Abelghani Mzoudi, a Moroccan suspected of aiding Sept. 11 terrorists and surprisingly released from German custody last week, has applied for political asylum to avoid extradition to the United States.
Mzoudi no longer has to remain in jail during his trial.
Mzoudi’s attorney on Saturday Gül Pinar confirmed media reports he is hoping asylum in Germany will protect him from being sent back to Morocco, where he fears he would be handed over to U.S. officials.
Mzoudi’s was unexpectedly freed on Thursday after the judge presiding over his case said an unidentified government source had testified the Moroccan was not part of a so-called “Hamburg Cell” that planned the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Mzoudi’s release from custody was criticized by German prosecutors who fear he could try and flee the country as his trial continues this month. Prosecution spokeswoman Frauke-Katrin Scheuten said on Saturday that the new information did not warrant a change of tactics.
“The content of the testimony presented by the authorities in no way warrants a different legal opinion,” Scheuten told the DPA news agency. However, with latest turn of event are likely to make it harder for the government will be able to prove its case against Mzoudi.
Mzoudi was released from his pre-trial custody after Judge Klaus Ruehle, in possession of new evidence provided by the Federal Criminal Investigation Bureau (BKA), said the testimony of one particular witness in the case “clearly exonerates” Mzoudi from the accusations that he was a knowing collaborator of the Hamburg al Qaeda cell which carried out the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center.
Evidence suggests a four-man cell
The source of the new evidence continues to stir debate because the only name attached to it is the BKA, with no witness explicitly identified in the document. Speculation surrounds the identity of the source, although one of al Qaeda's mastermind planners, Ramzi Binalshibh, has been implied by the Hamburg state prosecutor and an number of media outlets.
The new evidence suggests that there were only four people in the Hamburg cell, three of whom were suicide pilots in the attacks on New York and Washington -- Mohammed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah -- and the fourth being Binalshibh himself, currently in U.S. detention charged with being the coordinator of the attack.
The release decision, based on evidence supposedly from Binalshibh, is all the more surprising due to recent attempts by the defense teams of both Mzoudi and Mounir al-Motassadeq, the only other suspect being held on charges surrounding the attacks, to hear evidence from Binalshibh. Mossadeq is currently incarcerated in Germany on identical charges to Mzoudi after being sentenced to 15 years in jail last February for plotting with the 11 September hijackers.