Jordanian Faces Terror Trial in Germany
DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) _ A Jordanian accused of helping an Islamic extremist group plot attacks formed a ``close, trusting relationship″ in Afghanistan with a suspected associate of Osama bin Laden, prosecutors said at the opening of his trial Tuesday.
Shadi Abdellah, 26, who has said he served briefly as bin Laden’s bodyguard in Afghanistan, was among nine people detained across Germany in April 2002 on suspicion of plotting attacks. He is charged with belonging to a terrorist organization, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, and forging passports.
Presenting the charges in a Duesseldorf state court, prosecutors said Abdellah was acting under orders from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant whom Secretary of State Colin Powell described in February as an ``associate and collaborator of bin Laden and his al-Qaida lieutenants.″
Al-Zarqawi, whose real name is Ahmed al-Khalayleh, has been identified as a suspect at large in a plot to carry out terror attacks on U.S. and Israeli targets in Jordan, culminating in last year’s slaying of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley.
The German cell, part of the Al Tawhid group, ``developed a plan to attack people in a busy square of a German city using a pistol with a silencer, and to detonate a hand grenade in another German city in the immediate vicinity of an Israeli or Jewish installation with the goal of killing as many people as possible,″ prosecutors said last month.
Prosecutors have not identified the cities the group allegedly wanted to target.
``It was (Abdellah’s) task to identify potential targets in Germany and above all to procure the necessary weapons,″ prosecutor Dirk Fernholz said.
The defendant, a tall man with unkempt hair and glasses, appeared nervous, fingering his beard and looking around the courtroom as the charges were read.
He listened through headphones to a translation of proceedings, speaking only to confirm his identity and indicate to presiding judge Ottmar Breidling that he was willing to answer questions.
Abdellah attended a training camp in Afghanistan from December 1999 until May 2001, the prosecutor said.
The defendant met al-Zarqawi in May 2000 in Kabul and the two ``developed a close, trusting relationship,″ the prosecutor said.
Al-Zarqawi allegedly told Abdellah in May 2001 to return to Germany to help the leader of the cell, identified only as Mohamed Abu D. He also asked Abdellah to procure blank French, Spanish and Portuguese passports as well as a forged Moroccan passport for al-Zarqawi himself, Fernholz said.
Al Tawhid supports the worldwide ``holy war″ against nonbelievers, in particular the efforts of bin Laden and al-Qaida, prosecutors said.
Four other suspected Al Tawhid members, including Abu D., remain in custody.
While prosecutors have not linked the Al Tawhid cell to the Hamburg-based cell of Sept. 11 plotters, Abdellah’s significance extends beyond the case.
Testifying in November at the Hamburg trial of Sept. 11 suspect Mounir el Motassadeq, Abdellah said he briefly was bin Laden’s bodyguard while training in Afghan camps between early 2000 and May 2001 and that he saw el Motassadeq in one of the camps.
Motassadeq, a Moroccan, was convicted in February of aiding the Hamburg cell around suspected lead hijacker Mohamed Atta and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Abdellah’s trial is scheduled to run through late September.