Sept. 11 Suspect Goes on Trial
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HAMBURG, Germany (AP) _ A 28-year-old Moroccan student was on trial Tuesday, accused of aiding the Hamburg terrorist cell involved in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Prosecutors allege that Mounir el Motassadeq provided important logistical support to the terrorist cell, which included lead suicide hijacker Mohamed Atta.
The first Sept. 11 suspect outside the United States to stand trial, he could face life in prison if convicted on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization and more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder.
Prosecutors say el Motassadeq trained at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan and arranged wire transfers for the Hamburg cell ahead of the Sept. 11 attacks.
When pilots Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah left Hamburg in 2000 to begin flight training in Florida, el Motassadeq stayed behind, filtering money through an account to al-Shehhi in the United States, according to the indictment.
El Motassadeq admits close ties with members of the Hamburg cell, but he says he was not privy to their attack plans and never traveled to Afghanistan. He has told investigators he paid utility, rent and school bills for al-Shehhi, but transferred no money to the United States, said Hans Leistritz, one of his two attorneys.
Police blocked the busy street in front of the Hamburg superior court building in the center of the sprawling port city and deployed extra officers. Metal detectors and guards were set up at visitor entrances.
Photographers were ordered out of the courtroom before el Motassadeq appeared. Journalists and spectators watched the proceedings from behind a bulletproof glass window.
El Motassadeq, arrested in Hamburg last November, is one of two men being held by Germany in connection with the attacks. Another Moroccan living in Hamburg, Abdelghani Mzoudi, was arrested this month on charges of supporting a terrorist organization.
Germany’s chief federal prosecutor, Kay Nehm, has said the hijackers knew by October 1999 they would attack the United States with airplanes, but that the idea likely originated elsewhere in the al-Qaida network.
All were united by ``hatred of world Jewry and the United States,″ Nehm said in unveiling el Motassadeq’s indictment in August.
El Motassadeq came to Germany in 1993 to study. By 1995, his German was good enough to win admission to a Hamburg technical university’s electrical engineering program. In Hamburg, he met his wife Maria _ a Russian who had converted to Islam three years before _ and, during the same time, Atta and other future cell members.
El Motassadeq’s wife and his sister, who lives in Morocco, were expected to attend the trial. His father had wanted to come from Morocco, but the German Foreign Ministry rejected his visa for undisclosed reasons.
With more than 160 witnesses due to testify, the trial was expected to go beyond the three months of sessions scheduled so far. A panel of five judges will hear the case and lead the questioning, as is custom in Germany.