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Germany

Germany Presses US to Allow Testimony from Terror Suspects

Federal prosecutors have impressed upon US officials the urgency of allowing terror suspects held in the United States to give evidence in Germany's retrial of the only person to be convicted over the Sept. 11 attacks.

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Convicted once, now a free man: Mounir el Motassadeq

German federal prosecutor Kay Nehm said his office had told US officials that it was necessary to allow terror suspects currently in their custody to testify at the upcoming retrial of Mounir el Motassadeq, who is accused of aiding the Sept. 11 suicide pilots in Hamburg. Statements from Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed could affect the balance of the German court's proceedings, he said in a report released on Saturday.

Motassadeq, 30, was originally sentenced in February 2003 to 15 years in prison for his involvement in the so-called Hamburg cell around Mohammad Atta which produced three of the 19 hijackers who attacked New York and Washington. But a federal appeals court quashed the conviction in March and sent the case back to the Hamburg court that originally sentenced him, citing the absence of potentially crucial testimony by the Hamburg mastermind behind the plot, Ramzi Binalshibh.

At the time of Motassadeq's trial, the US refused to allow Binalshibh to give evidence, despite requests from Germany's Justice Ministry. Binalshibh, a Yemeni national, is currently being held by US authorities in an undisclosed location.

Hoping to avoid a second court dismissal, Germany has pressed the US to allow evidence this time. "We have made it clear to the US that we depend on being able to hear Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as witnesses," Nehm told newsmagazine Focus.

Washington has not said whether it will cooperate with Germany on the matter. In the past, it refused to allow Binalshibh to testify in trial in person, citing security reasons. It has also not allowed excerpts from statements taken during interrogation to be read in court, saying these entail too many sensitive issues.

Defense lawyers to call for mistrial

Even if the two suspected terrorists are allowed to testify or if the United States agrees to provide detailed information secured during interrogation, Motassadeq's attorney Grässle-Münscher said he would argue for a case dismissal.

"A fair trial is no longer possible because the important evidence is either lacking or contaminated," Grässle-Münscher said, referring to rumors that Binalshibh had been tortured since he was handed over to the US authorities after his arrest in Pakistan in September 2002.

Under German law, information obtained under duress or torture cannot be used in court. If Motassadeq's defense team can prove that is the case with Binalshibh, they could call for a dismissal, and Motassadeq would be a free man.

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