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German Court Exonerates Moroccan Accused of Helping Plan Sept. 11 Attacks - 2003-12-11

A German court has ordered the release of a Moroccan man accused of helping to plan the September 11 attacks on the United States. The decision has thrown the case against him into doubt, as well as the conviction of another Moroccan in Germany on similar charges.

The surprise move came Thursday morning, following new evidence judges say clearly exonerates Abdelghani Mzoudi. Judge Klaus Ruehle said a statement by an unnamed new witness proves Mr. Mazouti knew nothing about planning for the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.

Prosecutors had alleged that Mr. Mzoudi, who was arrested last October and has been on trial for four months, was a member of the Hamburg terror cell thought to have organized the attacks.

They accused him of transferring money to the cell, and said he was trained at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan. They also alleged Mr. Mzoudi was a close friend of Mohammed Atta, one of the suspected ringleaders of the attacks, who is believed to have piloted the first plane to hit the World Trade Center in New York.

Mr. Mzoudi's defense lawyers argued that although he knew members of the Hamburg cell, he did not help plan the attacks.

It was not immediately known whether the judge's decision on Thursday would end the trial.

Mr. Mzoudi is the second man to be tried in Germany in connection with the September 11 attacks. In February this year, another Moroccan, Mounir el Motassadeq, became the first person to be jailed for his role in the attacks. He received a sentence of 15 years. His lawyers said Thursday they will appeal for his conviction to be overturned, in light of the new evidence and Thursday's court action.