AGADIR, Morocco – A Moroccan man acquitted of charges he helped the Sept. 11 hijackers was welcomed home Tuesday by his family and security agents after Germany deported him.
Abdelghani Mzoudi (search), 32, was acquitted in February 2004 of charges he helped hijackers Mohamed Atta (search), Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah in their plot to attack the United States. He faced charges of more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder and membership in a terrorist organization.
"I'm happy because I'm in my country, and I thank God for that," Mzoudi told The Associated Press. "Before anything, I have to decide about my future. I have not yet decided what I'm going to do."
His mother and brother greeted him at the airport in this southern coastal town after he arrived from Hanover, Germany, accompanied by his German lawyer, Michael Rosenthal.
Sitting next to him at the terminal, his mother, Aicha Ajda, said they would celebrate her son's return later in the day when they reached their home in Marrakesh (search) to the east. And "God willing, I'll marry him to my sister's daughter," she said.
According to trial testimony, Mzoudi traveled to Afghanistan where he stayed at a guest house in Kandahar run by Osama bin Laden and was close friends with the suicide hijackers in Hamburg. German judges ruled that it was not proven he knew anything about their plot.
After his acquittal was upheld earlier this month, Hamburg's top security official, Udo Nagel, said his office was still ordering him expelled from the country because it "stands by its view that Mzoudi threatens the free democratic order and supports terrorist organizations." Following Mzoudi's departure, Nagel said he would not be permitted to return.
"Mzoudi was part of the Islamist scene, endangered the security of Germany and supported a terrorist network," Nagel said. "Such people are not welcome in Germany."
Mzouodi said he was innocent. In Morocco Tuesday, he refused to talk about his time in Afghanistan.
"They arrested us just because we knew the guys. I wasn't the only one who knew them in the whole of Hamburg," he said, referring to the hijackers. "All Arabs knew each other."
He said the three men he was accused of helping plot the Sept. 11 attacks, "were my neighbors." Atta, suspected leader of the hijackers, was a fellow student at his university, said Mzoudi, who was an electrical engineering student when he was arrested in 2002.
The Egyptian-born Atta was "ordinary. I guess we were friends, but I didn't know what was inside him," said the soft-spoken Mzoudi, who sported a black beard and was wearing a dark suit.
"I knew I was innocent from the beginning and I believed in the German justice system and in my defense team," Mzoudi said.
Rosenthal, his lawyer, said Mzoudi's presence in Afghanistan didn't mean he was guilty.
"We assume he was in Afghanistan, but it's never been established he took al-Qaida training there. We know he was in Afghanistan, but so were tens of thousands of other Muslims," Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal said his client spent a year and a half in jail in "a very weak case" and based on "circumstantial evidence."
Before he was deported, another of Mzoudi's lawyers said her client was afraid of being apprehended and interrogated once he returned to Morocco.
But on Tuesday, Mzoudi said he was not worried.
"I wouldn't have come if I were afraid" of arrest, he said. "I wanted to leave (Germany). Wasn't it enough what they did to me for a year and a half?"
Before Mzoudi's plane touched down, a Moroccan security official at the airport said they had no intention of arresting him.
Another security official chatted amicably with Mzoudi as he waited for his papers and shook his hands as he left the airport terminal. Another official escorted Mzouodi and his family to their van before they headed to Marrakesh.