Sept. 11 Suspect's Trial Outcome Uncertain in Germany

September 1, 2002 - 0:0
HAMBURG -- Court proceedings against the first suspect in Germany to be indicted for the September 11 attacks will likely get under way this autumn, a judicial spokesman in Hamburg said Friday, but the outcome is far from certain.

Proceedings against Moroccan citizen Mounir el Motassadek, 28, will be held at Hamburg state superior court by the end of the year, a court spokesman said. No actual date has yet been set.

He faces more than 3,000 counts of being an accomplice to murder in connection with the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, DPA reported.

But legal analysts in Germany predict the federal prosecutor General Kay Nehm will have a hard time convincing the court of Motassadek's guilt.

And even if found guilty, there is doubt whether Motassadek would be sentenced to life in prisonment -- the maximum sentence in Germany, where there is no death penalty.

Motassadek, the only one of the September 11 suspects who either did not die in the attacks or did not flee Germany prior to them, has consistently maintained he is innocent. The fact that he was still living in Hamburg in November last year, he says, is proof that he had a clear conscience.

His lawyers insist the government has a "flimsy" case against their client. His defense team, the Hamburg law firm of Hans Leistritz and Hartmut Jacobi, issued a statement accusing the federal chief prosecutor of "valiantly carrying out his political assignment" at an internationally broadcast news conference Thursday at which Nehm outlined the 89-page indictment against their client. "We look forward to meeting the federal prosecutor in court," the defense attorneys said, "and taking him and his 89-page dossier to task ad absurdum."

At his news conference Thursday, Nehm described Motassadek as the accounting wizard who funneled money to the September 11 terrorists while they were attending flight schools in Florida.

Nehm said Motassadek was so intimately involved with the Hamburg terrorist cell that he put his signature as a witness to the will of alleged terrorist cell ringleader Mohammed Atta, who is believed to have piloted one of the jetliners into the World Trade Center. And Motassadek had right-of-attorney to a German bank account held by another September 11 skyjacker, Marwan al-Shehhi. "From May to November 2000 large amounts of money were paid into this Dresdner Bank account on a periodic basis," Nehm said at a news conference Thursday. "We have compelling evidence that this money was used to finance this terrorist operation."

Nehm said evidence showed the money helped finance flight training classes at two air schools in Venice, Florida.

Bank records also show that Atta received 1,000 dollars from the account in May 2001.

Motassadek even lived for a time at a Hamburg apartment shared by all three of the Hamburg-based September 11 hijackers: Atta, Al- Shehhi and Jarrah.

Motassadek was also a close friend of the Hamburg terrorist cell's chief logistician, said Bahaji, who was last reported to have fled to Pakistan. Nehm likened the plotters to professional mountain climbers, saying, "While the others stormed the summit, Motassadek stayed behind to mind the base camp."

Part of those "base camp" chores involved maintaining the semblance of normality while his flatmates were away for weeks at a time, allegedly at Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan or at flight schools in Florida.

Nehm said Motassadek performed those duties with alacrity, telling curious neighbors and classmates his roommates were "off on a college workshop" or "visiting a sick friend".

But will all that stand up in a German Court of Law? that is the question legal analysts are posing in the wake of Nehm's impressive televised news conference.

Motassadek's lawyers say the case boils down to two things: - Motassadek put his signature to Atta's will, and - Motassadek had access to a bank account in the name of another suspect. "Is that enough to convict him of being an accessory to murder in more than 3,000 cases?" his lawyer Leistritz asked. "We think not." They stress that Motassadek's claims of innocence are reflected in Nehm's testy response to a question at his news conference. When asked what Motassadek has told interrogators, Nehm said sharply, "his responses have been non-responses."

In an exclusive television interview, Nehm was asked what the most extraordinary thing about the case is.

"The most extraordinary thing," Nehm told his interviewers for ARD television's "Panorama" show, "well, the most extraordinary thing is the trail of clues. It was a very visible trail. We were able to fill an indictment with 89 pages of evidence, after all. It was as if the suspect did not bother to cover his tracks." To which Motassadek's defense lawyers say: "He didn't cover them because he had nothing to cover up."