Hamburg Tightens Security As Sept. 11 Trial Opens | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 22.10.2002
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Hamburg Tightens Security As Sept. 11 Trial Opens

The world's first full trial of a suspect in the New York terrorist attacks is slated to start in a sealed Hamburg courtroom on Tuesday morning.


Mounir el Motassadeq's trial is set to begin on Tuesday in this courtroom.

The eyes of the world will once again be on Germany Tuesday as the trial of the first suspect connected to the Hamburg terror cell responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington begins.

Officials here aren't taking any chances: Streets surrounding Hamburg's higher regional court have been sealed off and extra bullet-proof plexiglass walls installed inside the court room where Morrocan-born Mounir el Motassadeq will be tried.

Extra security guards have also been ordered to attend the trial, which is expected to draw 100 journalists from around the world and shed new light on the inner workings of the secretive Hamburg al Qaeda cell.

3,116 charges

Motassadeq has been ordered to appear in court to answer to 3,116 charges of accessory to murder for his alleged connections to the terror cell. The tight-knit group -- operating out of Hamburg's Harburg neighborhood -- was led by Mohammed Atta, the terrorist believed to have piloted the American Airlines Flight 11 plane into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

When he issued Motassadeq's indictment last month, German Federal Prosecutor Kay Nehm said the 28-year-old student was deeply involved in the Hamburg terror cell. Motassadeq lived in the same neighborhood as the terrorist with his wife and child and maintained intensive contacts with the terror cell for several years, Nehm said.

Motassadeq's 89-page indictment stated that he took up membership with the group by summer 1999 at the latest and then "remained part of the assassination preparations right up to the end."

Motassadeq played a definitive role in the financing of the Hamburg terror cell's activities, his indictment stated. He held power of attorney over, as well as an automated teller card for, a bank account that had originally been opened by Marwan Al Shehhi -- one of the hijackers aboard United Airlines Flight 175, which crashed into the World Trade Center's South Tower.

Nehm said the terrorists used the Hamburg bank account to pay for pilot training for Said Bahaji and Zakariya Essabar in the United States. Al Qaeda terrorists also allegedly used the account to pay their expenses while living in the U.S.

Nehm also described Motassadeq as a "lieutenant in Hamburg" for the terror cell during the time Atta and others were taking classes at U.S. flight schools.

"Nothing to do with the attacks"

German authorities arrested Motassadeq in November 2001, and he remained in investigative custody in Wuppertal until a few days ago when he was transferred to Hamburg in preparation for the trial.

Motassadeq's lawyer has publicly stated that though his client did know Atta personally, he had nothing to do with the planning or execution of the Sept. 11 attacks. As proof, he has requested testimony from Ramzi Binalshibh the Yemeni believed to be the main contact point between the Hamburg cell and Osama bin Laden.

"Binalshibh is the only witness who knows el Motassadeq, Atta -- knows all the people -- and knows what happened. At least, the only one in prison," lawyer Hans Leistritz told the Associated Press.

Motassadeq has also denied prosecutors' allegations that money he transferred to other cell members was used in connection with the terrorist attacks and that he spent time in an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.

More than 160 witnesses are expected to testify at the trial, including Motassadeq, who will take the stand in his own defense.

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