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Germany

Judge Orders New Charge in Al Qaeda Trial

A shift in charges ordered by the Hamburg judge overseeing the trial of Mounir El Motassadeq could make it easier to convict the suspected al Qaeda terrorist.

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Mounir El Motassadeq: I feel like collateral damage in the war on terrorism.

HAMBURG (DW) -- Federal prosecutors are expected to begin closing arguments on Wednesday following a Hamburg judge's rejection of the last motions by the defense attorneys for Mounir El Motassadeq, the Moroccan man charged with aiding the Sept. 11 hijackers.

Chief Judge Albrecht Mentz accepted an explanation on Tuesday by Germany's intelligence service (BND) and the German Interior Ministry that the agencies' investigative ability and reputations could be damaged if the court be allowed to hear the questioning of Mohammed Haydar Zammar.

Officials say Zammar is the al Qaeda operative who helped bring together the Hamburg terror cell, led by Mohammed Atta, that is suspected of carrying out the Sept. 11 attacks. German intelligence has in its possession copies of Zammar's testimony, conducted shortly after he was taken into custody. He is believed to be in a Syrian jail cell.

The defense submitted a motion last Thursday, stating that Zammar's testimony could better define Motassadeq's knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks. Motassadeq, 28, has been charged with more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder for the Sept. 11 attacks.

On Tuesday, Mentz changed the second charge against Motassadeq, of membership in a terrorist organization, to support of a terrorist organization. The change will ease the burden of proof on the prosecution's side and subsequently ease the possible sentence Motassadeq faces from 10 years to 5 years for that charge.

The former Moroccan student complained in open court on Tuesday that he felt like "collateral damage" in the war on terrorism.

"It may be true that the cooperation between two countries is more important than a person," he said in response to the court's rejection of the defense motions. "But I don't want to become collateral damage," he told the court.