Human Rights that his client Abdelghani Mzoudi is being denied a fair trial.
Mzoudi is charged with 3,066 counts of accessory to murder and membership in a terrorist organization for allegedly helping suicide hijacker Mohamed Atta (search) and other Hamburg cell members evade authorities as they plotted and prepared for the 2001 attacks.
The U.S. Department of Justice rejected the court's request for Binalshibh's testimony in September.
Rosenthal said he expected the United States to reject the petition again.
"The answer is predictable, of course, but then we have a legal issue here in Germany -- this is an unfair trial if a witness for the defense, the only good witness for the defense, is not available," he said.
Binalshibh was captured in Pakistan on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Justice Department has also refused to let him testify in the trials of Mounir el Motassadeq (search), another Moroccan convicted in February of the same charges as Mzoudi and sentenced to 15 years in prison, and Zacarias Moussaoui (search) in Virginia.
Because Binalshibh has not been made available in the Moussaoui case, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema last week barred prosecutors from seeking the death penalty and banned "any evidence or argument that the defendant was involved in, or had knowledge of, the planning or execution of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."
The Hamburg court made no such attempts in the el Motassadeq case or after Binalshibh's testimony was rejected in the Mzoudi trial. Rosenthal said the panel of five judges should take heed of the U.S. ruling.
Mzoudi's defense team has also requested that U.S. authorities allow them to question Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (search), the suspected Al Qaeda mastermind of the Sept. 11 plot.
In testimony Wednesday, Moroccan Youssef Souissi, 31, said he knew el Motassadeq, but had never heard him say anything radical.
"He was a very normal and very nice person," Souissi said. "I could talk to him about anything, including my problems."
The statement fits with the defense argument that it was possible to be close to the group around Atta but have known nothing of the Sept. 11 plot.