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A surprise witness in the trial of a man charged as an accomplice of the Sept. 11 hijackers stunned a German court by claiming the terrorist plot was a “joint venture” between al-Qaida and the Iranian government.

Hamid Reza Zakeri, who claims to have been a longtime member of the Iranian intelligence service, also implicated the defendant, a 31-year-old former Moroccan student named Abdelghani Mzoud, the Chicago Tribune reported, citing sources familiar with the testimony.

“If the story was true, the consequences would be remarkable,” a senior intelligence official told the Tribune.

The official noted the account, presented to a Hamburg court Wednesday, comes more than two years after Sept. 11, 2001, and “looks a little bit constructed.”

However, Kenneth Timmerman, a senior writer for Insight magazine who interviewed Zakeri several times last summer, said the man “told a very credible story.”

Iran’s Shiite Muslim government denies it has aided al-Qaida, which follows the Sunni branch of Islam. Iran was one of the three nations designated by President Bush as part of an “axis of evil,” along with Iraq and North Korea.

Timmerman wrote in a July article Zakeri claimed he worked for the Iranians’ “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Zakeri said he attended two meetings between senior Iranian and al-Qaida officials in the months prior to Sept. 11, 2001.

A document purportedly signed by the Iranian intelligence chief, Hojjatoleslam Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, in May 2001 ordered a strike at this country’s “economic structure, their reputation and their internal peace and security,” according to Timmerman, who said Zakeri gave him a copy.

German federal police were expected to testify yesterday why they believe Zakeri’s testimony is credible.

German prosecutor Kay Nehm introduced Zakeri’s testimony in a last-minute move to get a conviction in what is likely the last trial in Germany of a suspected 9-11 accomplice.

Last year, another Moroccan student, Mounir al-Motassadeq, was sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in prison for aiding the Sept. 11 hijackers.

Like Motassadeq, Mzoudi admitted knowing some of the hijackers but denied he knew anything about the plot. Zakeri, according to the German magazine Der Spiegel, claimed Mzoudi acted as the hijackers’ liaison with their al-Qaida support network.

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