German trial hears how Iranian agent warned US of

impending al-Qaida attack
Ben Aris in Berlin

The Guardian, UK,  Saturday January 24, 2004:    The United States was warned of impending September 11 terrorist attacks by an Iranian spy, but ignored him, German secret service agents testified yesterday in the trial of an alleged al-Qaida terrorist.

The spy, identified as Hamid Reza Zakeri, tried to warn the CIA after leaving Iran in 2001, but was not believed, two German officers who interviewed him told the Hamburg court.

Zakeri worked in the department of the Iranian secret services responsible for "carrying out terrorist attacks globally", one of the officers said.

Prosecutors called the spy as a surprise witness against a Moroccan man, Abdelghani Mzoudi, who is on trial for being a key aide to three of the September 11 hijackers.

He is said to have handled money, covered for absences by members of the al-Qaida cell based in Hamburg and trained in an Afghan al-Qaida camp himself.

He is charged with 3,066 counts of aiding and abetting murder, one for each of the victims of the New York and Washington suicide attacks.

Mzoudi is one of a clutch of suspected al-Qaida operatives being held around the world.

Iran said for the first time yesterday it was planning to try a dozen suspects who have been detained in the country.

The Bush administration, which has accused Iran of harbouring al-Qaida militants, countered by saying Tehran should send the suspects to their home countries for judgment.

The US has long suspected that the detainees slipped into Iran from neighbouring Afghanistan following the American-led invasion in 2001.

"We want to see action, and the action we want to see is that they turn over those al- Qaida members in their custody to their country of origin," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Western intelligence officials believe that among the Iran-held figures could be an Egyptian, Saif al-Adel, the security chief of Osama bin Laden's network.

A son of Bin Laden and a spokesman for the network chief could also be in Iran, Saudi sources said.

The testimony at the Hamburg trial could heap more embarrassment on the US state department and secret services, which have denied allegations that they were forewarned of the attacks.

The White House and US intelligence agencies have been plagued by accusations of a catastrophic failure since the four planes were hijacked to such devastating effect in 2001.