While Mounir El Motassadeq maintains his innocence, prosecutors say the student should be sentenced to 15 years in prison as the financial manager for terrorists behind the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mounir El Motassadeq's lawyers will make their case next week
HAMBURG -- As his trial entered its final phase Wednesday, Mounir El Motassadeq stared back at prosecutors in a Hamburg court as they repeated the evidence against him, sometimes shaking his head, sometimes smiling in disbelief.
Portraying him as an integral and reliable member of the Hamburg-based terrorist cell behind the Sept. 11 hijiackings and terror attacks in New York and Washington holding similar extremist beliefs, German federal prosecutors ended their closing arguments with the request that Motassadeq be sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Motassadeq, who is accused of managing financial transactions for members of the terror cell, has maintained that his efforts were no more than favors typical among Muslims. He denies knowing anything about what suspected Sept. 11 mastermind Mohammed Atta and his group were planning.
But the plaintiffs in the case have painted an altogether different picture. Three federal prosecutors and three lawyers for the 21 American co-plaintiffs in the case before Hamburg's higher regional court gave closing arguments before the seven judges who will decide Motassadeq's fate. Defense attorneys are scheduled to give their arguments next Wednesday.
The 28-year-old Moroccan student is charged with accessory to murder in more than 3,000 cases for the Sept. 11 attacks. He also faces charges of membership in a terrorist organization, which Chief Judge Albrecht Menz said Tuesday could be reduced to support of a terrorist organization, which can carry a five-year sentence.
"One of the muscles"
In his closing statement, co-plaintiff lawyer Ulrich von Jeinsen said Motasssadeq was, if not the arm, then at least "one of the muscles without which the arm wouldn't have functioned."
For four months, the prosecution has sought to piece together witness testimony and law enforcement investigation reports to prove how deeply Motassedeq was involved with the terrorist group. On Wednesday, they took more than four hours to outline his journey from Moroccan student at Hamburg's Harburg Technical University in 1993 to a close and trusted friend of the Hamburg cell of hijackers in the months leading up to Sept. 11.
"The small pieces, unto themselves, might not appear to be much," said Chief Prosecutor Walter Hemberger. "But together they form a mosaic that proves the guilt and full awareness of the accused." Hemberger added: "The defendant decided to sacrifice himself to an ideology that despises humanity, he was closely integrated into Atta's group."
Hemberger accused Motassadeq of attempting to "veil" the truth about his role in the attacks and called on him to come clean. "Mr. El Motassadeq," he said, "you still have the chance to change the outcome in your favor if you give a complete confession."
Prosecutors say he covered terrorists' tracks
The prosecution paid special attention to Motassadeq's connection to Marwan Al-Shehhi, who flew United Airlines Flight 175 into the south tower of the World Trade Center. Motassadeq had power of attorney over Al-Shehhi's account at Dresdner Bank in Hamburg.
Prosecutors say he used it to cover the tracks of Al-Shehhi while the United Arab Emirates native finalized plans in Afghanistan for the attacks and learned to fly at a school in Florida. While he was gone, Motassadeq paid Al-Shehhi's bills and his tuition fees for the summer 2000 semester at Harburg Technical. He also approved a €2,550 ($2,753) wire transfer that paid for Al-Shehhi's flight school fees.
"The accused," said Hemberger, was "the treasurer," while Atta and the other members of the group were away.
The prosecution also recounted the testimony of witnesses who described the "radicalization" of members of the Hamburg group, including Motassadeq.
He began to identify with the anti-American, anti-Semitic beliefs of the others and supported violent means to battle against the United States and Israel, said prosecutors. In summer 2000, he traveled to Afghanistan and took part in the same al Qaeda training camps attended by other members of the Hamburg cell.
"Motassadeq was permanently integrated into the group," said Matthias Krauss, one of three federal prosecutors trying the case.
Defense attorneys will argue the exact opposite next week. They are expected to make the case that Motassadeq, who was taken into custody shortly after Sept. 11, didn't make any attempt to leave Germany because he was innocent and knew nothing of the plans for the attacks.
Motassadeq's lawyers have bemoaned the absence of statements made by two Hamburg cell members they believe would clear their client. The statements were made by Ramzi Binalshibh, who is currently in U.S. custody after his arrest in Pakistan, and Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who is allegedly being held in a Syrian jail.
Motassadeq's attorneys repeatedly sought to secure the documents as evidence in the trial, but Germany's Interior Ministry and its foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, have refused to turn them over to the court. The agencies argue that doing so would compromise their investigative capabilities.