Defense Says Judge in German Sept. 11 Trial Biased Against Arabs

Defense lawyers in the trial of a Sept. 11 suspect accused the presiding judge of prejudice against Arabs and demanded his removal on Wednesday.

Also, a witness testified that defendant Abdelghani Mzoudi (search) was clearly a core member of Al Qaeda's Hamburg cell and that the inner circle often spoke of its hatred of Jews and the United States.

Mzoudi is accused of helping suicide hijacker Mohamed Atta (search) and other members of the Hamburg cell evade authorities. He is charged with 3,066 counts of accessory to murder and membership in a terrorist organization and could face up to 15 years in prison.

Defense Attorney Michael Rosenthal said Presiding Judge Klaus Ruehle (search) "jumped to conclusions" last week when he ordered the court's Arabic translator be replaced after the man was seen talking with one of Mzoudi's roommates during a break.

Mzoudi, a Moroccan, follows the proceedings in Arabic, rather than German.

Rosenthal said the translator knew the brother of the roommate, who had come to watch the trial, and had no idea that the man knew Mzoudi.

"The judge didn't really inquire how and why it happened," Rosenthal said. "He just said the interpreter was unbearable, and we think that shows prejudice against Arabs and when it comes to judging the case, we can't have him jumping to conclusions."

The panel, which includes four other judges and an alternate, has until next week to decide on the motion. Ruehle did not comment.

Rosenthal said such motions are "very seldom successful the first time around."

In testimony, witness Shahid Nickels said he met Atta, suicide hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi, Ramzi Binalshibh and other core members of the Hamburg cell in 1997 when he started going regularly to the city's radical al-Quds mosque.

Binalshibh, a Yemeni believed to be the cell's key contact with Usama bin Laden's terror organization, is in U.S. custody after being arrested in Pakistan.

Nickels, 22, testified that he frequently saw the men and ate with them at their apartments where he said they talked primarily about religion and politics.

At first the group was relaxed, he said, describing Atta as "intelligent and personable" and Binalshibh as "friendly and funny."

However by 1999, the group had become much more radical, always talking about the plight of Muslims in places like Bosnia and Chechnya and their hatred for Israel.

"They said the Jews were controlling America and the policies of Israel are lies," Nickels said.

He said Mzoudi, whom he described as a devout Muslim, was "a part of their group" though quiet and often on the sidelines.

"Mzoudi said Muslims in Morocco were weak in their beliefs ... and that he found it better here in Hamburg," Nickels said.

Nickels said the group believed suicide attacks were justified by the Quran if they were in the defense of Islam.

"It was clear to me that Atta, al-Shehhi and Binalshibh were thinking of dying for Islam," he said.

Nickels testified he started distancing himself from the group near the end of 1999 because it had become too radical for him.