HAMBURG, Germany – A German court on Wednesday rejected a defense motion to free a Moroccan charged with helping the Sept. 11 hijackers, citing evidence of his long association with the Hamburg (search) Al Qaeda cell as bolstering suspicions that he supported their plot.
Defense lawyers had sought Abdelghani Mzoudi's release after the Heinz Fromm (search), the head of German intelligence, testified that Hamburg cell members received details of the plan during a trip to Al Qaeda (search) training camps in Afghanistan in late 1999.
The defense said that contradicted the indictment, which alleges that the cell decided to attack the United States with hijacked airliners months earlier.
A decision read by presiding judge Klaus Ruehle cited witness testimony as showing that Mzoudi, 30, had been "in close contact over years" with members of the Hamburg terror cell and had backed their increasingly radical anti-Jewish and anti-American stance.
In addition, the five-judge panel said, Mzoudi's alleged actions supporting the plot followed the trip to Afghanistan by the three Hamburg-based suicide pilots -- Mohamed Atta (search), Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah -- along with the group's suspected Al Qaeda liaison, Ramzi Binalshibh (search). That means the timing of when they received their final orders bears little weight on Mzoudi's prosecution.
Prosecutors maintain that Mzoudi concealed their murderous intentions by conducting financial transactions to cover up cell members' absences from Hamburg. He also allegedly helped Atta, al-Shehhi and Binalshibh elude the watch of authorities -- for instance, helping the latter two find a room in student housing.
Mzoudi is charged with 3,066 counts of accessory to murder and membership in a terrorist organization. He faces a maximum 15 years in prison if convicted.
"Naturally we're disappointed," defense attorney Guel Pinar told reporters outside the court. But she rejected suggestions that the decision showed the tide was moving against Mzoudi, saying, "It doesn't come down one way or the other."
Chief prosecutor Walter Hemberger said he stood by his case, arguing that Fromm's testimony "fits into the picture that we painted with the indictment."
Another Moroccan, Mounir el Motassadeq, was found guilty of the same charges, using identical arguments and timeframe, in February. Among key witnesses in his case was 26-year-old Jordanian Shadi Abdellah, who placed him at an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, Abdellah testified that he saw Mzoudi, along with Binalshibh and el Motassadeq, in 2000 at a bin Laden-run guest house in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Abdellah, who says he briefly served as bin Laden's bodyguard in Afghanistan, said Binalshibh was "very close" to the Al Qaeda leader. Abdellah is currently on trial for helping plot attacks in Germany for Al Tawhid, a radical Palestinian network.
On Wednesday, Pinar asked the court to seek testimony from al-Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda, who interviewed Binalshibh and alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed before their capture last year. Both are in U.S. custody.
Judge Ruehle, meanwhile, summoned as witnesses two reporters from German newsweekly Der Spiegel who this week reported on leaked interrogation records of Binalshibh and Mohammed. The defense has been refused access to the records.