German appeals court upheld mzoudi acquittal
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Acquittal of 9/11 suspect upheld
BERLIN, Germany (AP) -- A German federal appeals court has upheld the acquittal of a September 11 suspect Thursday, starting the clock ticking on how long the Moroccan man could remain in the country.
Abdelghani Mzoudi, 32, was acquitted in February 2004 of charges he helped September 11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah in their plot to attack the United States.
The five judge panel did not immediately give their reasons for upholding the original Hamburg state court verdict.
With his student visa no longer valid, Mzoudi now has two weeks to leave the country, said Norbert Smekal, a spokesman for the Hamburg state immigration department.
The process could be delayed, however, if Mzoudi decides to apply for political asylum or take other legal steps, said Hartmut Jacobi, one of his attorneys.
"He has not yet decided whether he will remain here," Jacobi told The Associated Press earlier Thursday.
Mzoudi had been charged with more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder and membership in a terrorist organization for allegedly providing logistical support to the three Hamburg-based suicide hijackers.
Testimony heard during his trial showed that Mzoudi trained at the same al Qaeda camps as the hijackers and was close friends with them in Hamburg. But Hamburg state court judges ruled that the prosecution failed to prove he knew anything about their plot.
In their appeal, prosecutors argued that the Hamburg judges failed to rule on whether Atta's group constituted a terrorist organization, making it impossible to determine whether Mzoudi was a member.
Mzoudi's friend and fellow Moroccan, Mounir el Motassadeq, was convicted in 2003 of identical charges and sentenced to the maximum 15 years in prison.
The same panel that heard Mzoudi's case at the Federal Court of Justice overturned el Motassadeq's conviction last year and ordered a retrial, ruling that he had been unfairly denied testimony from al Qaeda captives in U.S. custody -- an issue that also contributed to Mzoudi's acquittal.
A verdict in the el Motassadeq case is expected in August. If he is also acquitted, Hamburg authorities have said once appeals are exhausted they will move to expel him back to Morocco as well.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.